Introduction

Microsoft, Intel, AMD, and just about every other major player in the home computer market have at one point or another talked about convergence. The goal is to have the "computer in the living room" rather than in a back office - or more likely, a computer in both the office and the living room, and perhaps a couple more scattered throughout the house for good measure! Those of us without unlimited budgets would probably be content with one or two computers, of course. In order to get the PC into the living room, several things need to happen, and the good news is that these prerequisites have now been met - mostly.

Shuttle's XPC M1000 is a system that looks to combine all of the technologies that have been developing over the past several years and finally make the PC a part of your entertainment center. The question of whether or not it succeeds is going to depend on many factors as well as the desires of the individual, and we will cover the capabilities and shortcomings of the M1000 in this review in an attempt to come up with an answer. Before we get into the specifics of the M1000, here's a quick overview of what we think that a good HTPC needs to succeed.

First, the unit has to work well for the intended task; in this case, it needs the ability to play and record TV. That's pretty straightforward, though the quality of the playback and recording is also important. Recording multiple channels at lower than VCR quality would defeat the purpose of upgrading, for example. Simply being able to record and play content from TV, DVD, etc. isn't enough, however; the ease of use needs to be there as well. We've all seen the VCR decks flashing "12:00" because no one could figure out how to set the time, and a poor user interface is partly to blame. Ideally, you would be able to connect an HTPC and simply have it work with little to no configuration effort on the part of the user. If a system were so easy to use that the manual didn't even need to be consulted, then that would be a definite win for the consumer.

Besides the features, quality, and ease of use, there is still one major ingredient that is often overlooked: appearance. While many people out there have a hodge-podge of electronics devices connected to their TV and stereo, the higher up the quality scale you go, the more important aesthetics become. There are individuals who will go so far as to purchase all of their equipment from one manufacturer, in order to get a homogeneous look. That's probably the extreme, but few people who spend thousands of dollars on equipment are going to want something so crude as a large PC tower case stuffed into their entertainment center.

The importance of outward appearance extends to other areas as well. High-end amplifiers, tuners, receivers, etc. have a couple of other performance aspects that are critical, and they're related to each other. First, how hot do the devices get? As features, quality, and performance all increase, often the heat output will become higher. Most home theater equipment becomes warm at the very least, and warnings such as "do not obstruct the top vents" need to be observed. There are ways to deal with heat, naturally, and the most simple is often to add a fan. Simple in this instance is generally a bad idea, however, as the last thing that anyone wants from their high-quality stereo and speakers is a constant whir of a fan keeping them cool. That's the second item that needs to be dealt with, noise output. Most manufacturers design their equipment to run without any fans, using heat sinks to help dissipate heat better. As before, a standard PC case with a couple of fans emitting a constant 45+ dB of noise is not going to please a lot of people.

That covers the basics of what we want from a HTPC device, although there are plenty of other areas that we haven't mentioned, which we will touch on as well. How does Shuttle attempt to meet these design considerations with the M1000, and do they succeed? We've been putting the system through its paces over the past several days, so let's get into the details.

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  • glennpratt - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    Mean't to clarify that, I was refering to MCE at the moment.

    Too bad shuttle didn't source a dual tuner card and at least leave a PCI slot open.
    Reply
  • DigitalFreak - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    Unfortunately, you can't play a DVD via an extender, according to what I've seen. Obviously you could play it directly from an XBOX360, but what about all the DVD rips people have on their MCE / server machines? Reply
  • glennpratt - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    If you make them a format the extenders can play, then they'll play. It'll prolly have to be WMV9 if you wan't decent compression because Divx/Xvid don't work for the extenders as far as I know.

    When longhorn comes out, you should be able to stream, rip and compress DVD's ie stream them to extenders. They wan't to have the 'Trusted' stuff in place first so they don't get sued. Supposedly there's talk of letting the MCE machine convert MPEG4 compatible files on the fly to a stream that can be played on the extenders in the future.
    Reply
  • DigitalFreak - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    All I can say is blah. You can build the same thing using m-ATX boards and cases, and customize it however you want. Still waiting for the Nvidia 6150/430 based motherboards to hit the market.... Reply
  • Pandamonium - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    Nothing on the DIY market is as pretty and all encompassing as this. The DIY market has only a handful of cases that are low profile, and none that are low profile with a centered DVD drive AND VFD/LCD display. There is also no sound card (to my knowledge) on the market with built in support for 7.1 via RCA out.

    Perhaps a more valid criticism of the M1000 would have been lack of the SPDIF out.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    It has S/PDIF out - both coax and optical. It only has optical S/PDIF in.

    The M1000 is an awesome looking case. I think it looks great, and it works well for what it does. I really hope to see Shuttle (or anyone else) get a fully compatible HDTV machine out in the future. For $2000, that's what I really want to see.
    Reply
  • DigitalFreak - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    ...and BTW, why aren't they using DDR2 memory? If memory (no pun intended) serves, using DDR with the 915PM chipset results in single channel only operation. Seeing as how tests with the older 400Mhz bus P-Ms showed that is was memory bandwidth limited, this seems to be a stupid decision on Shuttle's part. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    915PM should be dual channel DDR. It is simply the mobile variant of the 915P and will support DDR or DDR2. DDR2 wouldn't really help that much, and the BIOS at present doesn't have the option to tune the RAM for higher performance. Reply
  • mlittl3 - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    One of the big gripes about Apple is that you can only download audio in the AAC format. Everyone hates that you are locked into their format in order to buy music. I read in the article that WMCE only supports it's own format and not xvid, divx or mpeg4. Am I reading this correct? Are you only able to encode video on these devices in a proprietary format from Microsoft? How would it work if you wanted to transfer your content to a non-WMCE PC or non-windows PC?

    I guess that was a lot of questions. :)
    Reply
  • BigLan - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    It only supports recording to ms-dvr files (which are based on MPEG2.) MCE can play xvid, mpeg4 or anything else that you can play with WMP 10. You can also play back these files on other Windows boxes.

    There are some tools to convert ms-dvr to regular mpeg2 files, which can then be converted to xvids etc, but I've never used them.
    Reply

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