Pure’s Avalon 300R PVR: Hands On Review

pure-avalon-pvr

We were excited to learn at this years CES (doesn’t January seem like a long time ago?!) that Pure, one of our favourite audio gadget manufacturers, was branching out into the crowded market of Freeview set top boxes.

So when Avalon 300R Cpmmect was released; like all sensible men we started setting up without too much reference to the instructions. Easy to configure, the auto tune function got the Freeview HD side of things up and running, and apart from a tricky caps lock issue with the wifi password, the network connection was also up and running in double quick time.

Almost immediately, however, the box set about updating itself to the latest software, which once it had run, left the box in standby, mode which I hadn’t been expecting. Once back on, the network connection seemingly was forgotten, but resetting the network connections got everything back on track.

The interface moving from web based content (iPlayer or YouTube) to Freeview was a little clunky, appearing to power the box down and up again (as the tv displayed the “source lost” message), but after a few seconds it was back to the Freeview content.

A little irritation was that when you’ve viewed information on the screen regarding your program, pressing the “back” button removed the info but left a general channel banner, which if you try to remove with the back button, you end up changing channel to the last one selected (exit is the right button to remove the channel banner).

On searching for particular programs, and series linking where applicable, both were easy to use. The auto offer HD when available (a prompt that tells you if you could be watching in better quality) is a useful feature that really does add value.

Another quirky feature which we found strangely addictive (maybe because we hate the thought we’re missing something better on the other side!) was Avalon’s use of picture in picture. If you’re just browsing, you’re given the option to watch what’s on the other channel in a mini screen.

Now, I know you’re thinking picture in picture’s not that innovative, certainly been possible on Humax boxes for some time, but the design of the interface linking to channel browsing is certainly helpful.

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The EPG, or electronic program guide, appears a little cramped, with only 6 channels info showing at any one time, with the rest of the screen pretty much empty, which feels like a waste. There are animations on moving between channels (like flicking pages of a book) which are cute to begin with, but don’t offer any functionality, and leave the interface with a “gimmicky” feel.

As Bill Gates once said, “content is king”, and in the world of Freeview set top boxes, never has that sentiment been more appropriate. With no Netflix, Lovefilm or Now TV (Sky’s “lite” offering for consumers who are commitment phobic (their marketing speak, not ours!)) or even the free ITV or 4OD players, Pure does risk looking restrictive in this respect. Particularly when you consider that the content in these areas is expanding rapidly (Sky now offer Sky Sports via the Now TV platform), and Netflix ever growing library of box sets.

Pure’s entry into the market has two key features that will make it stand out; the Pure music subscription content service and built in wifi connect-ability. The Pure Connect interface was easy to navigate, and while it’s no Apple TV, we were able to get around with no problems. The Connect service, which allows users to either buy tracks or albums for playing on their Pure connected devices, or stream unlimited content for a monthly fee, is well established on the brands audio devices. At present there is no video content available to buy or rent via this service, although Pure say expanding on demand video offerings is an area they are working on.

Overall the lack of on demand providers at present make this entry look quite expensive at GBP349.95 for a 1TB unit, (YouView 1TB box is £50 cheaper; johnlewis.com), but if you’re already a subscriber to the music service, or want to take advantage of the wifi being built in and avoid another trailing wire in the living room, this maybe a great solution for you.

Get smart with the latest release from Dune – the HDI Smart B1

If you want to enjoy your multimedia in full HD – that’s 1080p – then take a look at the all-singing, all-dancing Dune HD Smart B1 High Definition Network Media Player with Blu-Ray Player.

The makers promise you the full cinema 3D experience, from the likes of 3D Toy Story 3 – from the comfort of the couch – thanks to its “RealD” compatibility.

Dune-HDI

The box also offers compatibility with multiple formats, so you can watch HDD, Blu-Ray and DVD from your local network or an SD Memory Card – and if you’re listening to your favourite tunes, it offers Dolby True HD techology too. But it doesn’t stop there. No, you can also surf the web on your TV using the built-in Web browser – and catch up with your soaps using the likes of BBC iPlayer,

Iphone and Ipad owners can also download a free control app, which turns your Mac device into a remote control for the HDI Dune, using the magic of Wi-Fi.

If you don’t want to splash out the full £249 now, opt for the Dune HD Smart H1 (£179) or Dune HD Smart D1 (£199) and you can choose to add a Blu-Ray player later on, although at £139, it makes the device more pricey in the end.

The HDI Dune is available from www.amp3.co.uk.

Viewsonic VPD31 3D box

3D is a subject that splits opinion more so than the shady goings on in Roswell, New Mexico in the 50s. When viewed at a cinema, and most importantly, on an iMax there’s no doubt about the merits of the tech, when we laid eye’s on Tron Legacy at our local iMax we were blown away – but where are all the 3D projectors? Well ViewSonic is now has just announced its latest foray into the world of 3D.

ViewSonic-3D

Many consumers probably don’t realize that you’ll need an after market solution to get you PS3, Blu-ray and 3D Sky or Virgin to work with a 3D ready projector. In order to connect a 3D source directly to a projector, the content must be in a frame-sequential format. The leading types of 3D are not in this format. So you can get 3D projectors, but they are only really work when connected through a PC. Not an ideal solution, but the ViewSonic’s new box converts 3D signals to work on their DLP projectors.

Their latest box of tricks is designed to convert 3D video content including 3D TV, Blu-Rays and 3D Playstation 3 gaming to work with their impressive range of Home Cinema DLP 3D-ready projectors.

After an impressive unveiling at CES, where it was given the thumbs up from the gaming community, it has quickly become one of the most sought after 3D solutions on the market.

The combined black magic of the VPD31 processor box and some very lightweight PDG-250 3D glasses gives the viewer a super sized 3D experience that only projectors can achieve.

The VPD31 is compatible with ViewSonic’s range of 3D ready DLP Link 3D/120Hz projectors and features dual HDMI v1.4a inputs and one HDMI v1.3 output to enable a scalable 3D projection without losing visual quality.

To further enhance this 3D experience, ViewSonic’s second-generation PGD-250 3D glasses have been designed to be a hell of a lot more stylish, although were not sure who they are kidding, it’s like making shell suits stylish – a complete waste of time. But at least they’re foldable and lightweight compared to other options on the market.

With impressive resistance against ambient light interference and a long effective distance of 12 meters, the glasses also feature an impressive 44 hours of continuous use battery life and are rechargeable via mini USB port on the arm of the glasses

Trevor Holt, European Product Manager – Projectors, ViewSonic Europe, commented: “After a slow start in 2010, Ovum has predicted that 2011 will see sales of 3D hardware rapidly grow as prices drop due to increased competition.”

So there you have a 3D projector experience that won’t set you back a year’s wage – the box comes in a very reasonable £299 and you can get a Viewsonic 3D 1080p ready projector for as little as £700.

Bought a 3D TV recently? Wished you hadn’t? The ViewSonic VPD31 is available now.

The SMT-S7800 Freesat HD Personal Video Recorder –Redefining the face of TV viewing

My four-year-old son is a devoted ‘Cbeebies’ fan, who, like many children of the modern age, when told to go outside for some fresh air or to help Mummy and Daddy with an activity that does not involve being absorbed in the television, reluctantly and wearily pulls himself away from the screen. Although the days of hearing “But Mummy, Mr Maker is my favourite”, may be over, thanks to Samsung’s Freesat+ HD Personal Video Recorder (PVR).

Samsung-Freesat

Although I am highly appreciative of modern technology and stand in awe of the creators of the sophisticated everyday gadgets society has become somewhat complacent of, my understanding of the multifarious operational complexities involved in giving us the ‘instantaneous’ technology we have become accustomed to, is somewhat limited. And there is no such function that I cannot get my head around its operational technicalities, than the ‘+’ functionality that enables you to pause, rewind and fast forward live TV – How can you rewind live TV? It’s a good job the guys at Samsung know how, as the ‘+’ functionality is a core feature of the SMT-S7800 Freesat HD PVR.

So how is this related to my Cbeebies fanatical four-year-old? Well in featuring a built-in tuner, the SMT-S7800 enables you to record one channel whilst watching another, offers 120 hours of high definition recording with 500GB of storage and, by boasting ‘+’ feature, users can pause and rewind live TV, meaning there is no need to for my four-year-old to miss ‘Mr Maker’ ever again.

Being an HD PVR, the SMT-S7800, provides a crisp, sharp and vivid picture, whilst, being Wi-Fi enabled, users can gain access to Freesat’s on demand services, such as YouTube and BBC iPlayer. Locating your favourite TV programmes is easier than ever with this stylish PVR, as Samsung’s Smart Electronic Programme Guide (EPG), which allows users to view channel programme listings, recorded programme lists and disk space availability in the click of a button.

In spite of its multi-functioning capabilities, the SMT-S7800 features a minimalist design and provides a stylish addition to home entertainment set ups.

I may not be any closer to understanding the internal operations of contemporary technology that enables you to modify live TV, but if the SMT-S7800 Freesat HD Personal Video Recorder has the ability to keep my four-year old happy, Samsung has definitively produced a winner with its first Freesat+HD PVR.

Echostar SlingLoaded HDS-600RS: TV anytime, anywhere

Set-top boxes have a really hard time. A lot of people will have Sky or Virgin. Most TVs now come with Freeview included. So why do you need a set-top box? Echostar pioneered the hard drive recording technology which we have come to love and use everyday as used in products like Sky+. Echostar and Freesat have worked on creating a product which differentiates itself and provides unique features.

Echostar

People are becoming more mobile and want more things on the go. The ability to watch TV anywhere on any device is the heart of the Echostar SlingLoaded HDS-600RS. Essentially, it is a Freesat+ HD digital television recorder giving you the choice to watch stored programmes on your iPad, PC, Mac or mobile device. Yes, it is compatible with the iPhone and android devices. Have you ever visited a friend’s house and wanted to show them an episode from your favourite show which have you recorded but it is on your set-top box at home? Or maybe you are overseas and you do not want to miss your must-see show? Eastenders anyone? Well plug in your iPad and voila! The connects to the SlingLoaded HDS-600RS at home and using the App you can control the settop box as if you are on sofa. The App acts like a remote with all the functions you would expect.

Space will not be issue as it has a huge 500GB hard drive to store all the TV and movies you want, up to 100 hours in HD. BBC iPlayer comes with the box on launch. ITV Player and 4onDemand are due to follow suit soon so catch-up will be easy. The box is easy to setup as you connect to your TV and broadband and create a Sling account and you can watch TV anywhere you like in HD. I remember when I first watched SD TV after getting my HDTV. The difference was shocking and I could not believe how much I was missing out! So I find it imperative that this upscales SD TV services. Aesthetically, it has touch controls which are easy to use. It has a sleek look and will suit any living space. It has all the features of a set-top box including TV Guide and 150 channels.

Now here’s the bad news. It costs £349.99 for the box. Viewing on PC, Mac is free. If you wish to watch TV on your iPad, the App costs £19.99. I know! For £349.99 why on earth are you paying for the App? We agree. The App should be free. But apparently it down to the costs of developing the App. There are plenty of cheap set-top boxes but the ability to watch TV anywhere is unique and very convenient. Would I pay £300 extra for the privilege, no. If you like the sound of SlingLoaded, you can preorder it now on Amazon and it will be available on 1st April.

Prestigio Emporio ION 330 nettop review

You may remember that we went to visit Prestigio a while back (you have been paying attention, haven’t you?) and saw some of their range of brand “lifestyle” goods, targeting men aged 30-50. Although some of this range was simply leather USB keys and mice emblazoned with Ferrari logos (I’m under 30 so am blind to the charms of these items) other more interesting products included a wireless HDMI bridge and the Emporio ION 330 – an HTPC/net top.

Emporio ION 330

Like all net top PCs the Emporio ION 330 is small, but unlike most net tops, the Emporio has a really slick looking design – it looking design – it’s unobtrusive on the average home theatre shelf and looks great. And if you really don’t like the look of it you can hide it behind your flatscreen using the included mounting bracket.

The curved design is pretty slim, but you can beef it out with an optical media drive if you so desire. There is a optional USB-connected DVD drive (which in 2010 you probably don’t need all that much) or a Blu Ray player, so you can have a fairly modern home theatre set up in a diminutive package (it doesn’t have 3D blu ray support but unless you are really keen on cloudy with a chance of Meatballs then this is not really an issue).

The onboard NVIDIA® ION™ with Intel® Atom™ processor means you can coax the unit into stutter free 1080p playback and 2—4Gb memory onboard makes most tasks that one would do from the sofa chug along nicely.

The unit ships with Windows 7 Home Premium or Prestigio Suite 2010 on Kubuntu Linux. The skinned Prestigio Linux distro is customised for couch surfing (adjust your TV for overscan to ensure the screen stays on the edges) and Prestigio score multiple bonus points for including XBMC preinstalled. XBMC or XBox Media Centre is a open source project that represents the best of what the open source community can do when it puts its mind to it. Originally a hack for the original XBox to playback music and video file, it quickly became the defining media organising experience – something that none of the professional companies with DLNA-capable devices such as Sony, Samsung or LG have come close to touching. XBMC is possibly the best thing I’ve ever touched. Still. So that was amazing inclusion.

However I did come across some audio issues with HDMI audio. If you are used to Linux, then you will be no strainer to the subsequent Googling, forum posts, and Terminal commands that are need to fix this. If the thought of using the command line in this day and age horrifies you, then you are probably better off installing Win 7. Or you could try wiping the whole thing and installing an XBMC live CD.

The Prestigio Emporio ION 330 is out now.

Acer Revo 100: Nettop and multimedia functionality

We seem to spend more time in our house connecting up various gadgets and gizmos than actually enjoying them, so anything that makes multimedia playing easier gets an automatic tick in my book. So on paper, at least, the multimedia nettop, the Acer Revo 100, sounds like a good idea.

Acer-Revo

How does it work? Well, the Revo 100 features Acer clear.fi, an application that you run on your home network, and which its makers say will automatically find all your home entertainment devices – smartphone, netbook, notebook, HD media player, home storage device, all-in-one PC – and lets you find, share, play, store and of course enjoy, all your multimedia content anywhere in your home. With a slim and elegant body, you can store the Revo vertically on its stand, or lay it flat as you would a DVD player.

It’s easy to set up, as you can immediately connect devices, and it provides a simple way to share your multimedia libraries; just drag and drop to play or save media files to any of your devices.

An unusual feature is the dual-mode wireless touchpad. A toggle allows you to transform it into a touch keyboard, or use as a touch pad browsing, rotating and zooming using your finger.

The Acer Revo 100 is powered by AMD Athlon™ II Neo dual-core processor and has next-generation NVIDIA® ION™ graphics solution for a premium 1080P full HD performance. It is configurable with an internal TV tuner plus either a DVD burner or a BD Combo optical drive. The BD Combo offers full 1080P 3D playback when connected to any 3D enabled HDMI display. It supports up to 4 GB of DDR3 memory.

It also has three USB ports and a multi-in-one card reader, wireless and wired LAN and is preloaded with Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit operating system for more traditional PC functions.

Marantz Melody Maker: One box to rule them all?

Trying to cram all your audio and TV gadgetry into a suitable space in the living room can be a bit of a headache. With one box for this, another for that, it’s hard to fit everything under the TV, or in a small cabinet, not to mention finding space for all your CDs and DVDs.

So combining all your audio and movie gizmos into one box is an inspired idea from the folk at Marantz.

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With its stylish aluminium chassis and shiny black top, the Melody Movie System offers a small footprint and yet Marantz says its managed to squeeze into its diminutive frame all the technological know-how it includes in its top-notch Bluray sources – such as the UD9004 (which comes in at a whopping £5,000).

The Marantz Melody Maker doesn’t aspire to such heights – it’s on sale for £799.99. So what do you get for your near-on 800 quid? Well, the remote-controlled box contains a high-quality Blu-ray player with BD-Live capability for exceptional High Definition images, DVD upscaling to 1080p HD resolution,
and audiophile-level CD playback.

You can also use the Melody Maker to replay from iPod, IPhone and iPod touch, listen to radio, and connect to other Bluetooth devices, such as phone or PC, (using an option RX101 device)

Sound comes courtesy of a 140 Watt Class D digital amplifier, to which you can connect stereo speakers, as well as a subwoofer, or choose Dolby Virtual Speakers for a surround sound experience. Marantz says it uses advanced algorithms and extensive room-modelling technologies to create the full home cinema experience from just two speakers.

And for anyone who despairs at the number of cables that spoil their interior design, Marantz has used a nifty bit of cabinet construction to make sure no cables are visible when you view the box from the side.

More at http://www.marantz.com/new/index.cfm?fuseaction=front.markethome&cont=eu&bus=hf