Should the PC Be Worried about the Best DMA To Date?

I have believed for years that if someone with just minor technical understanding wants to watch their digital videos or photos on their big-screen TV, the PC is still the best choice. Question is, how close are we getting to the DMA (Digital media adapter) catching up to the PC?

After years of personal testing, sifting through mounds of secondary research and sitting through the research glass watching consumers, I have become very opinionated about the best DMA (Digital Media Adapter) to connect to a TV or flat panel for watching videos and pictures. Yes, I have tried a mountain of DMAs in my own home: D-Link DSM-520Linksys DMA2200Apple TVArchos 605 WiFiHP MediaSmart x280nRoku SoundBridgeXbox 360Iomega ScreenPlay HD, iPhone, iPod, and Roku Netflix player (and a few I am sure I have forgotten). They all have their strengths and weaknesses on price, functionality, content, reliability, and ease of use, but again, the PC still reigns.

It’s not just any PC, though.  It needs to be optimized for a 10′ experience and comfortably fit into the living room.  A small form factor media center PC still “wins” could consist of a low-wattage, high performance CPU like a 65 watt AMD Phenom processor, efficient hardware HiDef video decode off the GPU like a “silent-edition” ATI Radeon HD 3650 or the motherboard-based ATI Radeon HD 3200 connected to the HDTV over HDMI, a Gyration keyboard and remote, and all the video “codec packs”, to run virtually any flavor of video. The chassis must be able to support the usage model technologically, ergonomically, and with style.  Trust me, when you have been married 18 years like me, the “style” thing becomes real important.  For me, the “PC over the DMA” argument comes down to compatibility, ease of use, flexibility, and price.

So when I do run into a DMA that impresses, I want to tell people about it. It’s funny how you hear about these new devices.  A few weeks ago I was at a reception in New York where I ran into Marco Chiappetta, managing editor of Hot Hardware. He told me about a review he did for CPU Magazine of a device called a “TViX”. So I had to check it out for myself over the weekend…  Below you can see the front and offset shots of the TViX sitting on top of a Yamaha receiver.

Here are the basics from the DViCO website on the TViX 6500a:

  • · Video formats: .mkv, .iso, .mpg, .iso, .vob, .mp4, .asf, .tp, .trp, .ts, .m2ts, .mov
  • · Video codecs: MPEG 1/2/4, AVI, XVID, WMV9, H.264, AVC HD, VC-1
  • · Video resolutions: Up to 1920x1080P
  • · Storage connectivity: Internal SATA hard drive, 2 external USB drives, and RJ45 networked.

For me, the TViX handled almost all the video I threw at it at 1080 and 720 projecting on a 120” screen with the exception of a few highly encoded .MOV, .AVI, .MKV files, and surprisingly, with videos from a new and inexpensive HD camcorder I just purchased. It also had some issues with a 720P .MOV file off an older digital camera.  It rebooted on a few videos, but again still chewed through most of the formats I threw at it.  It will hopefully be addressed with future firmware updates, but there are never any guarantees with video. These same files I had issues with on the TViX worked fine on my PC using CyberLink, QuickTime or VLC.  Finally, The upscaling of the standard def video to higher def video was impressive as well.

The most impressive thing to me about the TViX was the local storage capability. A bit strange, I know, being impressed by that for a networkable device, but I will tell you more on that later. I added a 1TB SATA drive and two external USB2 hard drives to give me a total of 2.2TB of local storage! Local playback was incredibly fast and my hunch is that some of its on-board memory is coming into play. I have used other DMAs with local storage and it was incredibly slow, so this was a welcomed change.  Below see the open bay for the hard drive (left) and a shot of the back with all the ports (right) which I am sure you recognize.

Networking was a totally different story. No UPnP, so you are kind of on your own to connect it to your networked PCs. I say “kind of” on your own because it did come with PC software to index the PC content, but I was forced to hard-code my PCs IP address into the TViX. I am no self-professed networking expert, and I am brilliantly showing that off as I write. When I did get the streaming to work, it worked well, shockingly well even for very highly-encoded video files.

Net-net for me, the TViX is a decent complement to the PC for videos, photos, and even music if you can figure out the networking and make it reliable, but it isn’t going to compete with the PC anytime soon. And starting at $399 without a hard drive, the TViX isn’t exactly a throw-away, either.