I know how easy it is to throw together an HTPC. I mean many people build these themselves and are quite happy with that they have come up with to suit their specific needs. What if I were to tell you that there is a company out there that not only offers you a plug and play solution to having the benefits of an HTPC in the living room, but took the design and the options to a level that I haven't seen with that I have been able to come up with over the years. My personal HTPC is built atop a Zotac m-ITX motherboard with a dual core Atom processor. The issue I have is when I add the video card or the fans on the HTPC chassis, when it begins to spool up, the unit is more of an audible distraction than a benefit to adding said builds into a home theater environment. I want to hear the movie, not my PC that is streaming the content.
ARCTIC takes these issues head on and said what can we do to make these issues just go away? Well to start off, the unit we are about to see is completely passive. There is a combination of internal heatsinks that can use the thick aluminum plate of the external case to help with the transfer of heat to the slow current of air in the room naturally. On top of that, with the included dual core Intel Atom D525 and AMD Radeon HD 5430, there is enough "grunt" to play the Blu-ray you slip in the ODD or stream 1080p to this unit from another PC and wirelessly if you want.
What really set this unit apart from an HTPC you build or any media box you can buy is the complete list of accessories all ready to just plug and play and go to work for you. ARCTIC has really taken all of the guess work out of the build process as they offer you a PC that is one of the smallest units I have had the pleasure of using in my home theater environment.
Some of you may be thinking to yourself, yeah I can build them silent, but I assure you; you will never get close to the amount of goodies you can pack into your build compared to everything that is offered inside of the MC001-BD Entertainment Center and I guarantee you won't come close in the limited footprint this is delivered in.
I have had ample time with this unit and I think I have put it through all of the paces I can think of doing or that my location allows with certain features of this EU unit. Even with a limitation of not being able to use the included tuner, there is still a ton left to cover with what ARCTIC offers in the MC001-BD, especially when we start adding on the ARCTIC accessories.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
Since the specs list is very inclusive, I will assume you read it and we can consider what is on the inside of the MC001-BD covered. Although the TV tuner is marked as an option, all of the units, not just the Blu-ray model have these included. The unit tested today offers the DVB-T connection for said tuner, since I am from the ATSC camp, I won't be able to give Windows Media Center a try with this tuner. What really impresses me is that ARCTIC was able to get all of those components into a chassis that is 40mm wide, 143mm deep and 266mm tall. I have books on shelves bigger than this.
Not really covered in the specs chart is the externals of the MC-001. They don't cover that there is a two piece construction that is made of sleek, shiny black plastic that will match any HTPC environment. Nor do they cover that the other half of this construction is made from a thick piece of aluminum to aid the internal heat sinks like I covered in the intro. The last thing they don't cover is how good this thing looks once you have it sitting beside the TV.
The availability isn't really a question. You can locate these MC001-BD systems from ARCTIC directly for the cost of $629.95. I was able to locate a US version of this stateside for just over $600 for the unit. Of course the EU market has its listings as well, but mathematically they are all pretty close across the board once the currency is converted.
This is where I have my largest issue with this unit. For this sort of money I could even get a better laptop with an HDMI port to do just about the same thing, but then things like the Audio Relay I got included with my kit, wouldn't work, nor would some of the other accessories that make this unit so easy to use and navigate, even if you haven't owned an HTPC system before.
On the front of the box containing the MC001-BD we can see the unit with features like a built in TV tuner, an Intel processor, ATI Mobility video card, Windows 7 and others placed to the left of the image.
On this side, at the top there are images of the five components included inside the packaging. Under the images are eleven lists of key features in various languages.
On the back ARCTIC takes this space to inform potential buyers of what they should expect from this product as far as performance, the entertainment center capabilities and just what makes this so easy to use.
This side of the packaging shows us the rear of the MC001-BD and all the connections it has next to a list of the specifications of this unit.
Opening the box you are greeted from ARCTIC with a card that personally thanks you for buying this unit and they hope that you enjoy using it. While most companies strive for this, only a few companies actually take the time to say it.
Inside is a mix of a white cardboard box that contains all of the wiring and paperwork included with the MC001-BD. The actual PC is shipped in the recycled cardboard pieces and is wrapped in a foam envelope and has plastic stuck to the shiny bits.
ARCTIC MC001-BD Entertainment Center PC
Once all of the outer packaging and plastic is removed you are left with the very attractive MC-001-BD that you see here.
The front of the unit is made of aluminum on the left and shiny plastic on the right side. Down the face is the power button to the left of the Blu-ray drive door. Near the bottom you have connectivity for USB 3.0 via two ports along with 3.5mm audio and microphone jacks and a 4-in-1 media card reader.
At the top are three slits that run across the MC001-BD as exhaust for the convective flow of this designs passive cooling. The unit takes in air from the back as well as by the foot in the raised bit just above it. As for the logo, it is out of focus, but it shows the reflectivity of the shiny plastic cover very well.
The top half of the rear of the MC001-BD offers six connections for audio to deliver 7.1 surround sound under the ventilated section. To the right of those you have the digital optical port, a VGA port, the HDMI port and the gigabit LAN port.
Next to another ventilated section is connectivity for five USB 2.0 devices, with gold connections for the WiFi antenna on the left and the DVB-T connection for either HD antenna or paid for programming to connect to the TV tuner.
The other large side of the MC001-BD is made of a thick piece of aluminum to give structural support of course, but it also acts as a large radiator to help keep things inside cooler with the use of convection in the chassis and household airflow from a room fan or air conditioning.
Under the unit you will find your key for the included operating system which is a 32-bit version of Windows 7 to help keep resources down to allow the components to do more for you and less for the OS. The foot is also foam padded as not to do any damage to the shelf or stand it is placed on in your home theatre.
Inside the ARCTIC MC001-BD Entertainment Center PC
This is the cooler for the Intel Atom D525 CPU that runs at 1.8GHz and the ATI Mobility HD5430 GPU with 512MB of DDR3 memory. I would loved to have been able to pull the cooler off to show you what is going on underneath this, but I would swear the board and cooler are put together and slid into the chassis and a panel then placed on. I couldn't seem to find a way to remove it without bending metal.
Here is a look from the other end of the chassis. You can see there is a lot going on in this tiny space. There is the large chipset cooler, the TV tuner, CMOS battery, media card reader and I/O connectivity all backed into this 40mm thick compartment.
They do back the Intel Atom processor with 4GB of Team Group memory. These 2GB SO-DIMMs are rated at 1333MHz and run at CL9. It's nothing really extreme, but it's enough to get the job done.
As much as I looked I couldn't find information leading to a manufacturer of the 4-in-1 media card reader, but none the less, here is an image of it.
As far as the DVB-T TV tuner included in the kit, the HU393-T leads back to the thumb drive tuner made by MaxMedia. Just in this instance since it is internal, the thumb drive shell has been removed.
I was able to remove the large heat sink over the chipset to expose what is used here. It is in fact the Intel NM10 Express chipset to control the USB, PCI, gigabit LAN, HD audio, PCI Express and SATA ports along with connecting to both the BIOS and the CPU.
As I removed the plastic cover on the top I found the 500GB hard drive sandwiched between layers of foil tape to keep the heat of the drive separated from the rest of the PC, as well as trying to keep it from warming the plastic cover.
Accessories and Documentation
The fist bit of paperwork I found in the kit shows you all the ways you should NOT set your MC001 up for operations under any circumstances. There is the obvious don't set it in sunlight or next to magnets, but they also advise not removing the base to lie this on any side either.
Then of course you have the quick start guide that will walk you through the basic connectivity and the initial boot of the OS and how to navigate to a functional running machine with only a choice of language, name and password needed to be entered to get underway.
There are also great images and lists explaining each of the connections both front and back of the MC001-BD. So if there are any issues with the step-by-step instructions you can refer here to see where the cable goes.
If you don't currently have cable to use with the TV tuner, there is this aerial antenna that plugs into the back of the MC001-BD. There is also the screw type antenna for the wireless b/g/n that will point in almost any direction to gain better signal if needed.
ARCTIC also sends along their branded HDMI cable to run from the HDMI out on the MC001 to the TV it will be setting next to for full clarity in both video and audio.
For some reason or another I received the EU version of the MC001-BD. If you are in the US, there is a US model with a correct power cord for us, but since I had an adapter from an HD stream box review, I can just use that and get underway.
Lastly you receive a copy of CyberLink BD Solution 3D to allow you to be able to run all of the 3D Blu-ray titles you may have. Trying to be the end all be all solution, I can see where 3D coverage is needed to complete the package.
K481 Wireless Keyboard with Multi-Touch Pad
The packaging for the K481 is just large enough to house the keyboard and the padded envelope and not much more. It does display features like its 10 meter range, the 2.4GHz signal used, power saving mode and the hot keys.
The sides of the packaging offer the specs of this tiny wireless keyboard and have warnings on the right about the batteries shipped with the keyboard.
The back starts off with features on the left with another image of the keyboard on the right. At the bottom it has images of some of the features as they are found on the board, while on the right is a few of the multi-touch gestures used on the touch pad.
The K481 is now out of the box and at this moment I realized I also received the EU layout keyboard. There are some strange symbols for what I am used to but memory served well enough to traverse the board correctly. On the right are media keys above the multi-touch mouse pad that also have a right and left click button below it.
On the back of the board there are four rubber feet, but in reality since the keyboard will likely be on your lap most of the time you use it, the more important feature back here is the battery door that you insert a pair of AAA batteries into to get the K481 powered up.
There is a USB 2.0 receiver for the keyboard to send the 2.4GHz signal from the keyboard to the PC along with a pair of batteries included from ARCTIC.
Inside of the guide for the keyboard you get multi-lingual sections. Each section shows how to install the batteries and then you need to plug in the USB receiver and power on the keyboard. There is also a list of the seven gestures you will need to learn to make better use of the multi-touch pad.
MCR1 IR Media Center Remote Control
Entertainment at your fingertips is the line used to explain the need to have this MCR1 remote to use with the MC001-BD. This will work not only for Media Center, but you can use it like an old phone and text the keys for results in a browser or while on Facebook.
On the back we get to see the entire IR remote with a small list of features just below it. Near the bottom is a list of specifications and the fact that batteries are again included with this product.
The remote is fat at both ends with a slim spot in the middle that fits nicely in your hand as you navigate all of the keys. You have device keys at the top with a navigation pad and mouse functions just below. With the basic remote functions for TV navigation there is also an alphabet attached to allow you to also type from this remote control
On the back is the removable cover to allow you to install the pair of included batteries that come in the box.
We get a set of the same 1300 mAh alkaline batteries that I received with the keyboard. I was about to go ahead and install these, but...
... on second thought I will use a pair from my own stock, these look a little too ill to do anyone any good.
The remote control guide comes in as many translations as does all the rest of the kit. They all show the 29 button layout and below are a list of each button and its function. Once you get used to this and the keyboard, navigating on the MC001-BD is a real breeze.
Audio Relay Wireless Media Extender
The box for the Audio Relay shows the wireless media extender with the antenna attached for wireless passing of audio media from the MC001-BR to any other components that receive signal via digital optical cable or RCAs. It also shows that this device can be controlled via smartphone apps.
On this side it again shows the functionality with apps from Android Market and Apple's App Store. It also points out that this unit is for multi-room entertainment and that it is quick and easy to set up.
On the back of the package it shows all of the specification of the Audio Relay including the codecs that this unit will stream.
On the last side of the packaging there is a basic connection shown of how to wire this device. All you need is a wireless router and enough range to place the unit where you want it. ARCTIC also shows the connectivity on the back of this device.
Here is the Audio Relay in its entirety. The ARCTIC name adorns the shiny plastic black top of the device with just the simplicity of a power button to deal with.
The aluminum used on this device matches very well with the MC001-BD, even if it is in another room of the house, your buddies will easily put it together that they are somehow working together as you stream songs from the living room TV to a stereo in the garage or a bedroom, really anywhere with power and is in range of your signal.
The back of the unit has a few simple things you want to connect to get the stream going. There is the option to send the signal from this to another device via the RCA or the optical out. This uses a mini-USB connection for power and has a USB port activation software purposes. There is the ability for a wired connection via the LAN port or wireless with the gold port at the right. In the middle is the WPS button that is used for routers with WPS for auto-recognition of this device.
Under the unit is a large pad to rest on while not damaging the surface it is on.
Audio Relay Accessories
In the box with the Audio Relay, ARCTIC makes sure you are equipped and ready to go. Like the inclusion of this set of RCA cable to deliver stereo sound through these to the device you want to play the stream on.
This is a USB to mini-USB cable that can be powered with the wall adapter that is also included.
I was lucky enough to get a US version of this plug. This goes into the wall and the cable I just showed plugs into it at the end closest to you.
You also get a multi-directional antenna for the WiFi signal.
The instructions are super easy to follow and get the Audio relay into action. Whether you are going wired, wireless or via the WPA feature, there are step by step instructions and even a basic trouble shooting guide to get things sorted. Mine was recognized by Window and following the step to transfer a playlist I had Daft Punk playing on the living room stereo in no time at all.
Now I could have run the MC001-BD through all sorts of benchmarks, but instead of letting the Intel Atom D525 get slaughtered by everything else I currently have in the house, I will just say that isn't the intention of this system to be a performance only machine. There is a delicate balance between selecting the right low-power components that will offer you the ability to surf the web, stream movies over the internet via something like Netflix or even from your vast files you currently have on other machines in the network and choosing an OS that is capable, but not too demanding and being extremely power conscious the whole time.
This is a passively cooled system after all and unless you mess with the power settings and get the HDD to click like I did, there is only the small sound of the Blu-ray drive to make any sort of noise during operation of this sleek and sexy HTPC. For all intents and purposes this is exactly what most people want next to their TV, not some big HTPC chassis that takes up a ton of room and you still have the fans to deal with.
The accessories are what complete the package for users. The K481 did take a bit of getting used to and learning that hitting the left Function button revives the keyboard from its sleep state. I was able to type things on a different floor of the house and was testing the 10 meter range and I must have a good line of sight because at near 40 feet I was still able to control the PC. The MCR1 makes use of Media Center very easy and it give you the opportunity to control the PC from another device if you don't like the choices being made by the housemates, but I won't say that ends well all the time. As for the Audio Relay I have to say it is a tool that I have actually wanted for years. For those with rooms for your PC, but say you are throwing a party, now you have the ability to open Window Media Player, select a playlist, send it to the ARCTIC Audio Relay to a receiver in any other room and enjoy the tunes, it really is that easy.
We went through quite a bit of what ARCTIC offers in the realm of home entertainment, I mean we are a couple of controllers, an optical cable, some speakers and an external hard drive away from seeing the entire accessory line that goes along with the MC001-BR we just got done looking at. Considering the kit as you seen it tested runs considerably more than the $600 pricing of the MC001-BD, if you add all the components together that I received, you are well over $800 now.
The MC001-BD is great at what it does, even if wireless isn't going to allow you to stream and play 1080p without a bit of the movie downloading prior to watching it, with a wired connection this is a fierce little machine. While I know it is tough to justify near $800 for what you have seen, this is a seriously easy system to install and use and along with the ease that the accessories offer in use and installation. There is no way you can get this small and sexy for your money, even if yours is a bit more capable. Ease of use and the compact nature of this MC001-BD and its accessories is what drives the pricing and if you want a simple way to connect media to the HTPC and offer an option to stream music anywhere you want to, this may very well be the sweet and simple solution to your needs.
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