The ASRock ION 330 is a small desktop PC with a low power Atom processor and NVIDIA ION graphics. The other day I published a fairly detailed review of this nettop, looking at its capabilities as a gaming computer and as a PC for everday use. But as several people pointed out, I didn’t delve extensively into its capabilities as a multimedia device. The short answer? It works pretty well and could make an excellent home theater PC (HTPC) for media enthusiasts on a budget.
Thanks to Flash Player 10.1’s support for GPU-acceleration, the ASRock ION 330 can play HD and standard definition Flash video smoothly on a high resolution display. And if you plug in a USB TV tuner, the nettop has more than enough power to watch and record live TV as well.
The only down side is that the Atom 330 dual core processor is still a relatively sluggish CPU which could be a problem if you plan to spend a lot of time using your HTPC to do processor-heavy tasks such as transcoding video. So if you plan to store a large number of recordings on this nettop, you might want to invest in a large hard drive.
My primary HTPC has a faster Core 2 Duo processor and runs Snapstream’s BeyondTV DVR software. After recording HD TV shows, BeyondTV automatically transcodes the files to DiVX to save space on the hard drive. The process doesn’t take that long on a fast system, but it would take ages on the ASRock ION 330 unless Snapstream or another DVR software maker develops a tool for automatically transcoding files that uses NVIDIA’s CUDA technology the way that standalone media transcoding utility MediaCoder does.
You can check out a video of the ASRock ION 330 functioning as a media center after the break.
Nice review covering all the HTPC areas! A few Qs:
Was your TV input 720p/1080i/1080p?
Did you use Win Media center or USB tuner bundled software for the recording?
I used Windows Media Center’s recorder because in my experience, the
software the comes with most TV tuners stinks. The TV input was an ATSC
antenna, so technically, the videos were 1080p, but I was outputting the
signal to a 1280 x 1024 monitor because that’s what I happened to have
Would it be possible to hook MediaCoder into some sort of automatic postprocessing workflow?
Probably, but I like simple solutions for this kind of thing, which is why
I’m using BeyondTV which has “showsqueezing” built into the default
interface. I know there are tools for other media center applications
including Windows Media Center and SageTV, but they’re less user friendly.
“The only down side is that the Atom 330 dual core processor is still a relatively sluggish CPU. So if you plan to store a large number of recordings on this nettop, you might want to invest in a large hard drive.”
God, your writing is shit sometimes. I think you’d be better served if you just reported the data and left your commentary and observations out.
Care to explain what you mean? I have no idea what you’re complaining
Maybe JK’s an ass, but that is terrible writing. The commentary states that the slow CPU is the reason that I might want a larger hard drive.
Why would you use the word “so” in the second sentence? It implies a linkage between the two ideas, which really shouldn’t even be in the same paragraph.
I admit it was a little clumsy and I added a few words to spruce it up. But
did you read the paragraphs that follow? As I explain, the CPU might not be
up to the task of transcoding videos to save space, so a large hard drive
would help you store more TV programs.
I’m the first to get annoyed about all the “it’s” vs “its” mix-ups in online writings, but there isn’t enough time in the world to be a grammar/spelling nazi when it comes to blog entries. Proofreading is more the exception than the rule for online pieces, and you just have to accept it.
I think you need to cut tech guys (the people who run these tech blogs) some slack as well. All one can hope for is that they know their tech, and overlook any awkward writing that may happen. You’re here for tech stuff, not English 101.
Yeah, that sentence was awkward, but if you read the follow-up sentence, it made sense. The reason you need a big hard drive is so that the slow Atom doesn’t have to transcode the captured content and thereby reduce the storage space. That’s the main reason to transcode.
That brings up another performance issue with this unit: the 2.5″ HDD. For a self-contained HTPC, you need not only huge storage capacity, but also the fast transfer speed of a 3.5″ unit. A 2.5″ drive fails in both area. Again, this unit and all nettops like it are only suitable for a limited range of HTPC uses, viz. viewing stored and online content. It’s not for capping live material, nor for ripping/transcoding content from optical media.
anything wrong with you.
it seems a nice system, but would you guy choose this over the intel Mini itx system (intel 4500m chipset) with a core 2 duo inside?
The term HTPC encompasses a range of possible uses, from “full-range” use that include capture/transcode to “end-point” use that only need to playback content, with the more intensive content processing (and perhaps storage) relegated to back-end servers.
A low-powered device like this obviously can’t do full-range HTPC functions, but–per the netbook mantra–is “good enough” for content display, and is relatively cheap, and is w/o the traditional HTPC issues of size/heat/noise.
That said, the Atom platform never made much sense for nettops as it does for netbooks. Its main claim to fame is power saving, which is not critical or even important when the unit is connected to an AC outlet. Certainly, the low-powered use translates to less heat (ergo fan noise) and is desirable, but not to the extent of having to suffer with an anemic processor.
One would hope that Intel would make available its CULV platform to nettop use, but the market has more choices here. There is a fair number of low-power desktop CPUs from both Intel and AMD to fit the bill, and for fans of SFF as I am, there are mini-ITX boards and cases available as well. The caveat here is that putting a system together, along with the software, is still in DIY territory and doesn’t have mainstream appeal.
What is mainstream right now is dedicated-function boxes such as the Popcorn Hour et al which considerably simplifies the set-up, but at the expense of limiting your playback choice to what the manufacturer decides. An general-purpose PC serving as HTPC is still the most versatile set-up, given that there is a resident tech in the house.
What TV tuner were you using.
A Pinnacle PCTV stick, but any USB TV tuner should work. Your results may
vary, of course. I’ve found that not all tuners are created equal in terms
of signal and picture quality.
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