Inside MauiBy Frank Ohlhorst | Print
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AMD rolls out a new home theater PC platform that aims to replace every major component in the typical entertainment system. And its channel friendly.
While one could certainly recreate the AMD reference system, the real trick is to build a system with a solution provider’s preferred vendors and components and net the same capabilities and performance. Luckily, that should be a pretty easy trick to accomplish; all of the major component vendors have something to offer that can be used to create a "Maui Like" system.
Examining the system, it becomes abundantly clear that there are a multitude of ways to integrate it into a home entertainment environment. Multiple video options, including HDMI, VGA, RCA, S-Video and so on are matched by multiple audio connections, ranging from stereo RCA connectors to SPDIF optical audio out. Support for 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound is also incorporated into the unit.
Setup of the system was straightforward, with the most complicated portion pertaining to setting up a TV signal. The bundled ATI card works with DTV, Broadcast TV, HDTV, QAM (Digital Cable) and analog cable. Selecting which to use depends upon the services available at your location, cable service provider and antenna. For many, the simplest way to set up the system will be connected directly to the cable TV (or satellite) converter box. Of course, with that style of connection, you will need to use the converter box to tune channels and you may limit the unit’s DVR capabilities.
We tested our system by connecting it directly to out cable service provider's analog/digital cable signal. For our environment, we were able to receive all of our analog cable channels and QAM channels (at least those that are unscrambled). In other words, without using a cable box, we gave up all of our premium and high-definition content – that is not so much a reflection of the HTPC, but more so of an indication that our cable provider limits "non-converter box traffic."
We also tried a rooftop aerial and found that we were able to pick up several DTV channels and a couple of HDTV channels. For those users located in a broadcast area with over-the-air content, they may want to hook up their HTPC to use the over-the-air free signals, and then use their cable box for premium content – to get the best of both worlds.
Once the TV input is decided, users will run a setup wizard in Windows Media Center, which takes care of programming the TV Tuner, setting up the display and so on. What’s really notable is how well AMD’s live software integrates into Media Center, which allows the end user to completely rely on Media Center and not have to bother with any other applications or OS intricacies.
As far as performance is concerned, we have no complaints – the system was able to play a Blue-Ray version of Iron Man with no degradation, or loss of frames. We were able to record and playback HD-TV content and using the system to display our various digital pictures and videos stored on our home server was straightforward.
Although it is debatable whether or not a HTPC
can replace the myriad of AV equipment in today’s homes, AMD’s Maui
comes the closest to achieving the goal to date. For under $1,000, system builders should be able to put together a system that
accomplishes everything the AMD Maui PC can do and then some. The
platform proves to be an excellent path to a dual purpose system, which
could wind up in living rooms and conference rooms alike. The only
catch here is the need to use the MSI motherboard and AMD processor to
achieve the goal, but other motherboard manufacturers are sure to
follow, truly opening up the opportunity for system builders everywhere.