Yesterday afternoon I received the Acer AspireRevo 3610-U9012. It’s classified as a consumer desktop or nettop but HDTV and media center enthusiasts like myself are looking at this device for a different purpose. In fact, I want the Revo for one purpose and only one purpose. To replace my TiVo Series 3 with a small form factor Windows 7 machine. In other words, HDTV recording and playback. Period.
Can the Acer handle it?
Yes. For my purposes it’s clear this little machine will do what I want. Thank heavens for the amazing NVIDIA ION graphics chipset in this machine.
I like to net this stuff out early in a write-up but you should pay close attention to my requirements and compare them to yours. My main requirement is recording premium cable content on Verizon FIOS TV. I am not using this machine for Netflix downloads, Hulu, or anything else. I might later, but for now it’s main role in life is to record FIOS programming I specify.
First impressions count but as I discovered testing smartphones, things can add up later. This is just the first 24 hours of use so some show stopper could crop up later. Let’s dig into the details of prepping and testing the Revo.
Unpacking and prepping
You can see the full specifications and all of the software that is loaded at the factory on the Acer website. Unpacking was easy but I didn’t use the wireless keyboard, mouse or speakers that came with the PC. Instead, I hooked the machine up to my KVM switch in order to prep the machine for my needs.
Within a few minutes of me powering the machine on and logging in for the first time, a program launched and asked if I wanted to create a factory recovery disk set. Of course I answered yes and plugged in my external Sony DVD burner. It took about thirty minutes to burn the three DVD’s. I wish every OEM did this.
After creating the factory disk set, I started uninstalling all of the software I didn’t intend to use. This was pretty much everything but Windows 7. That took about 75 minutes and it wasn’t fun at all. MyWinLocker was a particular pain in the ass. It’s beyond me why the OEM’s install all of this software. I know it’s a revenue stream for them but they should seriously ask their customers BEFORE installing it.
After removing everything but Windows 7, it only took fifteen minutes to go through the Media Center Setup, let the MCE shell update and sync, then run the Digital Cable Advisor. The Revo passed the test so I plugged two external ATI Digital Cable Tuners into the Revo and ran the MCE setup again to define the FIOS TV service for North Texas. Both of my ATI tuners have been paired to the FIOS TV system for some time so as expected I was able to tune in all of the channels right away. It takes a little while to sync all of the guide data.
While the guide data was downloading and populating, I hit a few channels to see how live TV looked. The first channel I hit was ABC and President Obama was giving the State of the Union address. Actually, now that I think about it, I looked at FOX first and noticed the audio was out-of-sync with the video. Then I switched to the other national channels. ABC was in perfect sync so I left it there for a few minutes to gauge how well things were working.
I wanted to get a better idea of how well the Revo was handling motion so I surfed through some of the movie channels and watched various programs. The HDTV playback was smooth as silk. This is a very good sign.
Time to Sleep
The next thing I wanted to test was some basic power management stuff. I really just wanted to verify the device would turn off the monitor on time, suspend, resume on a recording event, then go back to sleep. I also wanted to make sure I could wake the machine with nothing but the remote control. It does that flawlessly.
In fact, the Revo has recorded over twenty programs and has not missed a wakeup event yet. In order to do that, the device needs to make sure all of the drives are spun up, tuners alive and kicking, etc. That orchestra is working very nicely.
The Revo comes with a 160GB 5400rpm hard drive inside the case. This is perfectly fine for the operating system and any applications, but it not sufficient for high definition recording storage. You can record 160GB in one day and in fact I did.
Instead of recording to the internal drive, I recorded all of the HDTV programming to an external drive. The external drive is a 3.5” Hitachi 1TB 7200rpm drive in a Nextstar 3 enclosure. The enclosure is connected to the Revo via the Revo’s eSATA port. The SATA chipset is NVIDIA nForce. It’s the first time I’ve used NVIDIA SATA and it’s working very well.
By the way, my long term solution is not the Nexstar 3 case. I use a better enclosure for HDTV recording that has a much better fan and ventilation for cooling.
Oldies but Goodies
Several of the peripherals I connected to the Revo are pretty ancient by technology standards. For instance, I didn’t use the included keyboard and mouse. Instead, I am using a standard issue circa 2005 Windows XP Media Center Edition Remote and IR Receiver (see pic above), and Windows XP MCE Remote keyboard (also pictured below).
I have no plans to use a keyboard or a mouse with the machine on a day-to-day basis but it’s nice to mess around with some oldies to see how they work with the new kid on the block. As expected, the IR receiver, remote control and keyboard all worked very well.
I also tested several bluetooth mice. I am currently using the Presenter Mouse 8000 but my all time favorite is the Wireless Laser Mouse 8000. I tested several just to make sure in a pinch I could connect one and do some stuff on the machine.
Is the Acer AspireRevo a TiVo replacement? In the strictest sense the answer is really no. The TiVo is for the most part a single purpose device. The Revo is really a general purpose device that just happens to fulfill the HD DVR role really nicely with Windows 7.
The Revo is nearly silent and has an abundance of connectivity options. I am using the HDMI port on the Revo to display on a Dell LCD panel right now via a HDMI->DVI adaptor. Unlike the TiVo, the Revo does not have built in tuners and slots for the CableCards I am using. Therefore, when you compare the cost of a TiVo solution to the Revo plus the other components you need to buy, the TiVo solution is cheaper.
But I like the UI in the media center shell for Windows 7 so I wanted to try this solution. A couple of critical transitions are coming. First, I need to see how my Wife likes this solution. After using the TiVo for several years now, change is hard and lets face it, the TiVo Series 3 works darn well. Then there is my acceptance. The jury is out right now. I need to fully explore the interface. One thing I haven’t discovered on the Revo is how to search and filter movies that are only HD. New user stuff like that will start to get discovered this weekend as I plan to move the unit from my office to the entertainment center here in the den. Then the real testing begins…
The Acer AspireRevo is meeting my expectations so far. I’ll come back and update this post later with more findings and discoveries. I figure I’ll have formed a solid opinion on the device in a couple of weeks. Right now I give this a solid thumbs up. I wish I had the Dell Zino sitting here for a side-by-side comparison. If the Revo fails the critical WAF, it probably won’t be the hardware so the Zino probably won’t make the difference. The WAF test is going to boil down to software. As it should be.
[12/6 FINAL UPDATE] The Acer AspireRevo 3610-U9012 is not going to get to the all important WAF. It didn’t pass the more stringent KAF and I’ll be setting up a return.
For the uninitiated, WAF stands for Wife Acceptance Factor and it’s critical to integration of any technology into the family. The Keith Acceptance Factor is a strict filter that is imposed on all incoming tech that will be used by the family. New tech has to get by me first.
Where did the Revo fall down? There were three key areas. The first place was the speed of the Media Center Shell UI. When the machine was on my desk for the initial check out, UI navigation and speed wasn’t super apparent. I was using a keyboard and mouse a lot. When I put the Revo in the entertainment center and started comparing it to the TiVo Series 3 side-by-side, frustration started to set in. It was just too slow. There was a big difference in the remote control operation and responsiveness.
Second, and really the kiss of death were the lockups that happened in the MCE UI. Any lockup or halt is unacceptable. This simply doesn’t happen in the TiVo so the bar is high. Having the Revo lockup and force a shutdown of the unit simply won’t work. It isn’t apparent if it’s the hardware or software and I won’t be troubleshooting it.
Lastly is the comparison of the required integration of the Windows based solution compared to a TiVo appliance. The TiVo contains the internal tuners and has slots for the CableCards built right into the unit. The TiVo is a single purpose appliance and it really shows. Does one thing great as opposed to the Windows 7 unit and all of the added peripherals that were needed. I held up all of the power, USB, SATA and other cords needed to connect the Revo and showed my wife. She said, “I could not connect that”. Exactly.
If you want to record HDTV from cable or fiber, and don’t want to use the cable companies rental HD DVR, then the TiVo is still king. I still love the Windows Media Center Shell UI but we really need a single purpose appliance to perfect the experience. Unfortunately the Revo isn’t it.