Media Center PC – Christmas Miracle.
Christmas brought me a HTPC this year. I used to have a mac mini for this purpose and it worked out quite well. I watched Hulu, movies, Netflix, Youtube, etc. I have tried to find an alternate, as I said in a recent post. Playon or TVerisity can be used in connection with a video game console to watch a variety of internet based media streams. The Xbox 360 has Netflix integration which is really great because some of the media comes through in HD and looks great, and the interface is more TV friendly than using a keyboard and mouse to navigate.
However, the problem with those programs is that they can’t deal with hiccups or breaks in the stream. If the whole program doesn’t come through without a hitch, you have to start the whole thing over again. This got too annoying and I wanted something better. I also wanted to be able to play with some retro console emulators as well as DDR in the front room.
I decided to go with Nvidia’s new ION platform. I had read some good things about video card accerelation with flash video and the dual core 330 atom chip. So, after looking on the local classifieds (here in SLC we have KSL.com – a local news station that has an online classified section) I found someone selling a working HTPC with the ION platform for like $200. This is about $100 less than what it would cost to do the build myself, so I made myself a Christmas present of it.
After installing the right drivers and a little tweaking, I can report that the platform performs quite well. I added a Blu-ray DVD-ROM drive and have now tested it with all the differing media sources that I watch. It plays the Blu-ray discs without any trouble, does DivX and other media formats very well, streams Netflix like a charm and even works with Hulu Desktop and Hulu in Chrome smooth.
I was able to play Hulu and Netflix at the same time, and Netflix still came through in full HD beautifully, though Hulu did get a little choppy. The Hulu performance is perhaps the worst of all these. During commercials and transitions it slows down and drops frames, and though it is usually smooth during most programs there are a few hiccups. The CPU meter jumps between 40% and 60% utilization, so I’m not sure why Hulu isn’t perfect.
All in all I am very satisfied with the platform. Here are the specs:
Zotac ION-ITXF – ION 330 ATOM Dual Core
80 GB HD
NVIDIA 9400M – also called ION
LITE-ON IHOS104 Bluray DVD Drive
It’s my first experience with BluRay and I have not been disappointed. Even on my 720p TV, the images are noticeably sharper and more detailed. I may have to upgrade my TV to get the full enjoyment out of it.
I am currently running all this in Windows 7. I also tried installing