Received my Xtreamer Ultra HTPC yesterday order from http://www.xtreamer.net and shipped from Hong Kong. Release date was set to 3rd of May but mine was not shipped until 17th. It is a cool little PC with impressive accessories and nice presentation. Price including shipping came to €280 but after adding about €70 for VAT and import duty the total came close to €350. Xtreamer does not have the best reputation on the net with a lot of complaints regarding failed promises and lack of support to users. But with specs of the Ultra I still decided to give it a try. Hopefully it will turn out to something good.
Here is the neat package which gave a very good first impression. I hope the inside and the performance of this machine will not disappoint me.
Taking the parts out of the box did not disappoint either. The Xtreamer Ultra does not feel extremely plastic or cheap. It is a nice piece of hardware with a shiny and appealing look. Above with the accompanied USB stick, loaded with an image to boot either into XBMC, Boxee or Ultra OS(their own ubuntu distribution).
The Xtreamer Ultra is shipped with two input devices. A standard MCE type remote and a mini keyboard with built-in mouse pad. Very impressed by the mini keyboard, a nice geek thing, but we will see how useful it actually is in real life. The two input devices works right out of the box. The remote comes with two AAA batteries and the mini keyboard is rechargeable with standard USB cable(cable included).
In addition, the package included a 16GB USB key and a USB wifi antenna.
Above the BIOS splash screen. "HTPC in a Box".
Boot menu when booting up from the USB key. Option to boot into XBMC, Boxee, Ultra OS(Ubuntu customized version), Free NAS or Windows. Booting into Windows does not work out of the box as it requires Windows to be installed on a separate partition first.
Booting from the shipped USB key provided an easy way to try out XBMC and Boxee but it was not an optimal solution. Bad performance was for example noticed when navigating the XBMC system. So to make this into a usable HTPC a hard disk was a must.
A large hard disk was not a must as it mainly would host the OS itself, all media is stored on a server. So the choice fell on a 64GB SSD to get good performance and minimal additional noise. I picked the cheapest SSD on the market but have not had any bad experience.
If building a pure media player I would definitely go with XMBC running on OpenELEC http://openelec.tv/. OpenELEC is specifically optimised for this type of environment. It is a stripped down OS making it fast to boot and with a low overhead when running XBMC. Xtreamer even provides a customised image based on Open ELEC to be used with their products for a hassle free installation.
The only problem I had myself with this setup is my frequent use of Internet browsing. The only solution that I found working well was to run plain old Windows with XBMC and Firefox/Chrome or any other browser for Internet browsing.
The mini keyboard that came with Xtreamer Ultra was nothing more than a nice toy. The integrate mousepad was difficult to control and the keyboard was too small for typing, even just typing URLs was getting annoying in the end.
I have tried two different input options, both of which I still use depending on situation. The first is a mini keyboard from Logitech, diNovo Mini. The keyboard as a whole is just slightly larger than Xtremear’s default one, but each key is much bigger and allows for comfortable typing, at least for search content and URLs. The integrated trackpad is also a whole lot better and allows for comfortable controlling from the sofa. The trackpad can also be switch into a different mode where it acts as the four standard arrow keys.
The second option, and honestly the one I use most frequent, is a standard size wireless mouse and keyboard. I often end up using Internet a lot on my TV and although the keyboard and mouse are bulky I find it the most productive solution. But as a controller for XBMC I favor the diNovo Mini keyboard.
Since release of Windows 8 I have upgraded my previous Windows 7 installation. The Windows 8 GUI, the new IE browser and other apps looks just great on my TV. I think I will still stick around with XBMC as my media player for the moment, but I haven't really looked around for any possible alternatives with Windows 8. I just quickly tried the Movie app in Windows 8 but had issues with playing files from the network share due to indexing limitation and I also had codec incompatibility issues. This is something I will investigate as I feel it a bit awkward jumping in and out of XBMC, jumping between two different GUIs. Using the Movie app feels like a much better integrated solution.