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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  • jamawass - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    quote:

    Did I say "flawlessly" about the PVR functions? Well, not quite. I tried recording a couple of college football games on Saturday, while watching an HD broadcast through my Comcast box. Everything worked as planned. I selected the games to record and came back later to view them. All the games ended up lasting longer than scheduled, unfortunately, and Windows MCE didn't know any better. The Notre Dame vs. USC game was cut off with ND leading 24-21 and 7:33 remaining.

    In all fairness this is not limited to the Shuttle/ Win XP MCE. I had the same problem with the PVR cable box from TimeWarner Cable. The game lasted about 4 hrs and the tivo only recorded 3 1/2 hrs that was on the schedule so I missed the "fake spike" play too as I couldn't watch the game live. Poor software programming as TitanTV doesn't do that with my winfast pvr card on my pc.
    Reply
  • dr_wily - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    "watts measured at outlet"

    how is that accomplished?
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    "Kill A Watt" device plugged into the outlet, with the M1000 plugged into that. The Kill A Watt is what most of us use for power testing. You can get them online for about $40 I think. Reply
  • agent2099 - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    I'm suprised Shuttle did not use HDTV Tuners. That would make a device like this actually make sense.


    I was sure they would use something like 2 AVERTVHD MCE A180 Tuners instead of 2 analogue tuners.
    Reply
  • glennpratt - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    What they should do is make one for Turion with the nVidia 6150 and use three PCI ports. One dual tuner NVTV and two HD AverMedia M180's Reply
  • BigLan - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    MCE reuires that there is at least 1 SDTV tuner before you can adda HDTV tuner (don't ask me why though!.) At least with the newly-announced Fusion USB HDTV tuner you could add to this box. Reply
  • agent2099 - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    In that case it should use one SD tuner and one HD Tuner. Reply
  • Kishkumen - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    Having another black box sitting on top of a DVD player, sitting on top of your receiver, sitting on top of xyz single function device seems so old fashioned to me. I don't see an appliance such as this really having a place in my future home theater. The way I see it, the backend needs to be little more than a massive storage server placed out of sight like a basement with a terminal interface that contains tuners for all your inputs, over the air, cable, satellite, etc. The heavy lifting would be done by the remote frontends. The computers driving the frontends should not be seen as well and they should be capable of handling HDTV resoluations and all audio duties. I can see this being feasible with Apple's Mac Minis at some point very soon. Velcro the suckers to the back of a flat panel and you've got a very clean looking setup. In such a setup, you would have a Mac Mini driving your largest flat panel for your Home Theater, one in your kitchen, one in your bedroom and so on, each sharing the large repository of resources in your basement. I've achieved this to a certain degree using MythTV. I have a regular Shuttle XPC doing the gruntwork for my home theater, an actual Mac Mini driving a display in my kitchen (although it's underpowered for HDTV), an older Athlon XP in my bedroom and my study computer doubling as a remote frontend as well. Not perfect, but I'll get there. Oh yeah, and Windoze zombies need not apply. Reply
  • glennpratt - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    You do realize this plays DVD's so you don't need a DVD player? Ever seen MCE Extenders? Everything you discuss is possible with extenders (and there cheaper then a Mac mini). Put a nice MCE box in the basement, extenders on the displays. HD extenders aren't out yet, but the Xbox 360 is coming in Nov. 22 and includes an HD capable MCE Extender (and it's cheaper then a Mac Mini in both forms).

    This thing does support HDTV, it just doesn't officially support HDTV from cable providers (which noone does). In fact it supports two SD tuners and two HD tuners for a total of 4 tuners.

    It WILL however, change channels and record SD and HDTV from the firewire out on many popular cable and DirecTV boxes with firewire using a free plugin.

    Windoze... what's that?
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    Technically, MCE supports HDTV tuners, but the M1000 as shipped only has two PCI slots and they're filled with SD tuners already. Reply

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