Simplifi Digital AV Expander Review


Simplifi Digital
recently released their line of AV
Expander Cards
that will allow Media Center users to do basic input
switching without worrying about the 2-second delay that is common with TV
Tuners and Media Center.  Media Center
requires TV Tuners that do hardware MPEG-2 encoding, which introduces a
2-second delay.  This is a deal breaker
if you want to connect something like a video game console or other analog
devices.

Product Background
AV
Expander Cards
fix all problems associated with Media Center and display of
legacy devices such as game consoles, VCRs, and camcorders. Simplifi Digital was nice enough to
send me a unit to review, and I’ve been playing around with connecting several
devices over the past few days.  Among my
test devices are a Playstation 2, Xbox v1, VCR, and analog camcorder.  Simplifi Digital has two versions of the AV
Expander, the AVEX-4W and AVEX-2B.  The AVEX-4W
allows for up to four devices to be hooked up all at the same time, and the AVEX-2B
allows for two devices.  Two free PCI
slots will be needed to use the four inputs, as a daughter board (AV header) is used.

View
Full Sized Image

Setup and
Installation

Setup and installation is quite simple, and I was very
impressed with the included instruction manual. 
Unlike other expansion cards that you buy now-a-days, Simplifi Digital
has included a great instruction manual that explains everything in very simple
English.  While I’m making a big deal
about the manual, don’t think for a second that this card is difficult to
install and setup.  I had the card
installed and devices hooked up in under five minutes, then I was ready to
launch Media Center and try it out.

Program and Settings
Open Media Center and under More Programs there was a new
entry “SimplifiDigital AV Expander”.  The
AV Expander program was nicely laid out and simple to use and understand.  It includes pre-named inputs such as S-Video,
VCR 1-4, Game Console 1-4, Composite Video 1-4, and Camera 1-4 which I selected
to match the devices connected.  Quality
or Speed can be selected to optimize the interlaced to progressive conversion,
Speed is used for fast moving video (Ex. game consoles) and Speed can be used
for something like a security camera. 
Dialog Alert was an unexpected feature to me, if checked it will alert
you when Media Center wants to display a dialog (Guide download, CD finished
burning, etc).  Setup was simple and
quick overall.

View
Full Sized Image

Video Quality
I tested video quality on several displays including a 27”
Toshiba SDTV, 37” Westinghouse LCD HDTV, and a 19” PC Monitor.  I found the best video quality experience on
the SDTV, which fit my expectations.  Both
on the PC Monitor and HDTV the output was jaggy when playing console games.  In my option it was still very watchable/playable,
and didn’t cause too much of a distraction. 
Using on a SDTV was preferred though, with the video nearly identical to
the output from the console hooked directly up to the SDTV.  Running a VCR through the AV Expander was no
problem, and the VHS video looked as good as it can be for being a VHS
tape.  The same holds true for an analog
camcorder.  The only problem in terms of
video quality was the jaggies when playing a console game.

View
Full Sized Image
 

View
Full Sized Image

Wants
Something I would like to see is the ability to manual
change the input naming.  Instead of
“Game Console, I would rather type in “Xbox” or “Playstation”.  Other than that, I didn’t run into too much
that I would change.

Future Outlook
I would like to see an AV Expander Card that supports
Component Input.  The 32-bit PCI bus
can’t handle uncompressed HD video through component, and I know if Simplifi
Digital would be able to develop at card that could do accept component input
while keeping costs down.  I think this
is defiantly something Simplifi Digital should look into, but there are technical
impactions in developing such a card.

Conclusion
The AV
Expander Card
from Simplifi
Digital
works great and does exactly what they advertise.  In my opinion, every Media Center PC should include one of Simplifi Digital’s AV
Expander cards.  Input switching has been
one of the most requested features for Windows XP Media Center Editions for
years, and this product delivers!  If I
was an OEM/System Build, I would include the AV Expander Card as a standard
feature on every PC shipped.  Please see AV
Expander Card Homepage
for ordering details.   The AVEX-4W
4-input AV Expander retails for $99.99.  View my full AV Expander Image
Gallery
.

Pros
It just works!
2-4 Inputs (1 S-Video, 1-3 Composite)
Allows for input switching, a commonly requested feature

Cons
So-so quality for console gaming
Only supports analog devices (S-Video/Composite)

var dc_UnitID = 14;
var dc_PublisherID = 11967;
var dc_AdLinkColor = ‘6699cc’;
var dc_adprod=’ADL’;

The Media Center Show #63

The
Media Center Show #63
| 22nd June 2006 (47min 4secs) MP3
– 14.1MB (Download Here)

This week Ian
Dixon
talked with Niall Ginsbourg about his Big Screen Photos
application. A Flickr application for Windows Media
Center, developed using the latest
.NET 3.0 technologies (with a great Vista
Media Center
style UI).  Also talk about the
application and how using XAML has made for a rich application UI.  You can download a beta from here!

Microsoft Planning an Embedded Media Center Solution?

In one of Microsoft’s
WinHEC 2006 PowerPoints
(MED004_WH06.ppt) they had this to say about an XPe/Vista Embedded
version of Media Center.

Need To Offer Two Software Options

  • Windows
    Vista Premium – for those who want to
    load their own applications, games, etc.
  • Embedded
    XP/Windows Vista – for those who want a
    more stable/externally supported solution
    • Device
      updated by CE manufacturer or service operator (cable, sat, or telco)
      only
    • Still
      leverage PC applications base, commodity HW, and infrastructure

Calls to Action

  • Microsoft
    • Investigate
      Embedded OS with 10’ MCE/Diamond features

I’m not sure if I should be excited about Microsoft thinking
about an embedded version of Media Center or very disappointed that they can’t
get Windows Vista to the point where Media Center and it’s related technologies
(DirectShow, WMDRM, Windows Media Player, etc) to the point where it’s “reliable” in comparison to CE Devices.

I don’t have any issues with Media Center being reliable myself, it does exactly what I want it to when I want to (MCE 2005).  I also don’t have any issues with my parents machine, and it gets used as an actual PC daily.  Having an embedded solution that could be deployed by third parties might be useful, but who exactly would they target with this?  Cable, Telco, Sat already have their own solutions, and Microsoft TV (not eHome) also has an solution that is currently used by Comcast in Washington State.  Maybe Microsoft has too many solutions targeting the same market? Maybe the CE Pro/Media Center Pro market is the
key.  Would any integrators think about
installing these type systems?  Time will
tell.

Thoughts?

var dc_UnitID = 14;
var dc_PublisherID = 11967;
var dc_AdLinkColor = ‘6699cc’;
var dc_adprod=’ADL’;

Sony XL1 DVD Changer Drops To $399

Matt Goyer
pointed to the Sony
VGP-XL1B2 DVD Changer @ Amazon
for just $399.99!  Great price, and as Matt points out it just
keep climbing in Amazon’s
Top Seller for Computers (Currently 13th)
.

I would have purchased one of these for my parents, but
since I can’t stream
to an Extender
I don’t see any point in spending the cash to be limited to
a single-room solution.

var dc_UnitID = 14;
var dc_PublisherID = 11967;
var dc_AdLinkColor = ‘6699cc’;
var dc_adprod=’ADL’;

What’s In-Store For Codename Pika?

Microsoft launched there new MCX Partner Site
for Pika the other day.  Pika is the
codename for Media Center Extenders (MCX) v2. 
According to Microsoft, Media Center Extender Technology Features are as
follows…

  • Hardware,
    operating system, and middleware independence and adaptability
  • OEM-local
    user interface flexibility and extensibility
  • Based
    on DLNA 1.0 framework and protocols (including an optional DLNA stack
    implementation)
  • Reliable
    wired and wireless network AV streaming
  • Standard
    and high-definition graphics and video
  • Support
    for Windows Vista-compatible premium digital TV, including U.S. Digital
    Cable (Open Cable)
  • Simple,
    inexpensive OEM licensing

Microsoft
has finally partnered with Sigma Designs
for the MCX design.  I’ve said that Sigma
was the perfect partner for Extenders for awhile now.  In fact, over a year ago I said “I am a
tremendous fan of Sigma Designs and their EM8620L series processors. Building
an Extender around this processor enables endless options for audio and video
decoding” in my Site
Feed of the Day
feature for Tim Coyle.  Now Sigma Designs has their EM8622L processor
which is a step above the EM8620L from last year.

Sigma
Designs has a Dev Kit for enabling OEM’s to quickly build Extenders for those
who are a part of Microsoft’s MCX Partner Program.  OEM’s should be aware that consumers are
looking for Extenders that take full advantage of the EM8622L processor. 

The
EM8622L supports the following formats…

  • MPEG-4
    Part 10 (H.264)
  • VC-1
    (WMV9)
  • MPEG-2
  • MPEG-4
    Part 2 (DivX/XviD)
  • Dolby Digital
  • WMA/WMA Pro
  • MPEG-1/2 Audio
  • AAC
  • MP3
  • And more!

If you are an OEM thinking of joining the MCX Partner Program
please enable decode of non-Microsoft formats. 
You have the ability to do so, don’t let the your consumers down!

var dc_UnitID = 14;
var dc_PublisherID = 11967;
var dc_AdLinkColor = ‘6699cc’;
var dc_adprod=’ADL’;

Update: TGB Down

Being worked on right now.  Sorry for the inconvenience.

Update: Back up and running smooth.  [:)]

var dc_UnitID = 14;
var dc_PublisherID = 11967;
var dc_AdLinkColor = ‘6699cc’;
var dc_adprod=’ADL’;

New Xploder Media Center Challenges Transcode 360

Xploder
Media Center for Xbox 360 Set for International Release
| Xploder is set to release their transcoding
utility to be used with the Xbox 360 Media Center Extender functionality.  Not really sure how successful this software
will be, going up against Transcode 360
which is free, but see the full press release here.

As a side note, My
Movies
and Transcode 360 will soon
work together to create an all-in-one solution.

var dc_UnitID = 14;
var dc_PublisherID = 11967;
var dc_AdLinkColor = ‘6699cc’;
var dc_adprod=’ADL’;

Okoro Media Systems Launches High Performance Digital Entertainment Systems

Okoro Media Systems, manufacturer of
digital entertainment systems for the high end audio video market, is pleased
to announce the availability of the high performance GX Series. The OMS GX
series is based on the AMD FX and Intel Duo 2 Technologies and comes with 1
Terabyte of storage. The GX Series will feature uncompromising gaming
performance and will allow the use of up to five media center extenders for
high definition video and audio distribution. This series also features a seven
inch touch screen display with HD transcoder for 720p resolutions.

“Our customers enjoy playing the latest video games on their HDTV and
have requested that we provide a higher end media center pc. We feel the GX
Series digital entertainment system will allow them play these games at HDTV
resolutions and allow them to easily manage their media with the built-in touch
screen LCD.” said Christopher Curry, VP of Sales & Operations.

The GX series will launch with the GX300 model. This model is based on the
dual-core AMD FX-60 processor with 1 GB of Crucial Ballistix RAM, NVidia 7950
GX2 video card and 1 TB of storage. All GX models feature the following:

  • 7.1 HD audio with Dolby
    Digital Live technology
  • Dual ATI 550 PVR Tuner Card
  • HDTV Tuner Card
  • 1GB of Crucial Ballistix Memory
  • Upgradeable to 3.0 Terabytes
    of media storage
  • Dual Layer DVD Burner
  • 7” LCD Touchscreen with 720p
    Transcoder
  • My Movies plugin for DVD
    archival Storage

For more information about the GX series, please visit www.okoromedia.com.
For more information about the My Movies plugin, please
visit www.mymovies.name.

var dc_UnitID = 14;
var dc_PublisherID = 11967;
var dc_AdLinkColor = ‘6699cc’;
var dc_adprod=’ADL’;