This is my first review, and I suck at English, so things may get a bit rough. Anyways, here goes!
This tiny little box packs a ton of power, it can offload nearly all video rendering to the Ion's GPU. This gives us seamless HD playback on a low powered, low cost box starting at $350.
The following image shows you where the hard drive and optical drive would sit in the case. I decided to remove the hard drive and use a usb stick in its place. I went without an optical drive when ordering, for the time being I am using a USB DVD drive. The case will hold a full sized hard drive, but it can only hold a slim optical drive.
In the following images you can get an idea of the size of the power brick compared to the case. The power supply itself weights in at 84 watts, I already told you this was a low powered system right?
Enough with the tour, why exactly is this the perfect MythTV frontend? Lets start with the obvious, the form factor. At 2.36" tall, 8.66" wide, and 12.40" deep the case is considerably smaller than most AV components you may have sitting around your TV. The case itself can lay flat, or sit up on its side, and even comes with a stand for doing so. The case itself is a sleek black color and is a fairly sturdy build (with the exception of the plastic front USB panel). The following image demonstrates how well the Meerkat Ion can blend in with your other TV equipment.
Now I know we have all seen small form factor frontends in the past, but what is it that really makes this one stand out from the rest? The answer is VDPAU, which allows offloading of video rendering to the GPU. This allows us to play back HD video without worrying about our low powered CPU being able to handle it. On most 1080i content I see CPU usage in the teens, this video was not even playable on my previous frontend.
At this point I've pointed out the best feature of the Meerkat Ion, lets look at everything else it has to offer:
CPU: Dual Core Atom 330 1.60 GHz FSB 533 MHz L2 1M with Hyper-Threading
RAM: 1GB, 2GB, or 4GB. I would recommend going with more than the minumum 1GB if you are planning on utilizing VDPAU.
Hard Drive: A number of different sizes are available, take your pick, then move it into your Master Backend and use a USB Drive instead.
Optical Drive: This is optional, I choose to do without one because I wasn't all that happy with DVD support in MythTV 0.21. That said, DVD support is much improved in MythTV 0.22, so you will most likely want one at some point.
WiFi: Comes with 802.11 A/G/N, they also offer an upgrade to an Intel Wi-Fi Link 5100, no idea if this is worth the money or not. I use a wired connection so I can't speak much for the wireless here other than it can connect to my router.
To round out the specs lets have a look at the available connections:
- 2x USB 2.0
- Microphone In
- Headphone Out
- PS2 (keyboard)
- HDMI (more on this later)
- 6x USB 2.0
- S/PDIF, Optical & Coaxial Out
- 10/100/1000 Ethernet
- Audio I/O
Now I bring you to the best part, it all just works. Go ahead and download Mythbuntu 9.10, or Ubuntu Karmic if you would like. VDPAU is simple to enable in MythTV, just select the "VDPAU Normal" playback profile and everything will be ready to go. HDMI audio is just as easy, just select "Alsa:hdmi" in MythTV's audio setup, then run alsamixer and verify that all of the IEC958 outputs are unmuted. Within minutes you will be enjoying full HD video and sound without any of the resource worries associated with HD playback in the past.
As a bonus for actually getting to the end of my review I have a coupon to offer any of you considering purchasing the Meerkat Ion. System76 has been kind enough to give the Mythbuntu developers a $10 off coupon, at checkout use coupon code mythbuntu-meerkat.
That about sums everything up, feel free to email me with any questions or leave a comment below.
UPDATE: I was asked about power usage, so I put a kill-a-watt to the test.
Idle: 24 watts
Playing 1080p MKV content: 28 watts
Playing 1080i HDHR content: 30 watts
Playing 1080i HDPVR content: 32 watts