Allio ATVI-3G4542 LCD HDTV-PC 
Home Theater Flat Panel HDTVs LCD HDTVs
Written by Dick Ward   
Tuesday, 07 April 2009

Silicon Mountain’s Allio sets out to be the realization of a concept tried and tested by a great many companies over the years: a fusion of PC and TV that doesn’t inhibit the abilities of either.  This was tested not only under standard conditions, but as part of a 14 hour long, post-apocalyptic film fest to push the limits of the machine.

The Allio is as feature rich as they come.   The specific model under review was the ATVI-3G4542, the high end version of the television.  At 42”, the Allio features a 176 degree viewing angle, a 2000:1 contrast ratio, 1080p support, a 3D Y/C Digital Comb Filter and two 12 watt speakers.  If you don’t have a receiver to manage all your HDMI sources, the lack of connections on the rear of the Allio could be somewhat troublesome.  With only 2 HDMI inputs, anyone looking to hook up alternative components will have to acquire a HDMI switch or settle for component connections.


The PC side of the Allio is feature rich, with an Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 processor, fairly powerful as processors go, and 4GB of DDR2-800 RAM.  A built in 2x Blu-Ray player is an excellent touch, but the biggest attraction is the massive 1TB hard drive.  Enough for all the music and movies on both my laptop and desktop, it was fantastic to be able to transfer it all over with little effort.  Of course, it didn’t require transferring, as streaming from alternate sources is completely supported.

Features

During setup, the rear of the Allio felt cramped.  6 USB ports are available, but their positioning makes plugging things in incredibly awkward, and at one point I was forced to make a choice between the wireless keyboard adapter and my thumb drive, even though two spots were available.  On the PC side, I was disappointed with the amount of setup required to make the Allio work the way it should.  I was fully expecting the unit to do everything I needed it to right out of the box, but I spent a great deal of time with it before it was ready for use.    Though some may consider it nitpicking, Windows Vista was not set up for performance in any way.  With graphical options set at high and widgets enabled, the on board graphics card proved not to be enough in some circumstances.   Simply turning off graphical Windows Vista enhancements did the trick.

I find it unfortunate that a system meant to satisfy all video and audio didn’t include all the proper codecs pre-installed.  The Xbox 360 can stream Divx files straight out of the cardboard box, and it’s a video game system.  Perhaps Silicon Mountain was going for the ‘new computer’ feel, but properly customizing the machine to fit the needs of the consumer would have made a big difference in the overall setup experience.

As a television, the Allio feels lacking.  Offering a 2000:1 contrast ratio, the picture appeared a bit washed out and certainly didn’t pop off the screen.  It was noticeable enough for my father (not an AV junkie by any means) to remark that the blacks were nearly gray when we watched a bit of Star Wars. The screen stretching controls seemed slightly clumsy, especially when switching from standard definition programming on the television to the PC.  It didn’t seem to remember what ratio each input was at, which resulted in some distorted pictures occasionally.  I did like the 176 degree viewing angle from various points in the room.

Picture controls are fairly standard, with three presets and the usual range of adjustments including three color temperatures options.  Video settings can be set separately for each input and are recalled when switching between them; which is an especially nice feature considering the different sources available for the system.  There is a digital noise reduction included with three adjustable stages as well as an automatic color correction mode that’s fairly accurate.

 On the audio side, the TV settings offer adjustable bass and treble controls.  Three preset modes (Standard, Movies, and Music) should be enough for most, but there’s room for a bit of tweaking as well.  Although since most users will likely use an external sound system, the point is fairly moot.  I was unable to turn the television speakers off entirely.  It’s not a huge concern, but not being able to lock the volume is a pain, especially if someone gets their hands on the remote that doesn’t quite understand how everything works.  There is an optical output on the back of the Allio that provides 7.1 digital audio delivery to your receiver.  

The remote provided is fairly standard, but does have useful, individual buttons to switch between different inputs.  Rather than switching through a series of options or select from a menu, users are simply able to hit the HDMI button to switch between the two HDMI inputs. 
There are two PC remotes included; a handheld remote featuring a trackball in the center and a wireless keyboard with a trackball in the upper right hand corner.  The handheld worked well, but the keyboard saw the most usage.  The biggest drawback to using the keyboard is that without line of sight between the sensor and receiver, the keyboard doesn’t work.  Kicking back in the recliner and typing away becomes troublesome due to poor angles.  

Once the PC is setup, there were very few problems with getting the computer built into the Allio to perform well.  Streaming is a breeze and though there were some minor issues getting the wireless networking setup, but once done it worked flawlessly.  Internet browsing is one area that can be problematic.  Even with a 42” screen, text is only so big, and sitting 6-10 feet back from the TV means that much of that text is unreadable.  The simple solution is either to change the font size or zoom in on the browser.  Unfortunately, when browsing flash based sites such as Netflix, the flash popups become misaligned and the site becomes quite difficult to view.

Movies

We began the day with DVDs, watching a copy of Robot Jox rented from Netflix, as well as the parkour heavy District B-13 on Blu-Ray.  The films played well, and with Power DVD handling the upscaling, Robot Jox showed its age even more than expected.  I expected a bit of lag with the onboard graphics card, as a G45 series chip like the one included is listed as minimal for watching Blu-Ray movies on the Allio, but it performed without a hitch.

From there we moved to Mystery Science Theater 3000’s “Warrior of the Lost World”, a fantastic send up of a terrible Mad Max clone starring the guy from The Paperchase.   Streaming from my PC downstairs proved to be little issue, save a few minor hiccups in playback.  Not enough to ruin enjoyment of a comedy, but were it to occur during a dramatic scene in a serious movie, it could easily taint the experience.

Mad Max and The Road Warrior were next, and probably the most interesting pairing, as we watched Mad Max on DVD, but The Road Warrior streaming via Netflix.  There was certainly a bit of discomfort initially with the degradation in video quality, but it became easier on the eyes as the streaming Netflix server caught up.  The Allio certainly proved itself viable and went through the entire film-fest without any issues, even minor ones.  It was quite usable and transitions between films were pleasantly fluid.

Downside

Among the other issues, which I consider to be minor annoyances or just a little bit inconvenient, there is the problem that comes with every PC, that of fan noise.  In the Allio specifically, this is a big problem.  While not always engaged under a heavy load, the PC’s fan will turn on for a minute or so at a time, and it’s not quiet by any standards.  While not necessarily noticeable when watching the Allio at higher volumes, when watching something relaxing or when the display is off and the PC is still on, the fan can be quite startling when it revs up.

The Allio seems to favor a smaller fan at a higher RPM for its cooling, which is fairly counterintuitive, especially when cooling something that’s being used primarily as a home theater.  Using a pair of fans, or a larger fan would easily have decreased the noise, or simply keeping the fan running constantly at a slower speed to constantly cool the system.  As stated before, the display isn’t drastically impressive, which is disappointing on such an exciting combination of technologies.  For $2800, this display should look at least as good as an LCD half that price, but it’s not quite on par with other 42” televisions.  

Conclusion

The Allio is a fantastic concept, yet left me wanting more.  Having a PC built right in to a television is a potentially great idea that could easily sweep the market at the right price point, but the execution hasn’t been quite perfected with the first version of the Allio.  That being said, the Allio is an extremely convenient setup for consumers looking for a simple solution to streaming video, high-definition playback and regular, everyday television viewing.






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