Yesterday we took a look at the raw performance of the Cryo PC Alto HTPC. Today it’s more about the usage experience. I won’t lie to you, it’s going to get subjective and opinionated, but that’s what makes these types of reviews that much more fun.
With an HTPC, one of the biggest parts of its usage is going to be media viewing. This means watching DVDs, Blu Rays, streaming on sites like Youtube and listening to music.
DVD watching was a nice experience with the Alto, though it’s hardly something that you’d expect to go awry. With the PC setup as a media station, it boots straight into Windows Media Centre, letting you watch the DVD from within that OS subsystem, or you can exit out and do things with your own chosen piece of software.
Blu Rays were slightly different, mainly in the fact that the Alto doesn’t come pre-loaded with any software that you could use to play one. Trying to do so from within Windows Media Centre just brings up an error message. It might be a bit pernickety, but considering there are no free solutions, I’d have liked to have seen some Blu-Ray software included with the Alto: especially since you get a Blu-Ray drive in the system build.
However, once you get things started, the Alto is a lovely way to watch your HD media. It produces a great picture and the sound is more than adequate. Real hardcore sound enthusiasts may feel the need to add a sound card to their build (this can be done with the Cryo PC configuration) to get the utmost ouf of their speaker setup, but for a standard 2.1 system, I doubt you’d notice much difference. That said, it’s not like you need to upgrade, as the onboard chip supports up to 7.1.
Streaming as above really, no problems with the video or audio, regardless of quality. This is what you’d expect from a system around the £1000 mark, but it’s comforting to know that there’s no gremlins waiting for you with streaming video.
Since there’s no built in wireless connectivity – which I would like to see in a media PC – you do need to provide your own, or hook up a traditional ethernet cable. The former will provide some problems for HD streaming as 1080p is simply not possible on a traditional WiFi N speed network.
TV viewing is nice and easy with these system. Again, no bundled software, but you can download it straight from your bundled card’s manufacturer site. Hooking up an aerial gives you immediate access to several channels and once they’re scanned and locked in, you’re good to go.