|Vidabox LUX Home Theater PC|
|Home Theater Media Servers Home Theater/Media Center PCs|
|Written by Brian Kahn|
|Monday, 01 October 2007|
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Home Theater PCs (HTPCs) are becoming more and more prevalent in today’s most adventurous media rooms. HTPCs are being offered by some larger mainstream manufacturers, as well as smaller, specialized manufacturers, such as Vidabox, that focus on the “HT or home theater” portion of HTPC. Microsoft’s incorporation of media features in their Vista operating system all but ensures that PCs will remain in our home theaters.
Vidabox, LLC is based in Garden City, New York, where co-founders Steven Cheung and Sergio DeAlbuquerque remain hands on in day-to-day operations. Vidabox was founded to design and build premium quality media centers and home theater PCs. The LUX model reviewed here is toward the higher end of the line.
The LUX that is running in my home theater right now is different from every other HTPC that I have seen to date, in that it supports both the HD DVD and Blu-Ray formats. Niveus, a well-regarded competitor in the world of HTPCs, currently supports HD DVD only.
From the front, the LUX looks more like an AV component than a computer. The only aspect missing is a display. The review unit’s front metal panel is finished in brushed silver. The panel features two optical drive drawers on the right-hand side, one displaying the HD DVD logo and the other the Blu-Ray logo. A door under the drawers opens to reveal numerous connection options, including card reader, USB, Firewire, microphone and headphone jacks. The simple front panel is finished off with a pair of buttons underneath corresponding blue LEDs on the bottom left that control powering on/off or resetting the system. The back of the LUX looks like the backside of a computer. It contains two DVI outputs, one component video output, one S-Video output, TOSLINK and SPDIF digital outputs, coaxial TV inputs and FM antenna inputs, as well as all the standard computer connectivity you’d expect to find on a traditional tower PC. I should point out that the analog audio outputs are of the mini-stereo headphone jack variety. The unit came with numerous adapters and cables that were carefully chosen so that most users will not need to make a run to their local electronics stores in order to set up the unit. Vidabox also offers optional HDMI modules and upgraded audio outputs.
Looking under the hood of the Vidabox LUX, you will find an AMD X2 Dual-Core 5200+ AM2 processor with 2GB of high-speed memory, 750GB of SATA drives with VidaSafe protection (upgradeable to 5TB), dual HDTV and dual ISF-certified SD tuners (cablecard tuners are available), an ALC 7.1 sound card and a nVidia 8600 series video card. The hardware is accompanied by a mildly tweaked version of Microsoft’s Vista Home Premium Edition, and the whole package can be controlled with either Microsoft’s IR remote control or a 2.4GHz RF keyboard with an integrated trackball, all of which come included. The base LUX retails for $5,100, but as set up in this review with dual HD drives, it goes for approximately $8,400.
Those of you who are pretty computer savvy may recognize that these components are not necessarily the latest and greatest in the computing world. However, after speaking with Steven Cheung of Vidabox, I learned that every component was chosen because of its reliable interaction with all the other components. Cheung noted that a lot of trial and error went into selecting the combinations utilized in the systems. It was found that many components that should work together in fact do not. Other factors that Vidabox took into consideration are heat and noise. It was important to strike a balance between having enough horsepower to get the job done without having a great deal of extra unused power that would only serve to generate heat. All moving parts were carefully chosen for reliability and quietness. Again, some components with the exact same specifications were much louder than others.
AVRev.com readers may recall our recent article on HTPCs crashing and losing data. Many of us now use computers to store information that is precious to us, including photographs, on our HTPCs. Vidabox recognizes the importance of data integrity and builds its proprietary Vidasafe technology into each system it sells. The Vidabox website has a white paper that goes into greater detail on Vidasafe, but here is a quick rundown. RAID 5 is implemented in Vidabox units to protect against hard drive failure. While this is important, RAID 5 in and of itself is common in HTPCs. Vidasafe continues by separating the data and system drives. This way, if a virus makes it past all the protection, the system drive can be wiped and reinstalled without any data loss. Vidasafe also includes self-optimizing features, many of which run in the middle of the night when the system is not in use, such as downloading and installing upgrades, defragmentation and memory purging. This combination of features should keep all your data safe, while keeping the LUX running optimally.
I was a little apprehensive when the LUX arrived, as I had never before set up a HTPC, or for that matter, used a Vista-equipped computer. My worries soon abated, for when I opened the box, I found everything well labeled and clear instructions printed on oversize “Quick Start” guides.
At first, I was unable to utilize the digital video connection, because the LUX had a DVI output and I did not have a DVI to HDMI adapter on hand. Thankfully, Monster Cable was kind enough to rush one over to me. The connections were easy to make following the simple instructions. The keyboard is a wireless RF unit that syncs to a dongle plugged into the computer’s USB port.
Once I had all the connections made, I ran through the set-up wizard. One function of the set-up wizard allows for automatic detection of the monitor’s capabilities and setting of the video adjustments accordingly. This function understandably did not work when I used the McIntosh MX-136 as a video switcher. Once I ran the DVI/HDMI cable through an Accell Cable splitter, with one run directly to my Marantz VP-11S1 projector and the other to the McIntosh, the computer correctly identified it as a 1080p display. I should point out that the video signal at 1080p was 60fps, as 24fps is unavailable at this time. A future software patch or change of video cards may enable this frame rate. As the system is normally set up by a Vidabox installer, I called Vidabox to ensure that I had set everything up right. Vidabox was able to access the LUX and check all the settings to confirm the system was up and running properly.