blog好き homecinema edition

The best $200 high definition anime playback machine?

Last time I wrote about my setup, I was using my MacBook with Mplayer OSX Extended for playback. Since then, I’ve been eying a replacement solution (such that I can use my laptop as a laptop again). I settled on an Acer Aspire Revo featuring an Atom + 9400M Ion chipset.

There’s a lot of tutorials and forum posts about how to get DXVA running… but there’s really nothing easier than an Ion box with Media Player Classic Home Cinema. You just install MPC HC on a fresh Ion box, and it’s setup for DXVA right off the bat. And setups subtitles properly too. You don’t need to bother with codec packs like CCCP or filters or even configuration settings. Couldn’t be easier. However, if you want to optimize everything, you can install Haali’s splitter for mkv for a slight performance boost.

Here’s my three test setups. All output via HDMI to a 1080p capable HDTV:

A, Revo

Hardware: Atom, 9400M (Ion), 1GB ram
Playback: Media Player Classic Home Cinema, DXVA

B, MacBook

Hardware: Core 2 Duo, X3100, 2GB ram
OS: OSX 10.5
Playback: Mplayer OSX Extended

C, Tower

Hardware: Core 2 Quad, 9800GT, 4GB ram
Playback: Media Player Classic Home Cinema, ffdshow filter


First test clip is [Coalgirls]_Bakemonogatari_ED_(1920x1080_Blu-Ray_FLAC)_[CAE34AE3].mkv.

CPU usage: A, 15%. B, 35%. C, 25%.
Power: A, <15W. B, **. C, <300W.
Noise: A, inaudible. B, slightly noticeable. C, very noticeable.

None of the three setups had any issues with playback. C was, as expected, the most rock solid without any jitter or dropped frames. I turned on DXVA for C, and it reduced the CPU usage to about 15% as well. I’m using a Kill-A-Watt device to measure the power, and I’m not sure how accurate it is for the MacBook. I didn’t feel like spending the time to figure this out. Nonetheless, I am impressed with how DXVA handled the playback of a 1080-quality file at such a lower power footprint.

Also impressed with how quiet it stayed. You could hear the fan on B spin up as it decoded the file. For C, you could always hear the CPU and power supply fans. The main case fan didn’t kick in during playback.


Second test clip is [Anonymous] K-On! – 02 (BD 1920×1080 x264 AAC chap).mkv.

CPU usage and power isn’t much different from the previous clip, and I didn’t expect it to with similar encoding parameters used on both files. Mio <3.


Final test clip is [BSS]_Darker_Than_Black_-_Gemini_of_the_Meteor_-_01_[D8FD1FE5].mkv.

CPU usage: A, 15% (with errors), 90% (without errors). B, 25%. C, 15%.

I went through many files trying to find out that broke setup A… and this was it. BSS has been encoding h264 with 16 reference frames (L5.1 profile), which seems to be the limit of Nvidia-based cards and DXVA. MPC HC, by default, refuses to use DXVA for the file, which resulted in a stuttered playback and loss of audio sync since the Atom isn’t exactly a barn-burner CPU. I forced it to use DXVA, and it had blocking errors. Interestingly, this isn’t a 1080-quality file– it’s 1280×720– so the two other setups had an easier time with the file. Doing a little more testing, it seems like 15 reference frames is borderline of what DXVA can handle.

Update: I installed CoreAVC, and this codec managed to handle this file (60% CPU usage with CUDA). However, it stumbles on the previous two clips.


Despite not being able to decode ridiculously high quality encodes, the Acer Aspire Revo has really impressed me. It’s a cheap, small, quiet, and power efficient machine that can decode modern anime. I’m planning on mounting it behind my TV once I get a proper mount for it. To complete the setup, I bought a cheap $5 Bluetooth dongle and paired my Apple Wireless Keyboard with the Revo. As I mentioned before, I love this keyboard for the living room since it’s compact, light, and it lasts for a long time on a single set of batteries.

There’s a few negative quirks with the Revo. One is that the power indicator light is way too bright for a dark room, and I haven’t figured out how to turn it off yet (hence why I want to mount it behind my TV). Second, it comes without any DVDs and the only way to make backup discs is via an optional $50 burner. Ugh. It won’t even let me create make ISOs on an USB key so I could burn the files on another computer. Third, Atom is just not powerful enough for Flash, though with GPU-accelerated Flash coming soon, I’m not too worried about this aspect.

Really, at this price point, it doesn’t have a lot of competitors. Media tanks or connectors like Popcorn Hour or a 360 just aren’t as flexible as the Revo. There’s a slightly more powerful Ion box with a dual core Atom processor, but it’s over $100 more. But I’m satisfied with this performance, as I could always just plug in my MacBook for the occasional L5.1 file (which, by my quick survey, only a few people are using).

Next up for blog好き homecinema… audio ponderings… or The Grand Unified Controller. Mmm…

35 Responses to “blog好き homecinema edition”

  1. …the power indicator light is way too bright for a dark room, and I haven’t figured out how to turn it off yet…

    Electrical tape. I use it on the power button for my computer here at The Pond, and it’ll work for you too!

  2. Or black duct tape (matte finish – less reflective).

  3. Got to get a HDTV on of these days

  4. You know, a Netbook with Linux and MPlayer with the FFMPEG-MT build included runs anime fairly well, at least until you hit the BSS-type encodes like you had up there. Just saying, since that Aspire Revo’s basically an Aspire One rebuilt for home cinema use…

  5. MPC-HC can decode L5.1 files on XP SP3 without problems, it’s just 16 reference frames files that cause it to drop back to software decoding. The MPC-HC devs are trying to figure out how to get 16 reference frames DXVA decoding to work on XP on Nvidia GPUs that support bitstream decoding. 16 reference frames DXVA decoding work fine on Vista/Win7.

  6. I still think you would have gotten a MUCH better value with the fit-PC2:

    With hard drive included, it costs $369 on Amazon. ($305 w/o HDD)

    It indeed costs more than the Revo, but the value you are getting totally justifies the price. There are several advantages over the Revo:
    1. Its power consumption is insanely low.
    2. It’s very tiny. Its physical footprint is as small as its carbon footprint.
    3. It’s extremely quiet (completely silent if equipped with a SSD).
    4. Quality aluminum construction is sturdy and great for dissipating heat. (Also looks great)
    5. Has plenty of USB options, as well as LAN and Wi-fi, so backing up files is not an issue.
    6. Uses Intel GMA500 graphics acceleration instead of Nvidia ION, so you may even have better luck with those “L5.1 profile” videos.

  7. I’ve got an asrock 330 ion myself. (overclocked to 2.1 ghz without voltage increase lol)

    Using vista business (1st disc I found in cupboard), CCCP (using HAALI splitter)+ CoreAVC, CUDA
    turned on.
    HDMI output to samsung le46b650, and sound through optical to reciever (reciever doesn’t have hdmi input, and tv apparently only passes on stereo sound)

    I haven’t tried the first two clips, but the darker than black file plays at 23% usage. Would prolly be lower using XP or 7.

    I still want to try the XMBC, and your A setup, but since it’s already working like a charm, I cba right now tbh.
    Your A setup has a lower usage than what I usually have for 1080p files, so I might a look at that though…

    Will try to get my hands on the first two clips you’ve tested, and post result if you’re interested…

  8. @Haess: There’s no Ion netbook for $200. Cheapest is HP Mini 311 @$400, which is, you know, double the cost of the Revo. With DXVA and CoreAVC, I’ve managed to get every file to play on it without any issues. I don’t think I could do this with an Atom straight up.

    @Dermatea: You gotta be kidding me. That fit-PC2 is a rip-off at almost 2x the price of a Revo. You’re basically saying that Princess Lover is a better anime than Bakemonogatari. I don’t even know where to begin… if you think that GMA500 @$370 is superior to Ion @$200, then I have some magic beans to sell you.

  9. @jason

    The Intel GMA500 integrated graphics processor with Intel US15W SCH chipset is not exactly what makes the fit-PC2 better than the Acer Revo. The GMA500 platform is still fairly new and drivers have yet to fully mature, but its potential performance exceeds that of its predecessor, the GMA950 IGP with Intel 945GSE chipset. The Revo uses a combination of Intel Atom 230 CPU + NVIDIA ION LE IGP & Chipset. The Atom 230 CPU is pretty weak and has no support for graphics acceleration, so all the video processing is done by the ION GPU, which apparently is not enough to handle L5.1 profile encoded videos by itself. The fit-PC2 however, uses a much more powerful Atom Z530 (Menlow) processor with built-in video acceleration + Intel GMA500 IGP, which essentially means that the fit-PC2 has two graphics processors working in tandem, and unlike the Revo, is not bottle-necked by a slow CPU. As such, the fit-PC2 can even handle Flash content, GPU-accelerated or not. The same cannot be said for the Revo. I never outrightly said that the Intel GMA500 IGP is better than the ION LE IGP, only that the fit-PC2 is better overall than the Acer Revo, primarily because the Revo is bottle-necked by its CPU.
    In essence, the fit-PC2 with an Atom Z530 CPU (12), + an Intel GMA500 IGP (8) = total 20,
    whereas the Revo with an Atom 230 CPU (4) + an ION LE IGP (13) = total 17.

    Now one has to wonder where you got those magic beans in the first place…

  10. Jason, don’t listen to the people that say the Atom Z5xx CPUs are better. They are exactly the SAME as the Atom N2xx mobile, just they are better binned because they use less power than the Atom N2xx and Intel can sell them for higher price. They(Atom Z5xx) do not have an extra GPU, thats a big lie, if it already has a on-die GPU, it wouldn’t need the GMA500 on the US15W chipset. Also the Z5xx series does not use the standard Intel FSB, it will only work with the US15W chipset with the crappy GMA500. The GMA500 has pretty bad drivers, you can read it on the Internet but thats typically on par for Intel, even their self in-house designed GMA X4500HD/MHD has poor drivers. Not to mention the fact Intel only supports hardware decoding on Vista/Win7.

    Dermatea, kindly stop your misinformation about Ion if you don’t understand anything it. Ion can play L5.1 encodes just fine, I’ve personally tested myself and so has the guide writer which Jason has referenced and linked to.

    Jason, you should download the latest MPC-HC SVN builds for some useful bug fixes.

    Also please install the latest DirectX Redist August 2009 or later, the MPC-HC devs now compile MPC-HC SVN builds with it.

    You might want to consider to update the Nvidia Geforce drivers also to the latest version.

  11. @Dermatea
    I think he grows them.

    Pretty sweet setup. I’m still using a 20″ monitor as my main for anime, but when I do get myself a nice HDtv I’ll have to look into one of these little boxes. Though by then I’m sure a newer and better version will be out…. maybe one built /into/ the HDtv.

  12. I’m taking the beefy Windows box and absurdly long HDMI cable approach to media playback, and my favorite friend thus far is Air Mouse for the iPhone. With a small daemon installed on the computer, it allows for extremely responsive mousing and keyboarding via WiFi. I also use modified somewhat to tailor it to anime viewing. And a free wake-on-lan app so I don’t have to leave the beast running all the time.

    However hugely flexible and generally tingly it is, the iPhone is obviously not ideal, since it lacks the immediacy and tactile usability of a traditional remote. Still, show me a stick remote (RF, damnit!) that can completely control MPCHC, a web browser, Hulu Desktop, and . Seriously, please show me. I want one.

  13. Very useful post, I did install MPC HC and all the stuff but after a lot of tests I discovered that my HD3870 do not allow the hardware acceleration of L5.0/L5.1 .mkvs so I finally need an upgrade to watch my BD-rips and stuff.
    But for the other mkv, all’s fine, thank you a lot.

    Oh and hey, I think that your reason about why Ryuusei no Gemini didn’t work can be wrong. Because the first two videos that you mention are L5.0 (at least Bake’s ED, I checked) so the Ion can support these. Maybe he can’t do L5.1 but it would be pretty strange, wouldn’t it ?

  14. @Dermatea: Sold! Enjoy your stock of magic beans. You do realize that GMA500 is older than both the GMA950 and X3100 and that GMA500 has an average 3D mark score of 136 ( while the 9400M has a 3D mark score of 3326 ( Plus, US15W chipset only has 4 shaders and runs 200MHz compared to 16 shaders at 1.1GHz for the 9400M. And since the 9400M runs in 2 generations of silicon ahead of the GMA500 in technology (65nm vs 130nm), it is lower power as well (10W instead of 20W).
    The Z530 is the same processor as the 230 except the 230 is a 64-bit processor whereas the Z-series disables the 64-bit instructions (to save 2W). The way Atoms are named, the ones without letters in front are the most featured processors. The N in front turns off some features (like hyperthreading) to save power, and the Z-series turns off even more to save more power (like 64-bit). But, really, it’s futile since the processor consumes so little power compared to the GMA500. No, seriously, stop watching Princess Lover. I think it’s killing all of your brain cells.
    @boo: I find that there’s no reason to use CCCP on a nettop. I run much better (maybe because fewer filters installed?) with just Haali splitter, MPC HC, and CoreAVC. I looked at the Asrock 330, but it’s twice the price as the Revo and without an OS. Though one thing I liked about the Asrock was the optical out.

  15. Do you plan to just transfer your anime to the 160gb hard drive or do you have some type of NAS streaming solution? I’d be interested to know how you archive/organize your anime since I assume you have quite a bit.

    Right now I don’t have an hdtv (getting one this christmas) so I’m very interested in this revo. However I have a 1 TB hard drive of anime that I’d love to be able to stream to the revo (preferable mac/pc compatible). Any ideas?

  16. This is great info, including the comments. I’ve been wondering how your home theater was coming. Running a 1st gen Mac Mini is getting old since it won’t run .mkv files at all. And while .avi’s are still acceptable (just not optimal) on the HDTV, this is the kind of solution I may be looking for. As greenskye mentioned, some additional info regarding transfer of files or streaming options would be appreciated. I currently have an external drive with a lot of stuff on it and if I could just hook that up via USB, that may be fine. All this other technical jargon, however, is just above my head.

  17. @greenskye: Just run BT on the Revo… toss in a VNC server, and it’s fantastic. I also setup SyncBack so twice a week, it dumps the Revo’s hard drive on a NAS.
    @Smankh: No, it’s not profile (which can be faked). It’s # of reference frames… I’m going to check 7, but XP chokes with 15.

  18. Ok, thank you, that helped a lot. Loved how some people are trying to promote things in the comments.

  19. jason: For $200, you’re right about it being hard to get anything at that price range.. but at the same time, I’d argue the netbook’s a better choice, even if it means it’s because you can troubleshoot the bugger if something goes seriously wonky, and I personally like the option of picking up my box and going elsewhere, or even being able to watch on the run. They’re all still pretty quiet compared to desktop computers, which is good for reducing distractions.

  20. I’ve been looking for a solution like this for a while myself. From the sound of things the ideal would be one of these with Win7 on it to get the whole 16 reference frames / L5.1 support. And the price is fantastic. Going to see if I can track one down this week.

  21. Awesome Jason! Thanks! Those 2 MPC-HC links were awesome. I’ve been using MPC-HC for a while, but I didn’t have the latest version, and didn’t set all of those settings. No wonder I couldn’t play the 1080p stuff properly on my HTPC. I just ran through that setup here at work and HOLY S*IT! Thanks for the reminder and info. Can’t wait to get home tonight to fix everything.


    Might want to give XBMC a shot. It also has GPU decoding for h.264. The added benefits are a nicer interface and metadata support. The sites that XBMC uses for metadata are very up-to-date even with anime ep info. It makes it alot more convenient to find that one ep that I wanted rewatch.

    Personally, I’m still using an old A64 with Window 7 Media center, CoreAVC, and Media Browser (for metadata). I plan on getting an Asrock ION 330 soon to replace it. Jason, you have to also consider that the Asrock gives you a DVD burner(one of your complaints), more RAM, a bigger HDD, plus a 2nd CPU core for about $100 more. The slim DVD alone would cost you at least $50. One thing more you should remember is that ION is an IGP and uses system RAM as it’s framebuffer. More RAM would also benefit the GPU.

  23. The cool thing is… the BSS video plays just fine with my nVidia card and VDPAU, so it seems like it’s DXVA’s fault.

  24. @Haesslich: I think it’s pretty obvious from the article that I already own a laptop… so why would I want to spend an extra $200 duplicating functionality that I get from my MacBook? I just want something I can mount behind my TV and not worry about it. And save $200. Which I’ll blow on Warrior tickets.
    @AlexL55: The Asrock 330 is $200 more, which, you know, is double the price of the Revo. And it lacks an OS. I love it when people say, “Hey, this thing that costs double the price is better!” It should be! It’s double the price. But can you beat the Revo at the $200 price point? For me, I don’t need a faster Atom… right now, between CoreAVC and DXVA, the Revo has played back every file I’ve thrown at it. Plus, the Revo literally took me 5 minutes to get up and running and watching 1080p Mio from out of the box.

  25. Jason: yes, you own a laptop. So do I, albeit a 17″ monster – the reason I’d suggest a netbook is for the fact it is small and light enough that it’s easy to throw into anything… and your Aspire box there is basically the netbook minus the screen and keyboard.

  26. @Jason: The Asrock only sells for $150 more on newegg and you could get it for even less elsewhere. However I do lot more with my media center, such as tv recording, live tv streaming, blu-ray playback, RS232 Home Automation. Thus requiring beefier specs. But from the perspective of pure video playback, I agree the Revo is hard to beat. However, if it was just purely for video playback, then wouldn’t something like the WD TV Live or Asus O!play be enough? Sure it might not playback the <5% of 15+ ref frame videos. But they cost almost half the price of the Revo and plus like you said you could hook up your macbook to play those.

  27. “The Revo literally took me 5 minutes to get up and running and watching 1080p Mio from out of the box.” And five minutes to 1080p Mio is hard to beat. Literally. Hard to beat.

  28. I showed my cousin this article and convinced him to get a Revo too. He has a large desktop connected to his TV and would like to use it to watch anime, but he doesn’t download anime to it since it is not his main system and finds transferring files tedious. I suggested leaving the revo on as a files server and he is ordering a 1.5 TB HDD and external eSATA case (can’t find eSATA on a netbook). He’ll download directly to the shared folder and can watch anime from wherever.

    I might make a similar setup once I get a hands-on with his system. Contolling the system with a iPhone looks interesting. Anyone have a link to that?

  29. Nevermind, found links for air mouse. Looks very interesting.

  30. @Jason: Very informative post. Does allocating more RAM to the GPU help CoreAVC deal with the 1080P stuff? I’ve heard this recommended somewhere, although I doubt the person who mentioned it had to deal with a 1GB RAM constraint.

  31. @ Jounin: I would suggest using a nice 10′ interface like Windows 7 Media Center or XBMC, since the words can be hard to read on 1080p TV from the couch. Both have great free iPhones apps to control them. 7MC ( XMBC (
    @0utf0xZer0: 2GB is recommended, but 1GB should be enough. I think the GPU default is set to use 256MB of RAM, leaving 768MB for the system. If you go Jason’s route and just use the newer versions of MPC-HC with the fixed memory leaks then you should be fine with about 400-500MB of RAM used. If you use a nice GUI interface like Windows 7 Media Center or XBMC, then the system might feel a bit sluggish since the RAM usage will jump to about 500-700MB.

  32. Jason, new Nvidia Geforce 195.55 drivers with support for Flash 10.1 beta H.264 GPU decoding is out.

  33. Jason, new Nvidia Geforce 195.62 drivers.

  34. Jason, the drivers are now WHQL certified.

  35. Jason, new Nvidia GeForce 257.21 WHQL drivers.

    Also please update to the latest MPC-HC build and latest DirectX End-User Runtimes June 2010(required for latest MPC-HC builds).

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