I have thought long and hard on how to attempt to review the Revo as a HTPC and I decided that I couldn't just give an overall summary of the Revo for a review. What really needs to be done is to break it down into the most commonly used features and how they actually work. When I told a coworker that I made my Revo a HTPC the first thing he asked was how does youtube and hulu run on it. I thought he would have asked more specific questions about load times, transitions, 1080p playback, or perhaps performance of Media Center. Nope he just wanted to know how flash was on it. So my plan is to break the Revo down into segments. First will be Hardware, then Media Center, than other software running on the Revo. (Note: I am reviewing the AR1600 with 2GB Ram)
The Revo is a very sexy machine in my eyes. It is very sleek, low profile, and it has a nice color design to it. It features almost everything you could want in HTPC. It has 6 USB ports, HDMI out, 1 eSata port, 10/100/1000 Ethernet, and of course general audio and mic input. There are 4 USB ports located in the back followed by another on the top of the machine, and than an extremely awkwardly place one on the top front of the machine. Even though it was really awkward I did find it useful for plugging in flash drives. In real world use only the back 4 USB ports are really useful, which will make you want to get a USB hub right away. Another awkward aspect is that the eSata is located on the front of the machine, which means you will have a nice eSata cord sticking out your front if you go that route.
The AR1600 also comes with a wired mouse and keyboard. Their cords aren't very long so you will most likely want to upgrade to a wireless set if you plan on using them a lot. If not the included mouse and keyboard are just fine. The keyboard has nice clicks to it when keys are pressed and the white design match the Revo well. Also included in the box is a nice stand so your Revo doesn't have to lay on it side. I found the stand a bit too wobbly for me so I decided to set it down inside of my cabinet, while not as sexy laying down it still looks nice.
The power button is placed on the top corner of the system and has a nice glow to it. It isn't too strong but isn't too dim either, you always know the state of the machine. One thing about the power button however is that it is a big button and required a nice firm press to actually activate it. I found myself having to hit it a few times to get it to work.
The Revo is an extremely quite machine. You can only ever hear the fan when you power on the system for about 2 seconds, after that it doesn't make a peep at all. Going from an Xbox 360 extender to a Revo was night and day as I had an older 360 which sounded like a jet plane. The Revo itself performs very well in Windows 7. It has a very quick boot time, I would say somewhere around 30 seconds. Running idle on the desktop only about 30% of the RAM is being used. Windows 7 also helps in making this machine run extremely nice, as I would be worried as to how it would perform with Vista. I did notice that the 32bit version of Windows ran faster than the 64bit.
I push Windows Media Center to the limits with its capabilities. I listen to music, view pictures, watch videos and movies, and I record and watch live television. WMC takes only a few seconds to load from a fresh boot and is instantly ready to go. The UI transitions are smooth when navigating around WMC. I did find one hitch which is when you are watching live television and bring up the guide. The live feed hiccups from time to time, while not a huge issue, you can tell the system is being stressed.
Using YAMMM with the movies section of WMC ensures that I have all of my artwork and meta data for my movies. Clicking on movies will bring up a nice view of all my movies (100+ currently). All of the cover art comes up pretty fast, although scrolling through is a bit slow but not horrible. If you change the sort feature it will take some time to process your request, however I always leave it at Title.
Live Television is great on the Revo. I use an antenna for free over the air HD, and the picture quality is just amazing. Switching back and forth between my built in TV tuner in my Samsung LN46B650 and in WMC are identical which is great. I have never had a failed recording and I have even recorded 3 shows at the same time with no problems at all.
I have not used any other add ons inside of WMC so I can not comment on their performance. I will say that I simply love WMC with my Revo and the UI in media center is very friendly if you have never used it before. I would even call it girlfriend or mom friendly.
Netflix instant streaming is built right into WMC, which is awesome. You can access it directly from the main UI of WMC and all you have to do is enter your user name and password and you are good to go. The greatest part of Netflix inside of WMC is that it isn't just your instant queue like most devices. You get your instant queue, but you also get a full UI with 15 or so different categories at the top which allow you to browse about 50 or so movies from that genre. On top of that there is a search feature which will allow you to search for watch instantly movies and add them right away to your instant queue to be watched, which is a great feature. Performance is great, buffering only takes a few seconds and you are watching your movie. The quality is also very good, I do not think it is up to the Xbox 360 in terms of quality but it is extremely watchable. Netflix in WMC does not use Flash, it uses Silverlight and I will say it does a much better job streaming content than Flash does, so hopefully we will see more Silverlight in the future.
I don't normally watch too many things on youtube however I know a lot of people do so I decided to test it out. Using flash 10.1 beta2 I booted up the 1080p trailer for Avatar in full screen mode. It played but was choking on the buffer. I let the trailer fully buffer out for about 3 minutes or so and then let it play. I was amazed to see that it played flawlessly not hiccups at all. Mind you that I did have to let it buffer out fully so depending on your internet speed you may or may not enjoy it too much. All other standard definition content played just fine.
Hulu is great because you get to catch up on a lot of television that you may have missed. I tested in browser which only allows standard def 360i/p or high definition 480p. I attempted first to watch The Daily Show in 480p full screen and oh my was it horrible. The quality of the video was good, however it was extremely choppy and completely unwatchable. I then attempted 480p at normal size, and while better was still pretty unwatchable. Then I switched the feed back over to their standard definition and to my surprise ran great at normal size or in full screen mode. You could tell the difference for sure in quality between the two feeds, but it wasn't too bad. I have a feeling this is more a problem with their servers and not really the Revo as it processed youtube just fine.
Currently flash 10.1 is still in beta. Flash 10.1 allows for hardware acceleration, which taps into the ION chip. Adobe plans to release a full version of 10.1 later this year so hopefully we will see even better playback on the Revo.
I have also written a review of Flash 10.1 Beta 3 so you can see the general performance of Flash on the Revo. The written review can be found here or you can watch the video below:
The starting price of the Revo is extremely attractive. Starting at just $200 it seems like a great price for a HTPC rig. However, I have spent much more than $200 on this machine. I am a really big bargain shopper so your miles may vary in what you pay. See the "About" page for more info on what I have in my setup. Here is a price break down.
1GB RAM: $25
Hard drives: $150
USB Hub: $15
Wireless keyboard/mouse: $30
USB Tuners (3 of them): $70
TV antenna: $20
I probably went a bit overboard with what I purchased and could have gotten away with spending maybe around $400, which honestly is a great value for what you are getting, and is still cheaper than Tivo and much better with no monthly fees.
Overall I love my little Revo. Not only is it a talking piece in my living room, but it covers everything that I would ever want to do with a HTPC. I really recommend the Revo for people that do not want to spend a lot of money or don't want to build their own HTPC from scratch. Combined with Window Media Center you will be good to go for years to come.