Revo HTPC
18Apr/106

[Review] Hillcrest Labs Loop Pointer + Video Review

One thing that I do not like about my Revo is when I have to use my mouse and keyboard from the couch. I have a standard 2.4 Ghz Microsoft wireless keyboard and mouse combo, which works great, however on the couch the mouse is practically useless. Hillcrest Labs has basically came up with a replacement for the mouse called The Loop Pointer. It basically works with an RF sensor just like most wireless keyboards and mice. You move the Loop Pointer in the direction you want the mouse to move and it moves and works great. It features multiple buttons on top of the remote which are your  basic left and right mouse click, and also features a scroll click wheel which is really nice to have when using the Kylo browser. There is also a hide button that when pressed till temporarily turn off the Loop Pointer until it is pressed again locking the mouse at its current position. This is really nice to have when you are watching videos and don't want to worry about the mouse moving.

The Loop Pointer runs on 2 AA batteries which to me is a bit disappointing as I would have liked to see a built in rechargeable battery, but Hillcrest Labs has the battery life rated at 80 hours which is pretty impressive. The device is extremely light and feels great when holding it. Even when using it for a prolonged period of time it didn't hurt my wrist at all which was great.

To test the usability of the Loop Pointer I let my girlfriend test it out and she gave it a thumbs up. She said she probably wouldn't use it all the time, however she much preferred it over using the wireless mouse. Overall I think that the Loop Pointer is the ultimate mouse replace for a HTPC setup. The only real downfall to the device is its price point which is $100. When compared to a Wiimote which is $40 and a Harmony remote which averages around $100, it is tough to recommend the Loop Pointer at this price point if you already had a wireless mouse and keyboard. If the Loop Pointer was to drop down in price a bit or if you really hate your wireless mouse then absolutely pick up a Loop Pointer as you will not be disappointed.

*EDIT: There is an error in my assumption of the technology. Hillcrest has informed me that it is in fact RF technology, NOT IR. This allows your HTPC to be behind cabinets, windows, etc and the Loop Pointer will still work up to 30 feet.

The Loop Pointer is currently available on Amazon for $100

For a little bit more in depth overview of the device I have a nice Video Review for you guys enjoy:

*Note: The Loop Pointer was sent to me from Hillcrest Labs (they did not ask me to review it), and after using it and writing this review I have decided to keep it.

13Apr/100

Early Impressions: Hillcrest Labs Loop Pointer and Kylo Browser

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Not too long ago the people over at Hillcrest Labs released a new browser, Kylo, specifically for HTPC. It features large buttons, easy zoom in and out, and an on screen keyboard all built on top of Mozilla. Along with the browser they have a very special new wireless "mouse" or pointer as they like to call it named The Loop Pointer. This is a motion sensitive point that can be used with any PC or Mac, and was specifically designed with browsing on a television in mind. Hillcrest Labs was nice enough to let me try out their Loop Pointer and as soon as I received it today I tore it open and started playing with it.

So with only a little hands on time I figured I would post my early impressions of the device with a full review of both Kylo and The Loop Pointer soon. After I got the batteries installed in The Loop all I had to do was plug in the RF adapter and I was off. Very similar to a Wii Remote you sort of just point where you want the mouse to be on the screen. It seemed a bit slow dragging around the screen however it was responsive. You can adjust the mouse speed within Windows so I will have to mess around with that a bit to see what speed works best. The Loop has a few buttons similar to right and left mouse buttons. It also features a scroll wheel which I have found awesome scrolling through web pages. I cool feature is that it also has a "hide" button which will basically stop the mouse from moving on screen. This is a nice feature to have when watching videos online.

Overall the device feels nice in the hands. It is extremely light in the hands and doesn't feel very awkward, however I am interested to see how it feels to have this thing in your hand for a long period of time. It also runs off of 2 AA batteries which is a bit disappointing, however I will have to see how long they last. Will Kylo and the Loop Pointer replace my mouse/keyboard and Chrome setup? I will be doing much more testing to find out and expect my full review soon. Here are some pictures:

Filed under: Testing No Comments
12Mar/104

Boxee testing…

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I have had a lot of people asking me how Boxee runs and how all the different content plays. I have never had great success with any of the flash content inside of Boxee, but then after seeing how well the latest flash 10.1 beta worked I was hoping all of the issue would be resolved.

I am not alone when saying that Boxee flash content simply does not work on a Revo. I am not sure if it the Atom/Ion combination, but it just doesn't work. Every single time you attempt to load up a video you get a black screen, weird sounds, and sometimes you will just get a partial video. I attempted to test shows that I knew worked such as The Office, South Park, and Family Guy, but no matter where I tried to access the video from, (Hulu, Fox, NBC, or Comedy Central) I got the same result.

Now Boxee runs great on the Revo for just about anything else. Pandora is fantastic, the movie catalog is very nice, and High Def Revision3 content works great inside of it. However until they get their flash problems fixed I am forced to use it for Pandora only :( If you have any suggestions or have gotten Boxee running let me know, because I would love to do a nice full review of it.

Filed under: Testing 4 Comments
4Mar/105

Flash 10.1 Beta 3 Review!

I have done a few reviews, but this one has video with it! So if you don't want to read then go ahead and watch my video review of Flash 10.1 Beta 3 on the Revo!

If you do like to read then go ahead and hit the jump for a full written review!

2Mar/104

Boxee & Hulu Desktop WMC Integrator Review

Boxee and Hulu are very popular, however there was no way to access them from within Windows Media Center 7. A bit back I tweeted about the Hulu & Boxee Integrators from Tekno Webworks. I decided to give them a test drive to see how they performed.

The integrators are very simple, they add a Hulu and Boxee button into the WMC start menu. When one of them is pressed it will close down WMC and open Boxee of Hulu Desktop. When you close Boxee or Hulu Desktop it will relaunch WMC. This is extremely convenient on a HTPC so you don't have to grab a mouse and you can just use your WMC remote. These integrators obviously don't work on extenders since they actually close WMC.

They look just fine inside of WMC, however I would have liked it if they weren't their own separate items and were grouped together like other items on the start menu. It would have been nice to have them under Extras or have them in their own category incase there might be any other integrators that come out. Here is what they look like:

One thing that is nice is that you can change the image that is displayed on the menu by going into your C:\Program Files\Teknowebworks LLC\BoxeeIntegration and replacing the Application.png.

I spent some time going back and forth between both of the applications and it seemed to work almost perfect. There were a few times that the Boxee switch left the Windows Taskbar as the focus so you would have to get up and click the mouse on Boxee to gain control. This didn't happen very often though and overall it was just fine. After closing Hulu or Boxee you are returned to your Desktop for about 5 to 10 seconds and you can see a command prompt which has been watching for those applications to close. After those few seconds Windows Media Center is relaunched and you are good to go again.

One other nice thing is that the integrators also put the applications into the Extras Library. This means if you want to hide them from the start menu you can. I chose to do this since I don't want to clutter up my WMC start menu. I did however find a bug inside of the Boxee Integrator that wasn't automatically adding the application to the Extras Library. I added a Registry Key to fix this. If you start up "regedit" from windows search and go to "HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE->Software->Microsoft->Windows->Current Version->Media Center->Extensibility->Categories->More Programs" and add the following Key as shown in this screen shot (click for full size):

After you do this and restart WMC you will now see it inside of the Extras Library:

If you select "Manage extras" and then select "Start Menu" you can deselect Boxee and Hulu Integrator so they don't show on the start menu and are only inside of the Extras Library.

Overall these applications work great and if you are using WMC and have Hulu Desktop or Boxee installed on your computer I would recommend you install these integrators for easy access.

23Feb/104

How many tuners can the Revo handle?

I have been on a testing spree recently. First it started with Hulu, I am currently testing Boxee, and just for fun I decided to test how far I can push the Revo with my tuners. I am lucky enough to have 3 ATSC USB tuners hooked up into my Revo. For the last 2 months I haven't really used all three of my tuners, usually I only have 1 recording at a time maybe two maximum. I was never really watching television while WMC was recording a show, but all I knew is that all the recordings were flawless. Now was the time to max out the little Revo and its tiny single core Atom chip.

Test 1: 1 Recording and watching a different channel:
This seems to be a normal use case where you are recording a show but watching something different. The Revo like a champ passed this test with ease. Live TV playback was nice and smooth with no hiccups, and the recording was just fine. You could see that the Revo was starting to get stressed as CPU usage jumped up to about 75% and memory usage was up to 40%.

Test 2: 2 Records & Watching one of them:
This is bit of a different test than Test 1. The key here is that you are Recording both shows and watching one of them live, as where before we only had the live buffer going and not saving it to watch again later. Like before the Revo handled this just fine. I navigated though the UI to see if there was any performance issues and the UI lagged a little but it wasn't extremely noticeable. I did see a little spike in CPU usage up to 85% and memory usage up to 45%. Overall not bad at all.

Test 3: 3 Recordings & Watching one of them:
This test is exactly the same as Test 2, but I threw in another recording so all three tuners would be used at the same time. This is not only a stress on the Revo but it is also a stress on the Hard Drive as it is writing non stop all three streams. To my surprise and satisfaction the Revo survived, but I could tell it was having a hard time. The menus were a bit more laggy, but watching the show was just fine which is what was important. I reviewed all three recordings and they were just fine! During the test though CPU usage was maxed out at 100% and ram usage was up to 55%.

Final Test: 3 Recordings + Netflix:
Just for some fun I wanted to not only test recordings but also test one of my favorite features of WMC, which is Netflix. I started all of the recordings and again saw CPU skyrocket to 100% as I tried to move through the menu's which were getting a little laggy. The Netflix UI started up and I picked Dirty Dancing from my instant queue. The movie buffered out and started up just fine. Playback on Netflix wasn't perfect though as there was some tearing and a bit laggy. I wouldn't want to watch it in this state and would probably wait for a recording to finish. The Revo again was maxed out at 100% and memory usage was up to 61%

Summary:
Overall I was extremely impressed with the performance of the Revo. I can say with confidence is that the maximum tuners is 3. I have a feeling that a fourth tuner would not result in a smooth recording, but I am still interested in testing it out. Some notes about my testing is that I was using my 3 USB ATSC tuners. I made sure that all recordings were HD content for a true test. Finally I have the single core AR1600 Revo with 2GB RAM. So if you have tuners, which it seems like most people do you will be just fine with your Revo, and if you really want to push it you can add a third.

Filed under: Live TV, Revo, Testing 4 Comments
18Feb/101

Hulu Desktop Review on Revo Round 2

Hulu-Desktop

Update: This is a new review of Hulu Desktop. The major difference here is that I got some recommendations to go back to beta 1 of Flash 10.1. In the original review I had beta 2 installed and saw pretty bad performance with Hulu and flash in general. After going back I saw a major difference. Here is the break down.

Initial Impression:
When I launched Hulu Desktop with beta 1 installed I was greeted again with the Shutter Island  trailer, and to my surprise it wasn't very choppy when compared to what I saw in the earlier review. The trailer played till completion and wasn't in full screen mode, but so far it was looking good.

Menu:
Hulu Desktop menu system is very simple and plain. It is gray text on a black background and all the menus scroll to the left and right. Navigation is pretty simple and there is plenty of content to go through. Menus were still sluggish however and with so much content and menus to go through it got a little annoying having them cycle slowly. This can be fixed by adding your shows to you Netflixish queue so you don't have to scroll through all of them. Overall I was pleased with the menu, however they are not as smooth as Media Center, but I could live with them.

Watching Programs:
I went back to my original test which was the latest episode of The Office, full screen, and at high quality. Where as before the video was completely choppy and unwatchable this time it was actually smooth with very few hiccups. I was extremely surprised and happy to see this. The overall quality of the video was comparable to any of the silverlight streaming inside of WMC. I decided to test some other shows including Family Guy, The Colbert Report, and The Daily Show. Family Guy was flawless at high quality, but I did a tiny bit of stutter with the other shows. If I adjusted the quality down to medium everything was extremely smooth, and the quality difference was negligible. I decided that the very few stutters didn't both me too much and I adjusted it back to high quality.

Additional Content:
Hulu not only offers TV shows, but they also offer movies and trailers as well. I decided to see how this performed and started up Blues Brothers 2000 at high quality, and again the video playback was just great and on par with Netflix streaming in WMC. Going through trailers was great as well as Hulu has a huge assortment of movie trailers. I went through all three trailers for Toy Story 3 and while I did notice some stutter at high quality, it was very watchable.

CPU Usage:
Flash 10.1 is supposed to push processing onto the GPU which is what allows Hulu and other Flash videos to work on an Atom chip. I monitored the CPU usage when playing high quality video and it was pretty high, normally around 70-80% usage. I didn't have any recordings or anything else going on when I did my testing, but in my early testing of tuner performance of the Revo they didn't use very much CPU usage.

Summary:
The only difference between this review and the last is the difference in Flash 10.1 betas. I am not sure what happened between the 2 versions, but the original beta worked much better. It is no longer available through the official website, so I will post a download link in the Revo setup page. A few days ago I turned my back on Flash on the Revo and said never again. However, after some suggestions and going back to 10.1 beta 1 I can say that everything is great now. While, Hulu Desktop's UI is a bit sluggish on the Revo, I now have to recommend it. Video play back was great and there is so much content on there you will never get through it all.

To read my original review with beta 2 follow the jump:

10Feb/101

Digital Cable Advisor on the Revo

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I would like to thank Josh and Adam over at The Digital Media Zone for having me on their Entertainment 2.0 podcast. It should be up Friday and I will post the link. It seems like a lot of people want me to do further testing on the Revo and I will do just that. Expect reviews of boxee and hulu desktop soon. Tonight I had a request to run the Digital Cable Advisor on the Revo. I am happy to report that it passed the test just fine. So all of you CableCard guys can be happy!

Filed under: Revo, Testing 1 Comment