October 18, 2006

Take Viiv!

Earlier this year Intel launched their Viiv (rhymes with “five”) technology platform to much fanfare. The Viiv technology platform is squarely aimed at getting a computer into your living room. A Viiv enabled PC combined with Windows XP Media Center Edition and one of the latest Pentium D, Pentium Extreme and Core Duo should replace everything you currently have under your TV including your DVD player, CD Player and HD Set Top Box. It can even replace your home computer if you are prepared to use the coffee table as your desk, and your plasma or LCD as your primary monitor.

Viiv however isn’t a specific piece of technology (like a processor or graphics card) as such but rather a brand and a platform – or a way of defining what your PC needs to ensure it is compliant as a multimedia enabled computer. Intel are marketing Viiv PC’s as the next step in personal entertainment, a coming together of all the units of technology available now, packaged together in one box. You’ll pay more for a PC with the Viiv brand however you can be confident that it will come complete with all the components you need to truly turn your living room in to multimedia central.

Consumer Electronics manufacturers while expert in designing aesthetically pleasing devices aren’t much good at creating at designing interfaces, but software designers like Microsoft and Apple are.

Using a poorly designed interface on your TV or DVD player is about as fun as having your wisdom teeth removed by an apprentice dentist. In my opinion, as your house fills up with lots of remote controls your actual use of each component diminishes. Ever tried to watch a slideshow that you burnt on to CD with your computer using your DVD player that has built in ‘Slideshow’ functionality?

That’s where Viiv PC’s and Microsoft XP Media Centre edition come into the picture. I’ve been testing various Viiv PC’s for the last month and have been truly impressed with their performance. The last time I was as impressed with a new technology platform was when I saw my first Pioneer DVR (Digital Video Recorder) about 3 years ago.

Most Viiv PC’s should come configured with a TV Tuner and network card. The TV Tuner lets you watch and record TV while the network card lets you access Internet content and programming information. A properly configured Viiv PC should let you replace Digital Set top box, DVD Player, DVR (or HD Recorder), MP3 player and VCR with one box and more importantly one remote control.

At a recent press conference Apple confirmed what most analysts had suspected for over a year – they are going to release a set top box that enables streaming of iTunes content (music, photos and movies) from any PC in the house to your TV. iTV, due to ship in Q1 2007 comes with all the necessary ports, including HDMI and component output to ‘free’ your content from the PC. Apple have indicated that initially iTV will not include a TV tuner however third party solutions like Elgato EyeTV already make hardware that could be easily integrated in to iTV and give it true TV functionality. iTV will be agressivly priced under $500 – a deep discount to the current offering from the likes of HP and NEC.

Maestro Ultima V
Processor 3.00Ghz Intel Pentium D Dual-Core 930
Memory 1Gb DDR2
Storage 250Gb, DL 16 x DVD-RW
Audio 7.1 Channel Surround Audio
TV Tuner Dual HDTV Digital TV Tuner
Input Devices Microsoft IR Mouse and Keyboard
Network Gigabit LAN (optional Wireless LAN)
Form Factor Hi-Fi styled case
Price $2399

Pros: Great form factor, looks like a big amplifier but provides all the functionality of bigger and uglier Viiv PC’s. Built in Dual HDTV digital tuner for watching and recording different programs simultaneously.

Cons: Too much fan noise. System was unstable and crashed often requiring hard restart. Wireless not standard

NEC PowerMate DL H7204

Processor 3.2Ghz Intel Pentium D Dual-Core 930
Memory 1Gb DDR2
Storage 250Gb, DL 16 x DVD-RW
Audio 7.1 Channel Surround Audio
TV Tuner Analogue TV Tuner
Input Devices Wired USB Keyboard and Mouse
Network 10/100 Lan, Wireless LAN
Form Factor Desktop Tower
Price $2849

Pros: Easy to setup, build in Wireless LAN makes downloading EPG content easy. Lots of room for additional expansion.

Cons: Belongs on a desk not in a living room. Ships with wired keyboard and mouse, TV tuner only supports analogue input.

HP Pavilion Media Centre m7595a
Processor Intel Core 2 Duo
Memory 2Gb DDR2
Storage 200Gb, DL 16 x DVD-RW
Audio 7.1 Channel Surround Audio
TV Tuner Analogue / Digital TV Tuner
Input Devices Wired USB Keyboard and Mouse, HP Media Centre IR Remote and reciever
Network 10/100 Lan, Wireless LAN
Form Factor Desktop Tower
Price $2900

Pros: Powerful and fast, very stable. HP designed Remote easier to use then standard Microsoft remote, great in the living room or in the study due to external and extendable IR receiver.

Cons: Too noisy, expensive

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