Inside Maui

By Frank Ohlhorst  |  Print this article Print


Desktop-as-a-Service Designed for Any Cloud ? Nutanix Frame

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.

Hardware aside, the most important factor behind a HTPC is how well it performs. The AMD reference system came with Windows Vista Ultimate installed, with Media Center preconfigured. We hooked the system up to a Vizio 32-inch display (/c/a/Reviews/VIZIO-Offers-a-Different-Path-to-Digital-Signage/) using an HDMI cable, which provided excellent 1080i video. For audio, we used a low-end, older 5.1 surround sound speaker set from Logitech.

The system came with a Windows Media Center remote control, which works fine for accessing the media-centric features of the device. We chose to add a wireless mouse and keyboard to ease setup and to use the system as a traditional PC when needed.

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.

Frank Ohlhorst Frank J. Ohlhorst is the Executive Technology Editor for eWeek Channel Insider and brings with him over 20 years of experience in the Information Technology field.He began his career as a network administrator and applications program in the private sector for two years before joining a computer consulting firm as a programmer analyst. In 1988 Frank founded a computer consulting company, which specialized in network design, implementation, and support, along with custom accounting applications developed in a variety of programming languages.In 1991, Frank took a position with the United States Department of Energy as a Network Manager for multiple DOE Area Offices with locations at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPL), Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), FermiLAB and the Ames Area Office (AMESAO). Frank's duties included managing the site networks, associated staff and the inter-network links between the area offices. He also served at the Computer Security Officer (CSO) for multiple DOE sites. Frank joined CMP Technology's Channel group in 1999 as a Technical Editor assigned to the CRN Test Center, within a year, Frank became the Senior Technical Editor, and was responsible for designing product testing methodologies, assigning product reviews, roundups and bakeoffs to the CRN Test Center staff.In 2003, Frank was named Technology Editor of CRN. In that capacity, he ensured that CRN maintained a clearer focus on technology and increased the integration of the Test Center's review content into both CRN's print and web properties. He also contributed to Netseminar's, hosted sessions at CMP's Xchange Channel trade shows and helped to develop new methods of content delivery, Such as CRN-TV.In September of 2004, Frank became the Director of the CRN Test Center and was charged with increasing the Test Center's contributions to CMP's Channel Web online presence and CMP's latest monthly publication, Digital Connect, a magazine geared towards the home integrator. He also continued to contribute to CMP's Netseminar series, Xchange events, industry conferences and CRN-TV.In January of 2007, CMP Launched CRNtech, a monthly publication focused on technology for the channel, with a mailed audience of 70,000 qualified readers. Frank was instrumental in the development and design of CRNTech and was the editorial director of the publication as well as its primary contributor. He also maintained the edit calendar, and hosted quarterly CRNTech Live events.In June 2007, Frank was named Senior Technology Analyst and became responsible for the technical focus and edit calendars of all the Channel Group's publications, including CRN, CRNTech, and VARBusiness, along with the Channel Group's specialized publications Solutions Inc., Government VAR, TechBuilder and various custom publications. Frank joined Ziff Davis Enterprise in September of 2007 and focuses on creating editorial content geared towards the purveyors of Information Technology products and services. Frank writes comparative reviews, channel analysis pieces and participates in many of Ziff Davis Enterprise's tradeshows and webinars. He has received several awards for his writing and editing, including back to back best review of the year awards, and a president's award for CRN-TV. Frank speaks at many industry conferences, is a contributor to several IT Books, holds several records for online hits and has several industry certifications, including Novell's CNE, Microsoft's MCP.Frank can be reached at frank.ohlhorst@ziffdavisenterprise.com

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