Home Theater PCs (HTPCs) have remained a niche market, catering mainly to enthusiasts who love the challenge of setting up and maintaining them. The demand for dumb devices with HTPC capabilities has seen tremendous increase over the past few years, with the success of devices such as the WDTV and other media streamers. Blu-Ray players also end up integrating features such as media streaming and wireless networking. Often, though, users end up demanding things which are difficult for these units to implement. A case in point is Netflix streaming on the WDTV Live, which ended up being implemented in WDTV Live Plus. Torrenting (and other similar PC capabilities) end up making an appearance in the homebrew firmware versions of these products. One of the easiest ways to avoid such disappointments is to invest in a HTPC. These are more future proof than the small media streaming boxes and Blu Ray players for which one has to depend on core firmware updates from the manufacturer.

Over the last 2 or 3 years, with the advent of small form factor (SFF) PCs, and promising chipsets such as Nvidia ION, one sensed the looming convergence of the media streamer and HTPC market. While being much more flexible compared to media streaming boxes, they suffered on the power envelop front. Also, the DRM requirements of Blu-Ray ensured that such PCs could never hope to achieve as much ease of usage and bitstreaming support as the Blu-Ray players unless one invested in costly soundcards. In the last 6 - 8 months, ATI introduced the 5xxx series and Intel introduced the Clarkdale and Arrandale platforms with an IGP (Integrated Graphics Processor), both of which were capable of HD audio bitstreaming. Enthusiasts could easily purchase such products and build HTPCs which could surpass the capabilities of any Blu-Ray player or media streamer.

The HTPC market, unfortunately, can never take off unless pre-built units make an appearance. We have seen the big players such as Dell and Acer create products such as the ZinoHD and Aspire Revo respectively. However, the platforms utilized processors such as the Neo and the Atom, which were mainly geared towards the ultraportable and netbook market. Consumers expecting desktop performance from such PCs were left disappointed. The market needed a fresh approach, and AsRock has come out with the first pre-built SFF PC based on the Arrandale platform for this.

ASRock has gained a reputation amongst us of being innovative in a crowded market, and having come out with pioneering products. Their first play in the SFF HTPC market was the ASRock ION 300-HT. Though it was found to be technically good, it ended up competing against products such as the Aspire Revo from Acer (with a substantially higher marketing impetus). Now, they have stolen a march over the competition by introducing the Core 100 HT-BD. Realizing that the Atom in the nettop was the major cause of concern amongst HTPC customers, they seem to have done their homework by introducing their next play in the market with the Arrandale platform.

The Arrandale platform's performance has been analyzed ad nauseam on various sites, and we will not go that route in this review. In the last few months, we have seen the introduction of many H55 / H57 based mini-ITX motherboards supporting these platforms. Last month, we reviewed the Gigabyte H55 mini-ITX board. We found it almost perfect for a HTPC. It is quite likely that there is a large number of customers in the market interested in a pre-built HTPC based on this platform.

ASRock is the first company to come out with a ready to order PC in the mini-ITX form factor based on the Arrandale platform and they have put together a nice video of the purported capabilities of their product. Let us first get the marketing talk [ YouTube video ] out of the way (in case you are interested), before proceeding to analyze ASRock's claims.

The comments for the Gigabyte H55 mini-ITX review requested HTPC specific testing. Starting with this review, we are taking those comments into consideration and this unit will be analyzed completely from a HTPC perspective. If you are interested in a specific aspect, use the index below to navigate to the section you want. Otherwise, read on to find out what Anandtech discovered while trying to use the Core 100 HT-BD as a HTPC.

Unboxing Impressions
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  • ganeshts - Thursday, July 29, 2010 - link

    Decaff,

    I will do more research on how to perfect the picture quality testing metrics.

    For your second point, we do have a HTPC software article coming up (end of August) :)

    Third, we just posted a review of the WDTV Live. Reviews of other boxes are coming up :)
    Reply
  • BSalita - Saturday, July 31, 2010 - link

    I congratulate Anandtech for holding out a comprehensive HTPC suite to quantify the performance of new gear. The industry has been lax in creating a consensus of how to properly test HTPC gear. I hope other review sites will likewise use this kind of test suite. Let the media server wanabees know what their systems must do to find a minimal level of acceptability. Only by holding out such a thorough test will we finally have the means for raising out of the quagmire of incomplete codecs, firmware and lightweight product comparisons. Reply
  • Hrel - Sunday, August 15, 2010 - link

    1. No tv tuner
    2. No gaming
    3. 700+ dollars?!

    I agree with everyone else. I really see no appeal in this system. Something without a tv tuner and that doesn't function as a gaming system will never be worth more than 200, maybe 300 if the features were really nice.

    I don't understand why people can't just use their laptops/desktops? I use my desktop on a 37" HDTV. Gaming, video encoding, internet browsing, torrenting, youtube, hulu, DVR, 2TB of storage internally in RAID!!!! Seriously, it's baffling why anyone would accept less when you simply don't have to.
    Reply
  • vanderwijk - Monday, August 23, 2010 - link

    I was very surprised to read that because HDMI port on the unit is 1.3a the maximum resolution is only 1920 x 1080. This would mean that my Dell 2408 would not be supported because its resolution is 1920 x 1200 :(

    A quick check on WikiPedia shows that HDMI 1.3a is capable of at least 1920 x 1200, so what's the deal here? Is this an error in the review or is it really not possible to display more than 1080 vertical pixels?
    Reply
  • blacksun1234 - Wednesday, August 25, 2010 - link

    Yes, it can support 1920x1200. Reply
  • blacksun1234 - Friday, September 03, 2010 - link

    Dear Ganesh,
    Can it support BD 3D playback with Samsung 3D LED TV?
    Reply
  • mega999 - Sunday, January 16, 2011 - link

    Can it support BD 3D playback with Samsung 3D LED TV? -or do I need the new asrock visiond 3d one for that because of it's hdmi 1.4?

    Regards,
    mega
    Reply

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