New gem found: ASRock Vision 3D
After having used several media players, Western Digital and Netgear, I believe I found the "perfect" solution to play my movies and tv shows: I bought an ASRock Vision 3D HTPC and I'm so far extremely happy with it.It's very small, the size of a Mac Mini just a bit taller (7 cm high).
It actually comes in many "flavors", mine has a Core i3-370M processor, Nvidia GT425M videocard, 4 GB memory, 500 GB harddisk, DVD drive, gigabit LAN, USB 3.0 connections and HDMI 1.4 with 3D capability. It is also THX certified, although I am not very sure what this actually means... I do not plan to use 3D in the near future and was also not interested in getting one with a blu-ray drive as I already have a Cambridge Audio Azur650BD which I am not going to replace. The DVD drive, however, does help in getting the operating system installed as the Vision comes without one. I put Windows 7 64bit on it and ... XBMC ...
This was the main reason I bought the Vision for. After having tried XBMC on my (Windows) PC I realized there's no way to go around a decent multimedia software if you want to have a nice presentation of your collection. No media player, at least at this price point, will ever provide this functionality and flexibility for managing your movies. I get great picture and sound with this setup (remember, never tried 3D) and the beauty of the beast is that I can still control everything with my Logitech remote.
The 500 GB disk is no limitation for me as I store all my media on a NAS. So the internal disk of the Vision is only used to store downloading and downloaded files until they get moved to their final place.Because of the downloads I keep the unit on all the time. As it consumes only about 40W it is much more advantageous than keeping my regular PC on for the same purpose. And this brings me to the only disappointment I had with this purchase, which is in no way related to the Vision itself.
I was hoping I can largely replace my regular PC with this low-consumption and relatively powerful small machine. I'm not palying games or do very processor-intensive processing so it didn't seem an unrealistic goal. However, I had to realize that Windows screens were not designed to be displayed on TV-size panels. While all pictures (background, movies, photos) look much better than on the computer monitor, texts are very difficult to read especially if you're sitting on the couch. I did change the magnification to 150% which made the situation much better but still far from easily usable. The problem is with the fonts used to display text in program screens (ie, Windows Explorer, Mail) and interaction panels. The OK and Cancel buttons are particularly blurred from a distance.
This aside, I'm very satisfied. XBMC might not suite everybody but it plays all files I have, bar DTS music, and it looks stunning on the TV screen. For music playback I'm using my Logitech SB Touch anyway, mostly as I must not have my TV on, so DTS music is also no issue.
I would be really interested to read a review in the magazine about this device. Or, for that matter, about other HTPCs as well. When doing the research for my purchase I realized that there's a great variety of these, some expert opinion might help people like me making their choice easier and perhaps better.