Chris Chats with Alienware; Hanger18 Redeems Itself

[Post has been reorganized into two sections; System Updates
and Alienware’s Media Center Strategy.  System Updates include CableCARD
and Blu-ray as options in the next month or so along with Alienware admitting
their current Hanger18 has some issues.  Alienware’s Media Center Strategy
includes what Alienware is trying to do to push Media Center and pick up where
other large OEMs have failed]

I talked with the guys at Alienware today discussing some of
disappointments with their new Hanger18 system
.  I’m happy to say that
not only is Alienware aware of the current issues with the Hanger 18, but they
already have plans to improve it in the very near future and take their systems
somewhere very few PC companies have succeed.

System Updates

First of all, the lack of HD in this HD Entertainment Center
is on the list to be fixed and should be very soon.  The system was
originally supposed to ship with CableCARD support, but like everyone else it
was slowed by CableLabs and issues with the Digital Cable Tuners
themselves.  The next revision of the system, due within the next month or
two should include CableCARD as an option.  In addition, Blu-ray support
will also be there in the next revision.  These fix the lack of HD options
in the system and also gets it up to speed with other OEMs.

The 720p option runs off NVIDIA integrated graphics and the
1080p option uses a standard NVIDIA graphics card.  This explains why you
can only give two tuners when the option for 1080p is selected.  They are
also working to load the system with software to control the lighting on the
Alien head logo, a feature that their desktops already include.  On the
topic of the front of the case, there is a VFD front panel display on the
system that is not exactly visible on all the photos.

These points pretty much clear up the advice I offered to
Alienware in my first which read “Include
HD DVD, Blu-ray, and dual CableCARD as options.  Don’t advertise as a
complete HD solution until you catch up with everyone else has been
doing.  Put a 8500/8600 or 2400/2600 low profile passively cooled GPU in
there and allow for four tuners to be configured in all systems.” 
Graphics solutions will be based what is
need for playback of included features (CableCARD and/or Blu-ray).  Please read below for more information on why
720p and 1080p are advertised in the manor they are and what Alienware is
trying to do in the market.

Alienware’s Media Center Strategy

That’s not all that I learned from my call with Alienware,
the next part gets very interesting in terms of the future of Media Center
itself.  Alienware noted that they have been doing Media Center PC’s for a
few years now, and like other large OEMs have not had the success that they
would like to see.  Because of this, Alienware is picking up a new
strategy in order to try and succeed where so many others have failed.

Instead of marketing the Hanger18 as Media Center PC, HTPC,
or other type of PC they are going for a more traditional CE device
approach.  This is why when you look at the configuration page you are not
necessarily presented with graphics card options or extra memory choices. 
Instead “720p and 1080p HD Viewing” are used in placed.  Instead of just
laying out that the system includes 250GBs of hard drive space, you are presented
with “Store 60 movies or 250 TV shows or 120 hours.”  Instead of upgrading
to 2GB of RAM you can pick the “20%, 40%, or 60% Faster then Standard” options.

It’s not a Media Center PC, it’s not an HTPC.  It’s
sold as a CE device or typical appliance.  This may seem subtle to many
out there, but it’s a step closer to being what some consider a true TiVo

Along the same track of it not being a PC, the systems are
better configured for an out-of-box experience that’s not just an install of
Windows Vista.  While you can get the same thing with other Media Center
specific OEMs, larger OEMs like HP and Dell are just traditionally selling you
a desktop that happens to include Media Center as part of Windows.  The
Hanger18 is configured to launch Media Center out-of-the-box and they even have
configured the correct time zone for you for correct EPG downloads.

Lastly, in typical Alienware fashion they are planning a
gaming solution around the Hanger18 and future systems.  They plan to
create a Media Center based frontend for gaming so you can launch the latest
games from your couch.  This can both appeal to the casual gamer and the
more hardcore Alienware customer.

Overall, I went from being disappointed with Alienware’s
re-entry into the market into being excited about it.  I applaud Alienware
for what they are trying to do.  I think many of us forget that as soon as
the larger OEMs get out of really selling Media Center type PCs then Microsoft
has very limited hardware partners to work with.  Even with Media Center
Extenders, there is a place for PCs done right in the living room.  I’ve
said before that people don’t want them in their living room, and while I
haven’t changed my mind entirely on that yet I do see Alienware’s strategy as a
step in the right direction.  Microsoft doesn’t seem to know where to take
the platform, but in the end the hardware determines where it goes.

HP, Gateway, Toshiba and others have all failed here. 
Alienware, now a subsidiary of Dell is really one of the last hopes in terms of
large OEMs.  Talking with them today, I can tell you that they have really
thought about this and want to succeed as well as help drive the platform into
more homes.  I await to see the new revisions of the Hanger18, but wish
they would have waited a month or two to release the system with full CableCARD
and Blu-ray support.  Despite that, I’m now excited to see Alienware in
the game, ready to work hard to provide a great Media Center based solution and
thank them for taking the time to contact me to discuss the issues I previously

11 thoughts on “Chris Chats with Alienware; Hanger18 Redeems Itself

  1. “The Hanger18 is configured to launch Media Center out-of-the-box and they even have configured the correct time zone for you for correct EPG downloads.”

    Wow, they tick the ‘Launch Media Center on Startup’ button, *and* set the timezone?

    You’re right, suddenly it does seem worth $2000!

    This does seem strange – they don’t actually seem to have addressed any of the issues you complained about, but suddenly you think it’s good because they said “It’s not a PC” and came up with some other marketing bullshit.

    “They are also working to load the system with software to control the lighting on the Alien head logo”

    It’s good to know their priorities are squared away. I was worried they’d be focussing on irrelevant trivia.

    Did they happen to give you anything to drink during this chat? Did it taste kind of funny? 🙂

  2. Sure they addressed my problems, in fact every one of them.

    1) My main problem was no “real” HD. It will soon be supporting CableCARD and Blu-ray. Problem fixed, no longer an issue.

    2) $200 upgrade for 1080p is because it uses a dedicated graphics card inside of the NVIDIA integrated. Problem fixed, I now know why it costs $200 for get said 1080p support, which instead of marketing a graphics card alone they are marketing the term 1080p. We see this in the CE industry too.

    3) Tuner options limited because of full graphics card slot. If their CableCARD solution uses external OCURs then this problem would also be fixed.

    4) They said the LED lighting around the Alien head can be fixed, even my little tiny problem was solved.

    If you read my “My advice to Alienware” paragraph from my first post you will see that all the issues I suggested are fixed.

    And no, I didn’t have anything to drink. I did go out and jog in Texas heat an hour or so before, so maybe that’s what you are seeing.

    But, the issues I brought up in my first post are being addressed and not only that the big picture is being addressed. The big picture is more important then this single system. Alienware is a large OEM trying a new approach to sell systems.

    Despite some people’s dislike for Alienware (and generally I’m one who does dislike them, but they gained my support after today), this is an interesting move. I tend to cover trends and platform news more than I do hardware and PC’s and based on their enthusiasm I see this as an interesting development.

    So again, no drinks involved and I didn’t get a check, advertising deal, a PC, or anything else for writing this.

  3. I have been way to busy to really keep up with anything mce lately but I also got the same impression as the first comment..

    I hear a lot of next version and nothing about actually addressing your issues..

    considering dells are all custom mobos to remove anything they don’t need it has to be similar price to skip the onboard and just make the 8500 standard issue.

    and last, if these aren’t going to be on the shelf next to tivo, its not a replacement.

  4. There is a lot about the next revision, and it fixes the issues (CableCARD, Blu-ray, 1080p vs. 720p, # of tuners, etc).

    As for the TiVo replacement, those are my words. A common problem pointed out about Media Center is that it’s a PC. We have all seen various solutions for taking the PC out of the picture, but the best chances for this were done by HP. They failed and pulled out of the market.

    If Microsoft isn’t going to market Media Center, someone else has to step in and try something. Alienware seems to be trying this.

  5. I agree with Chris here. They fixed the problems, it just too bad they will not be there for another few months. You can’t just add Cablecard and bluray support with a snap of the fingers.

    They shouldnt of released the PC to begin with, it should of been hold for another month until it could ship with Cablecard.

    I say good job to Alienware for reaching out and saying they know it has problems and are thus planning on fixing them.

  6. I’m happy they are taking feedback and putting it to good use, but I would not purchase one of these based on the fact that its getting an upgrade a month after it was introduced. Finish the computer, then release it. I’m not interested in beta testing.

  7. It looks like a step in the right direction, but price still keeps me away. But IMO all of Alienware’s stuff is too pricey.

  8. Post updated to separate the two sections; Updates and their strategy.

    Darryl: Price is the other big issue, if the CableCARD systems start at $3000 it clearly doesn’t do much to help (replied with the same at The Green Button).

  9. I’m a DirecTV user so CableCard doesn’t matter much to me. I’m looking at this for other reasons than as a DVR replacement. It seems that everyday a new company is offering TV shows, movies and music online and it’s a pain in the a$$ trying to get that to my TV from my computer. I plan on using the Alienware box to bring the IP based content to my TV for example Vongo, Movielink, CinemaNow, Akimbo, Amazon, Wal-Mart, ABC, ESPN, and all the other services out there vs. leaving it on my office PC and then trying to stream it from there. The media adapters on the market today aren’t nearly as flexible as having an actual PC attached to your TV with direct access to the net and all of the new content providers as soon as they launch. I don’t like being tied to any specific content provider like iTunes through their Apple TV.

  10. Chris,
    Thanks for the update, I will be sitting this one out untill the updates, good to hear they are moving in the “right” direction. I still REALLY want an integrated D*TV option, but from what I have read, that and the Fiji update are ways off.

  11. Does the hanger 18 have a voltage switch common on computers 120/240 volts? Where I live is 220 volts.

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