The Worst 5 Gadgets: #4 Asus EeeBox PC EB1501

[UPDATE:

Sure enough, I have made the EB1501 play HD and send surround sound. I did this by: 1) updating drivers; 2) update to the latest version of XBMC released in Dec 10 which supports the ION GPU; 2) using optical surround - HDMI is still problematic for me. Win 7 is also just fine, but I have not re-tested streaming video (only via USB). The EB1501 is now officially off my 'worst' list, though I still feel I should have bought a Dell Zino HD

]

Good times

  • It looks pretty good and that slot drive is a bonus
  • It may not be totally silent, but it is certainly quiet enough

Bad times

  • It will not play HD video ... at least not without taking one serious shortcut
  • Streaming even SD over the web is a bit jittery
  • Won't run Win 7 in Aero mode without serious performance issues

What I should have bought

  • Probably a Dell Zino HD. Maybe an Apple Mini

The perfect media PC is difficult to find. It needs to be quiet and look good. It also needs to be powerful enough to run HD video. The Asus EeeBox PC EB1501 - with its slot DVD drive, Ion based chipset with on board graphics acceleration and low power consumption, front and rear USB ports, and both HDMI and optical outputs - certainly seemed to fit the bill. I'd also read reviews on 

Lifehacker

 of a similar but (on spec) lesser product, the Acer AspireRevo, fulfilling the role of the HD media hub admirably.

Well, it has not quite worked out that way. It won't play HD downloads from iTunes, which I understand might be the result of Apple using the processor-intensive H.264 format but, hey, we live in a H.264 world. I have tried other formats - MKV and AVI - without success. I have tried HD using both the installed Windows 7 that came on it and Ubuntu, both to no avail. Ok ... there is a one way to play HD and that is to use analogue audio out rather than digital. Then it will do MKV and AVI HD (though I am uncertain of how it will handle Apple's HD files). But is this workaround an acceptable one?

Oh, while we are on the subject of Windows, the EB1501 won't run Aero features without becoming untenably slow. 

It may sound like I am knit picking, but Asus sell this box on the strength of its ability to play HD. It does not play HD. Not really. It is the reason I bough the thing. It is the only reason. 

This is a real shame because I could almost love this box. It is quiet and is low power, so I leave it on  all day. It does computer-type things like surf the web and share files but looks like it belongs underneath my TV. And while it comes with perfectly acceptable remote control, it comes alive when coupled with the magnificent diNovo Mini miniature keyboard.

Perhaps I was naive that an Atom based chipset, even one that was dual core and has on board graphics acceleration, would play HD. On that basis I should have bought a 

Dell Inspiron Zino HD

. At around the same time as I bought the EB1501 there were some crazy deals going in the UK that included a blueray drive. Or I should have splurged and picked up an 

Apple Mini

 - performance would not have been a problem with the Mini, that is for sure. 

This mis-purchase led to me to look at another option - the

Sony PS3

. That turned out to be another mis-purchase. What do they say about good money chasing bad?

The Best (and Worst) 5 Gadgets

series -

The best five gadgets

  1. iPhone 4 smartphone
  2. Sagem PVR6240T PVR (as buggy as it is ...)
  3. Logitech diNovo Mini miniature QWERTY keyboard
  4. Logitech X-230 speakers
  5. Lacie iamaKey USB memory key

The worst five gadgets

  1. One For All URC-9900 Director (Mosaic) universal remote control
  2. Nokia N800 internet tablet
  3. Sony Playstation 3 (slim) games console
  4. Asus EeeBox PC EB1501 nettop
  5. Aliph Jawbone bluetooth headset