HP MediaSmart Connect Review Part 1: Overview

The HP MediaSmart Connect x280n (formerly MediaSmart
Receiver) is HPs latest entry into the Media Center Extender/Adaptor market.  Building on the success of their MediaSmart
HDTV lineup, the MediaSmart Connect brings the same experience you get on the
MediaSmart HDTV to any display via an elegant set-top box. Last week I got a
review model to put through some rigorous testing to see how it stacks up
against Linksys, D-Link, and the Xbox 360 Extender.

The first thing you will notice about the MediaSmart Connect
is the focus of the device is not necessarily the Media Center Extender
functions.  Much like the Xbox 360 and
D-Link DSM-750, the MediaSmart Connect features two distinctively different
media experiences.  The MediaSmart UI
operates as a standard UPnP/DLNA media device, and the Media Center Extender
function connects to Vista Home Premium and Ultimate PCs running Windows Media
Center.  This was done for several
reasons, but on the top of the list seems to be support of additional OS’s and
additional features/functionality not supported by Media Center.

Warning: MediaSmart
Connect is HDTV Only!

Before we get any further in this review I want to note that
the MediaSmart Connect is meant to be connected to a widescreen HDTV capable of
720p or 1080i input (a la Apple TV). 
There are no SD analog outputs (eg.S-Video, Composite) and the Component
output is meant to be 720p at least.

MeidaSmart Connect Specs

  • MediaSmart
    UI and Media Center Extender functionality
  • USB
    2.0 port (one front, one back)*
  • HP
    Pocket Media Driver Bay*
    (optical) output, RCA 2-channel audio output
  • HDMI,
    Component outputs (HDMI cable included)
  • Wireless-N
    (802.11 a/b/g/n, dual band N, internal antennas)
  • 720p
    and 1080i output options
  • 10/100
  • 5-device
    universal backlit remote

*Functionality only applies to HP MediaSmart UI, not
available via Media Center Extender

Included Accessories

The MediaSmart Connect retails for the relatively high price
of $350, however HP has attempted to make the price worth it by including a few
generally absent accessories.  Included
in the very well designed package are a 6-foot HDMI cable, a fully backlit
universal remote, and a $20 CinemaNow coupon. 
Do the accessories make it worth the extra cost?  That’s up to you to decide, but the fact that
they are included is a nice touch.  (Keep
reading and find out why that HDMI cable might have been a worthless expensive)

PC Setup for

You can tell that HP focused heavily on their MediaSmart UI
over that of the Media Center Extender which is pretty much a Microsoft
endeavor that is just licensed by OEMs. 
Because of the clear focus on MediaSmart I wanted to cover this end of
the product as well as the Media Center Extender functions.

HP ships the MediaSmart Connect with a pretty bulky software
load to facilitate the MediaSmart features of the Connect (software not needed for use as a Media Center Extender).  This includes a large install of various
programs and frameworks such as AJAX Extensions, SQL Server 2005 CE, HP
Services Gateway, CinemaNow, HP Update, HP Sharing Wizard, and more.  This is a bit larger than I would have liked
to see, but considering the resource impact of Media Center and Extenders the
difference evens out if you are worried about the resource load on your PC.  It is worth noting that the Connect is an
UPnP/DLNA device, so you can load up your own media server application to serve
the device.  On the device itself you can
switch between UPnP servers on-the-fly, and depending on the server you use
(eg. Windows Media Player) the MediaSmart UI will aggregate all media shares in
your home into one display on the MediaSmart itself.

Moving back to the HP software install, despite the load of
software and install time (15+ min), everything is integrated nicely including
a one click (more or less) signup process for the online services (SnapFish,
CinemaNow, Live365) that the MediaSmart UI gives you access to.  Considering the horrible experience that Windows
Media Center provides for signing up for services like this I praise HP for a
simple setup process.



MediaSmart Connect Review Part 2: MediaSmart UI

MediaSmart Connect Review Part 3: Extender

mControl 2.1 Goes Final

has released the final build of mControl 2.1 for download.  The build is actually the same as the previous
RCGOLD2 release, and as there were no significant issues reported Embedded
Automation has now shifted their focus to the next mControl release.

You can download mControl 2.1
, and of course you get a 30 day trial if you don’t already use
mControl.  All current mControl users can
upgrade to 2.1 for free.  See the User
Manual for more (PDF).

Interested to know what other features mControl has?  Check out the updated mControl
Feature Summery (PDF)


Microsoft Updates Extenders, Set-top Box Support in Media Center

Microsoft has just released two updates for Vista Media Center, fixing up STBs and Extenders.  KB950124 adds and fixes support for newer STBs connected to Media Center, and KB950125 which adds a few Extender issues including 50Hz output fixes for those of you outside the US (no additional codec support).  Grab the updates on Windows Update or download the standalone packages below.

of an update that provides broader support in Media Center Extenders for
Windows Vista for newer TV set-top boxes

This update provides broader Media Center support for newer
TV set-top boxes.

Download: Windows Update | 32-bit
| 64-bit

of the Media Center Extenders for Windows Vista update that was released on
June 24, 2008

This update addresses the following issues. These issues
occur when you use Media Center on an Xbox 360 console.

  • This update addresses a picture quality issue that occurs
    when you use Media Center Extender on an Xbox 360 console that has a
    High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) connector to the TV for video and a
    Sony/Philips Digital Interface Format (S/PDIF) connection to the audio device
    for audio.
  • This update addresses an issue in which the Media Center
    Extender stops responding (hangs) when you play a large non-WMV video over an
    HTTP session.
  • This update provides support for 50Hz output together with
    better quality for HD models. This feature applies primarily to regions that
    use the PAL video standard.

Download: Windows Update | 32-bit
| 64-bit

Has Media Center Been a “Miss” for Microsoft?

Morgan pointed to
a recent MSNBC article on Bill Gates hits and misses
during his time at Microsoft.  One of the
first products in
the miss category is Media Center
, what do you think? 

Based on the author’s semi-outdated understanding of Media
Center, I’d agree with them 100%.  Media
Center has been a miss when you consider their concept of Media Center being a
product “aimed to move into the living room, tying the PC and the TV together
for recording television shows on the computer…”  I think it would be hard to argue that
Microsoft’s first plan for Media Center was a failure.  Gateway, ViewSonic, HP, and other top tier
OEMs have tried to move into the living room with HTPC form factor PCs, and
that failed big time.  The initial
concept of Media Center is still is a miss (unless you’re taking about the
custom market).

That brings us to Media Center today where the PC in the
living room is much less of the target. 
That idea has been replaced by using your main Desktop PC as a host and
Extenders, mainly the Xbox 360, to drive content into the living room.

Defining Media Center as a miss might be a bit much; however
it is still a product with so much potential that has yet to be capitalized
on.  As I’ve said many times before,
Media Center will never be a replacement for the standard cable/satellite
STB.  It will always be for those who
want more than what those STBs can offer. 
The only problem is what that market wants, Media Center fails to do

So my question is does Media Center, with all of its
unreleased potential belong in the same category as Microsoft BOB and Clippy?

Media Center Nabs More Online Content: Olympics & Fight Network

NBC has teamed
up with TVTonic
to provide online coverage of the 2008 Summer Olympics via
Media Center.  Be sure to watch the ‘Explore’
section of Media Center for more, as well as TVTonic (requires install).  More
information at TVTonic


In addition the Queensberry Fight Network has launched an
online application available now in Media Center to get your fighting/boxing
fix 24/7.  Considering the downfall that
has been network TV, Microsoft needs to make sure they are making every effort
to get more online content up and accessible via Media Center.  I’m dying for a Hulu plug-in.


More on Cannon PCs Six CableCARD PC

On Friday Cannon PC
demoed a system recording
from six CableCARDs all at once
, while playing back a recording and the
system didn’t skip a beat.  This was demoed in the YouTube video,
but I got some higher resolution screenshots of Media Center showing the six
streams at once.


Given the system resources that they had to spare, what do
people think the max number of tuners would be? 
Considering local playback most likely added from 5-10% on ~35% of the
CPU being used, I think this shows that processing speed is no longer a bottle
neck for Media Center PCs.  So the
question is which dies first, USB throughput or the hard drive(s)?


mControl Adds Support for CentraLite JetStream

Automation has just added CentraLite JetStream
to their growing list of supported
home control systems.  CentraLite JetStream
is a new standard for home control based on Zigbee, and as you will learn in
the embedded video it was actually the first standard that Embedded Automation
supported in mControl but delayed the launch due to a lack of devices on the


Cannon PC Demos Media Center with 6 CableCARDs

June 18, 2008 – Cannon PC, LP demonstrated a capability of their
Media Centers to accommodate 6 Digital Cable Cards and simultaneously
record 6 different HD Digital Cable Channels.

PC, the award winning Media Center specialty company, demonstrated to a
select group of people the capability of their Media Centers to manage
6 Digital Card Cards. They have also posted a video on YouTube and on
their web site demonstrating this capability. The video shows the
actual ATI Digital tuners, the Recorded TV section showing the 6
current recordings, the Performance Monitor showing how little impact
the process has on performance and resources and the smooth video
playback while all this is taking place.

“We believe we are the
first company to demonstrate such capabilities. Since Windows Vista for
Media Center natively only supports 2 Cable Cards, we had to figure out
how to modify the system in order to have it properly recognize more
than 2 cards in the system” said Gregg Cannon of Cannon PC. “We have
exceptional people on staff that are very knowledgeable of the Media
Center product and spent many hours of research to make this happen. We
feel confident that we can add even more digital Cable Cards to our
systems based on the process and knowledge we have learned.”

those not familiar with Digital CableCARDs, they allow customers to
watch and record their cable TV channels, including premium HDTV
channels like HBO-HD and ESPNHD directly on their media center without
the need for a set top box. With more Cables Cards in the system it
allows the HD experience to be shared more with the extenders in the
home. What happens many times in a family environment with a Media
Center and several extenders is that there are not enough TV tuners
installed the Media Center to share the Live TV experience with more
than 2 other rooms. Breakthroughs like this make that a thing of the

As the winner of over nine national and international
awards, Cannon PC has been designing Microsoft Windows based Media
Centers for over four years. Their business model is specifically
targeted to Media Centers and Media Center technology. “We pride
ourselves on bringing leading edge technology and ground breaking ideas
to our customers. A system with 6 Cables Cards is just one of those
ideas.” said Cannon.

Cannon PC offers a of line of Media Centers
for the tech savvy consumer as well as a high end line of Media Centers
tailored for the custom integration market. Cannon PC has a unique
dealer program for qualified A/V installers and integrators that are
looking to offer their clients reliable feature rich Media Centers at a
competitive price. Unlike other Media Center manufactures, each system
can be completely customizable to fits the customers need or the A/V

Their Home Series line of Media Centers consist of the
AMD based ultra small form factor FX Series Media Center as well as the
Intel based MX Series house in an A/V style case. Either system can be
purchased through their online site.

The Cannon PC Pro A/V
Series consists of three models; the LX, EX and RX. The LX has been
redesigned to include a stylish new case that integrates gold plated
front audio connectors, quick access USB and Fire Wire connections as
well as a 28 in 1 media card reader. The EX features a 12″ HD touch
screen and room for over 6 TB of disk storage. The RX unit is a sleek
rack mount system that will fit nicely into any standard A/V rack and
each system comes standard with a blu-ray DVD drive.

All Cannon
PC Media Center comes standard with features such as a 52-in-1 media
card reader, front IO, USB and fire wire connections, dual NTSC and
HDTV tuners with the option to upgrade to Cable Cards, 8 channel HD
audio, P35 Express chipset, Quad Core and Dual Core Processor, high end
ATI or NVIDIA graphics cards, up to 8 GB or RAM and up to 6 terabytes
of internal SATA hard disk storage. Each system uses state of the art
motherboards and components that utilize cool and quiet technology to
ensure that their systems are whisper quiet and low on heat. All
systems are backed by a 1 year factory warranty.

Cannon PC has
been designing high end Media Center since its founding in 2004. To
learn more about Cannon PC Media Centers, visit them online at http://www.cannonpc.com.

For information contact: