With so many set-top boxes vying for your attention you have to ask what’s wrong with just setting up a PC under your TV? Think about it for a moment, you get full Windows 7 power, no web limitations or codec problems, and no restrictions as to what you can and can’t do.
Acer thinks it has the solution to that problem with the Acer Revo 100, a slimline Windows 7 PC that’s been designed specifically for the living room rather than the spare room. Designed with looks in mind, the Revo 100 is slim and comes with full Windows 7 power.
Inside and you get an AMD Athlon II Neo dual-core processor, Nvidia ION graphics and up to 4GB of SRAM memory, although you get 2GB as standard. There’s a Blu-ray-playing DVD-burning drive, Wi-Fi of course, and a 500GB hard drive to store all that content you are bound to load on to it.
Expansion comes in the guise of a forward-facing USB port and multi-in-1 card reader on the front (handy for connecting a camera), with two further USB ports around the back alongside an Ethernet socket, optical S/PDIF port, and an HDMI port to connect it to your TV.
While the lack of conventional AV connections may put off some, those looking to use this as it is intended will find it is perfectly suited for TV use and features more ports than you get on the Apple TV or Boxee Box, for example. Back on the outside and the Revo 100 has been designed to fit in your TV stand alongside your PVR and games console, and a shimmering bronze tint to the black carcass means it will fit in perfectly.
Of course having a computer in your living room leads you to think that you’ll need to have a keyboard and mouse perched on your sofa. Not so here. Instead you’ll get a slate.
It’s a touch enabled pad the size of a large coaster that can, at the press of a button, be switched from a mouse to a keyboard and back again.
In mouse mode you can use the whole surface like a very large trackpad double tapping to select things, and stroking to scroll. If you’re a laptop user it’s incredibly easy to use and saves you having to worry about mouse traction on a cushion or your leg - we know you’ve tried it in the past.
As for the keyboard. It’s also responsive and easy to use although really only for typing URLs or filling in forms. We wouldn't recommend it for actual writing or anything that involves any speed. Aside from the QWERTY elements Acer has also included a collection of shortcut keys (inc CTRL + ALT + DEL...). There's a scroll rocker on the side. When not in use the keypad/trackpad slots into the chassis of the Revo 100 which acts as a charging station. It’s as if someone has actually thought about it. Brilliant.
That’s the chassis, but what about the interface? Power on the Acer Revo 100 and you’ll be presented with Windows 7 in all its glory. As you can imagine it doesn’t work that well as a TV interface, and realising this Acer has created Clear.fi. “Clear.fi is the Acer media sharing system based on the idea that it’s easier if all multimedia content is simply brought into a single system with a common interface. No matter where they are”, says Acer.
What that means to you and me is a photos, video and music hub to manage all your local or networked multimedia, as well as Facebook videos your mates are posting on their wall, or YouTube videos if all else fails. The system is straight forward in its approach giving you menu options down the left side, content to chose from down the middle. Click on a file and it loads as you would expect giving you full control over the file from the comfort of your sofa.
Where Acer are hoping the system will become invaluable in the future is that it will automatically share content with other devices that you’ve got around the home. Connect a device to the network and you’ll be able to instantly share your multimedia with it you as long as you’ve got the Clear.fi software running and it’s connected to the same wireless network. Take a photo on your smartphone and when you get home, it will be available straight away on your notebook or TV. Edit a video on your PC and you can watch it back on your TV straight away. Handy, but also dangerous if you don’t want to share your content straight away. Acer say that all Acer devices in the future be it a phone, tablet or PC will be Clear.fi ready.
The Acer Revo 100 is more about sharing your current content and making more of it, than simply buying in new content. As an easy to use interface, Clear.fi ticks all the boxes. It’s simple to understand, it's simple to add more computers to the system and it’s ideal for people that don’t want to get bogged down in networking issues and NAS drives (who does?).
Compared to the interfaces of Boxee or Apple TV, it’s still very PC focused though. That means it’s not overly impressively, graphically tasty, or groundbreaking, but it does work, and it does make finding photos, music or video easy to find on your system or other computers and hard drives connected to that system.
But it's not just the looks department that Clear.fi currently falls down, but support for external services like Twitter, iTunes, Amazon MP3, or video on demand services like iPlayer, ITV Player, 4oD and others. Although Acer is promising a content store in 2011, it’s not here yet. For now that means you have to come out of the Clear.fi system and head over to other apps or web services. And here lies the potential success of the Acer Revo 100 - it’s a full blown computer remember.
That means you just have to install the Spofity app to get music, log on to the web to get iPlayer, or head over to Amazon to get your MP3s (or iTunes of course), without fear that the system won’t let you do it, or will block your access (in the case of some sites and Boxee). You could even do your word processing on it.
Granted it’s not the most powerful of computers and the idea of doing video editing from your sofa might not work too well, but it still opens up endless possibilities, and considerably more than current set-top boxes on the market. Endless possibilities in fact.
The Acer Revo 100 looks good, solves the problem of a boring keyboard and mouse in your living room, and more importantly, it works. Used effectively Clear.fi has the potential to act as a hub for your living room’s content, while the fact that it’s all powered by Windows 7 means you’ve got plenty of room to manoeuvre. Add into the mix near silent running and the Acer Revo 100 serves well as a media PC.
Acer have set the retail price at £599, although Amazon.co.uk had some stock at £499. Given the specs, this looks a little high, but the form factor goes some way to justify a premium. The real advantage is that you get all the flexibility you could want, and a Blu-ray player, something that cheaper systems, like Google TV, Apple TV, and Boxee Box, might not offer you. The issue of no slick integrated native content delivery system isn't a huge pain, as Windows 7 will still be able to access a range of services.
However, given that it is about £200 more expensive than a 320GB PlayStation 3, some might choose that console for its Blu-ray player and streaming skills, and of course its gaming possibilities. Still, we like the Revo 100 for what it offers and we're sure that for some it will be exactly the form factor they have been waiting for.