HP was kind enough to send me an early near production version of their soon to be released (July 31) MediaSmart Connect Home Theater component. I’ve had a few minutes to take a VERY quick look and the first impression is: It’s great!
Nice looking hardware, piano black finish (production units will have a neat Zen imprint) with a solid heft/feel. Connections for component and HDMI (720p and 1080i supported on both). An HDMI cable is included (nice touch). Audio jacks include RCA stereo (analog) and Optical Digital (SPDIF). No Coax digital, but that suits me just fine. I ranted some about the lack of Optical output on the ”competing” (and I use that term loosely) Linksys DMA-2100.
802.11a/b/g/n (Draft 2.0n) wireless (and 10/100 Ethernet) connect this device to your home network. The device sports USB ports front and rear and includes a HP Pocket Media Drive Bay (the 21st century version of sneaker net storage used to move your digital “stuff” between computers and devices).
If you are looking at size and aesthetics, this image shows the sizes of the x280n, the Linksys DMA-2200 (the 2100 is even smaller and as I blogged, chintzy in feel and cheap looking), the D-Link theater component size DSM-750, and an Xbox 360. For me, it is a draw between the component sized D-Link which, in the real world would fit nicely on the rack that holds my home theater receiver and the HP x280n which would fit nicely and discreetly on top of or under the TV. Top to bottom: HP MediaSmart x280n, Linksys DMA-2200, D-Link DSM-750, Xbox 360.
HP includes a really nice handheld remote. It’s certainly the best of the remotes offered with any of the extenders I’ve seen. It’s backlit (which for me is a must in a darkened room). Setting up the x280n was menu driven and simple. It found several of my 2.4GHz “N” networks (I’m not certain it is seeing 5GHz N yet, more to come). I associated it, entered the WPA2-PSK passphrase and it was off and running. The first thing it did was check for new firmware. Finding a newer version, it downloaded and applied the newer firmware. After a reboot, it was back up and ready for action.
I elected to set it up as a Media Center Extender first and verify that my OCUR/DCT high def streaming was good to go. No problem there. Since I can do MCX setups in my sleep, and at the speed of light, I was able to quickly get through setup and watch Live and Recorded HD TV.
Exploring the HP MediaSmart interface:
I had a short amount of time to explore HP’s MediaSmart proprietary interface for Media Sharing. I used Windows Media Sharing and UPnP streaming from a server. I have yet to setup HP’s own MediaSmart gateway software, but I’ll get to that. HP has developed a slick and intuitive interface which can be used with Windows XP, Vista, and most likely will be future proof, at least for a while. I like the HP interface and functionality slightly more than D-Link’s MediaLounge interface. Linksys has no such secondary interface. I was easily able to start playing some music and access my photos and play a slide show. This works almost exactly the same way it does on the Media Center Extender interface. All in all, in my first look, a nice, user friendly, solid piece of hardware with great functionality.
I’ll be updating this post as time permits as I continue to explore and experiment.
I’ve recently returned from a week in Seattle and the HP TX2000 behaved like a champion. It is certainly the right size for economy class air travel. I have a chronically bad back. A heavy notebook in a large size backpack has proven hazardous to my health in terms of pain and suffering. I easily traversed airports and did tons of walking and standing while I was away with the TX2000 (and a Nikon D300 w/lens) packed away in a Kata R101 backpack. (And on the plane, it fits nicely under the seat in front of me where I can be sure no one throws it around.)
Before I left home, I recorded a few TV Shows with an external USB tuner I already owned using Vista’s Windows Media Center. (HP does have a tuner for the TX2000 but I have not had the opportunity to see/try it.) The passenger in the middle row seat on my outbound flight asked some questions as I had the TX2000 in tablet mode and was watching some of this recorded TV via Media Center. He had earbuds and I let him plug into the spare earphone port. The TV in my hotel room was an old CRT tube type and I just can’t watch those after living with LCD’s and Plasma’s. Watching recorded TV on the TX2000 was a much better experience than watching anything on the hotel television.
One of the first travel incidents that happened to me was that I broke off a prong on the Jawbone BT earplug A/C power plug. It’s a two piece deal, USB plugs into the wall wart. I now very much appreciate the three USB ports on the TX2000 (and I’d definitely been scratching my head wondering how I could use three at once). One port each for my Moto RAZR phone, my IPOD Touch, and my Jawbone BT adapter. Obviously notebook has to be powered on to charge up these items, but I found a routine of waking up, plugging in, showering, etc. reading email and doing morning online stuff before leaving the hotel was enough time to charge everything for the day.
Battery life on the TX2000 was pretty decent. Even with the smaller 6 cell battery installed (to save space and weight), I found that by using Power Saver mode coupled with an electrical outlet halfway through the day for a quick drink of energy that I could pretty much get through a day of presentations and meetings (not constant use). Like other true tablet pc’s, the screen can be a little hard to read in bright sunlit settings. A few times where I was sitting in an enclosed courtyard environment with natural bright sunlight I had to move around a bit and turn up the brightness.
Wireless connectivity “just worked” thanks to the built in Broadcom 802.11a/b/g/n wireless radio. No matter what SSID I needed to connect to, there were no hassles. I had a chance to use the wired Ethernet as well on this trip and had no issues. Not that I wouldn’t expect this great performance, but I am sure glad that HP did not use the problematic Intel 4965 wireless chipset (lots of driver issues).
After taking some NEF+JPG images with my Nikon D300, I used a Lexar Professional USB 2.0 high speed Compact Flash Reader to get images into the TX2000. While the TX2000 has a built in media reader, it does not handle the larger format compact flash cards (which is true of all other notebooks I’ve seen). I’m pleased to report that some batch processing with Adobe on this 64 bit Ultimate machine with 4 gigs of RAM is very acceptable (as compared to the TX1000 which was quite slow). It was pretty neat to put the TX2000 in tablet mode and play a slide show of the day’s photos for some friends. Speaking of friends, quite a few of them (30 or so) had some hands on with this TX2000 on this trip. Since I’d been talking about it and blogging about it, there was a lot of interest. Even folks I didn’t know (on the airplane and at the conference) wanted to take a look at the machine. Definitely thumbs up from a very discriminating crowd of geeks. Only a couple of friends that are business tablet users felt that it would not suit their specific needs. Even people I didn’t know wanted to take a look at the TX2000. On my outbound trip, TSA at my local airport at the security checkpoint said, “is this a new laptop” and went off to inspect it. I think they were curious and not alarmed. When they handed it back to me, the comment was, “this looks pretty cool”.
All in all, it was a great trip. The TX2000 was a great machine to take on the road, serving all my needs.