Now that the home entertainment market has moved towards streaming video services and Blu-ray content, there has never been a better time to convert DVD collections to digital.
ASRock Ion 330HT-BD media centre PC
We hope this tiny, powerful HTPC is sign of things to come
- Tiny, low power consumption, 1080p support, limited gaming abilities
- No bundled operating system or Blu-ray playback software, no front USB ports
ASRock's diminutive Ion 330HT-BD 'nettop' media centre is brilliant if you're an avid movie watcher with a large collection of digital media or Blu-ray discs. It's head and shoulders above any Blu-ray player or media streamer in terms of functionality, and its tiny size and small ecological footprint mean you can set it up next to your television and forget about turning it off.
Price$ 720.00 (AUD)
The ASRock Ion 330HT-BD is a 'nettop' desktop PC with Intel's Atom 330 1.6GHz dual-core processor and NVIDIA ION integrated graphics. It has hardware acceleration to play back 1080p Blu-ray video free of any stuttering or buffering, and the integrated graphics are good enough for some limited gaming.
'Nettop' refers to the desktop PC equivalent of a 'netbook' — a low-power mini-notebook usually based on an Intel Atom CPU. Accompanying the Atom CPU the ASRock Ion 330HT-BD has 2GB of DDR2 RAM, upgradeable to 4GB.
It has a 320GB, 5400RPM 2.5in laptop hard drive, and you can add a second drive; the system is also RAID1/0 capable, so you can choose extra speed or redundancy if you want.
We've been keen to get our hands on a home theatre nettop, and the ASRock Ion 330HT-BD is the first to grace our Test Centre. It's a simple and elegant looking unit with a tiny footprint. It's only a little longer and wider than a CD case. A glossy black finish with a few hints of silver means the ASRock Ion 330HT-BD will blend in seamlessly with the majority of newer LCD and plasma televisions. We were disappointed with the lack of front USB ports — while this is an aesthetic consideration, we would have liked the ability to plug in devices without reaching behind the system every time. ASRock claims the Ion 330HT-BD will consume just 40 Watts of power when in use. This is miniscule compared to the power draw of even an energy-efficient LCD television, let alone a power-hungry PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360. During regular usage we saw consumption figures of around 45W — this PC will hardly make a dent in your yearly power bill.
The ASRock Ion 330HT-BD doesn't come bundled with a copy of Windows — you'll need to source your own and install it yourself. ASRock lauds the ION 330HT-BD's Windows 7 compatibility, so we loaded up a copy of 32-bit Windows 7 Home Premium to put the PC through its paces. A copy of CyberLink PowerDVD is bundled, as are various ASRock utilities, but if you play Blu-ray movies you'll need to download a third-party program. ASRock's documentation recommends the trial version of CyberLink PowerDVD 9.
We snagged that using the Ion 330HT-BD's integrated 802.11b/g/n wireless. The media centre also has Gigabit Ethernet, as well as HDMI, VGA, and optical digital and 3.5mm audio outputs. It has six USB ports as well as an eSATA port for connecting fast external hard drives.
In our our WorldBench 6 benchmarks the PC scored 35, which is on par with other low-power Atom systems we've tested. This is slightly disappointing given that the Ion 330HT-BD has a dual core Atom 330 processor.
We were consistently impressed with the Ion 330HT-BD's video playback. Using Windows Media Centre and the CyberLink PowerDVD 9 trial software Blu-ray video playback was utterly flawless, with no stuttering or buffering. After our troubled experiences playing video on an older Dell Inspiron Mini 9 netbook, which uses an older Atom processor and an inferior graphics adapter, the Ion 330HT-BD's hardware video acceleration was a godsend. Using a combination of VideoLan Client and PowerDVD 9, we experienced fast and trouble-free playback of any media file we tried, ranging from 1080p MKV files to 480p AVI and more obscure RMVB formats. Audio can be output in 7.1 surround via HDMI, optical digital or 3.5mm (for stereo only). DTS is supported but there's no Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio output — these will be downmixed, possibly annoying audio purists; the average punter probably won't notice.
The NVIDIA 9400M integrated graphics adapter also gives the ASRock ION 330HT-BD limited gaming abilities. We played a few rounds of Left 4 Dead and World of Warcraft and although we had to dial the resolution down to 1280x720 and do a bit of graphics tweaking the games were playable. Obviously the system doesn't have anywhere near the grunt of a modern laptop computer, for example, but for casual gaming once in a while it does an OK job. In 3DMark 06 the system scored 1393.
The ASRock Ion 330HT-BD is a great choice if you're looking for a little more versatility out of your media centre. It's not even that much more expensive than a regular media streamer. Maybe it's because it plays to the gadget lover in us, but we think it's a fantastic product and a great sign of the future of home theatre PCs. A thought for the future, ASRock: how about a version of the ION 330HT-BD that attaches to the VESA mounts of a flat-screen television, hiding it completely from view?
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