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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  • LoneWolf15 - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    But non-Linux enthusiasts need not apply:

    http://www.pchdtv.com/">http://www.pchdtv.com/

    I did find one other card listed, but it appears to have a few limitations of its own and I've never heard of the vendor:

    http://www.ramelectronics.net/html/hdtv-cards.html">http://www.ramelectronics.net/html/hdtv-cards.html

    Reply
  • erwos - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    The issue is not that there are no HDTV cards out there. (You totally missed the ATI HDTV Wonder, BTW.)

    The issue is that there are no such cards with Cablecard support. You're limited to terrestial broadcast (ala VHF and UHF) and unencrypted cable (kinda rare) if you don't have Cablecard support.

    _No one_ has a tuner with Cablecard support atm.

    -Erwos
    Reply
  • noxipoo - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    I was hoping it was a barebone system that you can add components to yourself. oh well, maybe in the future. Reply
  • gibhunter - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    My Cox cable DVR has two HDTV tuners and didn't cost me a dime other than the $10/month fee. I can record two HD shows while watching a third one that's been recorded earlier and for movies that I get from the net, I just throw them on a DVD and play them back in my DivX compatible Philips DVD.

    For $2000, this thing is a ripoff. It still would be a ripoff for $1000 when you can get one from Gateway for $500. Besides, without HiDef support, this box is obsolete already.
    Reply
  • glennpratt - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    We'll see, here's the deal. That box does one thing. This is a complete computer. MCE actually supports up to four tuners (two SD, two HD), supports extenders and doesn't tie you in to your cable provider. Heck, you could uninstall MCE and install mythTV or whatever you wanted. You pay to have control.

    Now sure, this box is expensive, but it's the high end. You can get in a decent MCE box for $400 and you get to keep it (incuding everything recorded on it) when you stop paying the cable company.
    Reply
  • erwos - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    I'm genuinely surprised they used a P-M. Seems like a Celeron M would be a much better fit for this sort of computer (don't need as many speed settings - just "high" and "low", really). With a decent hardware encoder, CPU load should _not_ be a problem.

    The lack of HDTV was a total letdown, although it's somewhat unfair to complain to Shuttle about lack of Cablecard support. Looks like "build your own" is still the method of choice for building HTPC boxes...

    Does WinMCE have any support for direct Firewire grabs off cable boxes?

    -Erwos
    Reply
  • BigLan - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    Actually, cpu horsepower still plays a part in htpc. MCE (and most other PVR software) can recompress recorded shows to .wmv files which are about 20% of the size of the original. This is probably why the autoGK tests were in the review. There's also add-ins to MCE to automatically remove ad breaks, which takes a lot of processing.

    MCE has some support for FW capture, but is limited to certain boxes (one motorola series I think.)

    This box would be very nice with a 500GB drive, a true dual tuner like the Hauppauge PVR-500 and a HDTV PCI card.

    Reply
  • erwos - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    I was trying to imply that the Celeron M could handle such duties. It benchmarks extremely well.

    -Erwos
    Reply
  • psychobriggsy - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    That is a hefty price ($2000) to pay for a component.

    However it does have the correct form-factor (at last). It'd be nice to see one using a Turion as well.

    The 'standby' power is simply disgusting however. The point of standby is to merely wait for a reactivate signal whilst dropping power consumption down to nothing.

    Some TVs exhibit the same problem however. They keep the tube warm for fast activation - thereby using lots and lots of power! So that feature you never care about can cost you a lot of money - it's best to turn off completely.

    The consumer expectation of standby is 'Uses a tiny amount of power for a little convenience'. It certainly isn't 'Uses £50 of power a year even if you rarely use it'. Sure, £50 is nothing compared to the $2000 cost of this device, but for that price you expect the device to bend over backwards to not have high running costs.
    Reply
  • xsilver - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    I think the BIGGEST selling point of this pc is the form factor
    it looks smaller than anything else available
    obviously with that you pay a price

    and with power, if its not doing much all day, why not set it to S3 suspend after 5 mins of inactivity like a laptop does.... if they developed reactivation from S3 suspend to be much faster (about 2-3 sec) then I think it will be all good (is this one of the features touted in vista?)
    Reply

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