Myka, the set-top box I talk myself out of buying in just over 300 words

myka34-copy.jpg

Imagine a Mac Mini, but with HDMI and component video outputs, and with a custom Linux-based user interface: that’s Myka, a set-top home theater computer that is shipping now. The Myka is thick with features, playing nearly every video container format around (including .mkv)—there’s even a BitTorrent client on the box.

Even the price is reasonable: The 80GB version is just $280 right now, with free shipping; a version with a 500GB hard drive is only $390.

myka_ui.jpg

Having recently gone through a painful experience with an AppleTV and Boxee (more to come, but my quick take is “don’t bother”), I’m in the market. I was actually planning on getting a Mac Mini and putting Boxee on there, but now I’ll have to consider Myka, even though I am very doubtful that their interface is as polished as Boxee or even XBMC.

Another worry: The manufacturer never quite states what sort of processor is inside except to call it a “450 DMIPS SOC”. One of my biggest issues with trying to run Boxee on the AppleTV was simple that the 1GHz processor inside couldn’t handle everything that Boxee was trying to do (not to mention 1080p videos). A little poking around in the forum reveals that they’re referring to the Broadcom BCM7403 “video system-on-a-chip”, a 300MHz MIPS processor that is specially built for video decoding and encoding, but will be mostly useless for any heavy general purpose computing.

In fact, the more that I look at this, the more it appears to be a DVR-class box in a smaller form factor with a custom interface. That’s not a bad thing by any means, but it’s certainly not going to be a screamer. [via Technabob]

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20 Responses to Myka, the set-top box I talk myself out of buying in just over 300 words

  1. aaaa says:

    I Love this blog such a great idea

  2. kbrookes says:

    @Daemon

    Because for people who spend all day on a computer, the last thing we want is to go home and do more of the same!

    What I really want is the convenience of access to all my media in an attractive package that Just Works™ that my wife can use without thinking about it and that isn’t out of place in the lounge room.

    For me, that means I’m buying a HTPC case that looks like a receiver and building a machine to run Ubuntu and XBMC. GPU video processing is now supported, so I can get the entire setup – case, mobo, cpu, HD (small, fast, 24X7) and good graphics card for around $AUD600.

    This will connect to my TV via HDMI, scan my NAS RAID in the office for files and present it with the most gorgeous interface around.

    Much better than still sitting at my computer at 10pm.

  3. kawayama says:

    what i want: something that
    plays HD video (HDMI).
    plays 5.1 surround audio.
    is silent.
    runs XBMC (or similar).
    can connect to my NAS over ethernet.
    can use an iPod touch (or similar) as a remote, so i can play audio without turning on the TV.

    a mac mini looks like the best contender at this point, but the price is prohibitive.

    i’d rather have a device without hard drive, as all the media is on my NAS.

  4. jitrobug says:

    Isn’t that why you use a cheap cpu married to a gpu that has driver support? you’re still sharing the work between devices, but you get the benefit of software updates.

    (or at least, more software updates than you can expect from a set top box maker)

    a comcast box with a dedicated mpeg decoder was much worse at fast forward & rewind than my low end computer is, even when xbmc is playing video from within a rar file and decoding on the fly.

  5. jitrobug says:

    Seriously, put together something cheap built around the 780g chipset – the motherboard has hdmi out & optical digital output. Mine is hooked happily up to my TV & receiver.

    All that I remember about the cpu I bought was that it was down in the 35watt range… but I can’t play back 1080p x264, so if you need that, maybe beef up the cpu.

    I would spend a little extra on the power supply and cpu cooling to make sure that they’re quiet.

    Can windows xp run off of some kind of cheap 8gb flash thing? I had an old hard drive in the box already, so I didn’t bother with that part..

  6. Mike says:

    “One of my biggest issues with trying to run Boxee on the AppleTV was simple that the 1GHz processor inside couldn’t handle everything that Boxee was trying to do (not to mention 1080p videos)”

    Can someone point to a standard set of videos/clips that we can use as a point of discussion?

    I’ve heard that there are several kinds of 1080p encodings and it would be nice to be able to say: “I can play clips 1-20 on the standard test list.”

    I have a Neuros Link that has HDMI output. It runs a customized, by Neuros, Ubuntu with Hulu and other streaming sites. But I have no way to compare it to an AppleTv with Boxie

  7. Enochrewt says:

    All these comments are interesting, and I’ve been in the market for something like this for a looooong time now, but the feature that grabbed my attention was MKV playback. Though I looked around on their website and I can’t find anything that says FULL MKV support (audio stream selection, subtitles, chapters, etc.) If this thing supported MKV fully, I’d probably purchase it.

    Hell, Windows 7 Media Center plays MKVs back now, they just don’t let you use any of the Matroska goodies that set the container apart from others.

  8. codekitchen says:

    I can’t believe I’m saying this, but no Netflix streaming means it’s not even an option for us. We’re that hooked.

  9. JB says:

    I keep seeing comments in the blogs about Boxee on the AppleTV being not worth the while, but I’ve had very little trouble with it. I’ve had some minor issues, but for a beta release it’s been able to do what I wanted (mostly Hulu feeds, I’m perfectly OK with the Apple interface for music). Either I don’t stress it very hard, or I just have a high tolerance for beta software after 25+ years as a software weenie…

  10. Mac Mini + Plex + Harmony Remote

    That’s what I’ve been running for a good long while now, and I couldn’t be happier. Plex has a number of plugins available at this point, too, including all the big ones (Netflix, Hulu, Comedy Central, etc.), and even some that aren’t available on Boxee.

  11. jitrobug says:

    I have like a flock of ubuntu machines – I actually got back into using linux years ago in part because I wanted to use it for media stuff.. my backend server runs ubuntu still – but I actually ended up running xbmc on windows xp for my tv computer.

    Under linux, I got tearing in the video and the bluetooth keyboard behaved really badly..when I rebooted to windows, things worked a lot better (other than filenames with “:” chars… lame!)

    ..because you’re running a full screen app, it doesn’t actually matter that much what operating system is underneath. plus it takes less time to switch over to Team Fortress 2 than it used to.

    just put something cheap together with a 780G chipset. Spend a little extra for a mini-itx version is small is important.

  12. David Evans says:

    Great thread, I am *so close* to getting a similar box, seems like there is no 100% winner at this point. Seems like the Apple Mini is the no-fuss-no-muss option at this point, but too expensive.

  13. Fred says:

    This is an easy one.

    1- Buy a used Mac Mini Core 2 Duo. An MB138LL/A can be had for $300-$400 depending on existing RAM or Hard Drive upgrades.

    2- Download Plex at plexapp.com. A bit bare bones in comparison to Boxee, but you’ll get better performance and a system specifically tailored and supported for Mac OS X. I haven’t had any issue that’s lingered for more than a few days, often fixed personally by a developer through the forums.

    That’s it. You’ll need an DVI to HDMI cable for video and a 1-Mini Plug/2-RCA for audio to a TV, or use the digital out for a receiver.

  14. phisrow says:

    I wouldn’t be so quick to judge this device. Looking at the spec-sheet for the broadcom SoiC, it has a list of hardware accelerated A/V functions as long as your leg. If the OS and applications can take advantage of that, this thing will probably outperform software implementations that are substantially faster.

    The chip in question, after all, was designed specifically for HD set top box related designs. The big question is, did broadcom cooperate enough that the linux OS and applications can make use of the acceleration functions, or did they (as they long did with their wifi devices) stonewall?

  15. jitrobug says:

    The neuros link site says it’s a 2.8gz athlon, from what I remember, the appleTV is a 1gz pentium-m..

    This is a cool thread – I’d never heard of the neuros link before, but it sounds an awful lot like it’s a 780g motherboard in a nice little box with wireless keyboard and no internal hard drive.. and it comes already put together.. and for a pretty good price.

    honestly, if I’d started with that I might not be running xbmc on top of windows right now.

  16. Colin says:

    For something a little more downmarket,you could try this Western Digital box:

    http://www.amazon.com/Western-Digital-WD-Media-Player/dp/B001JZFQU4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=electronics&qid=1242764836&sr=8-1

    Plays any video/audio file you’d care to stick on a USB drive,even Matroska. Review here: http://techreport.com/articles.x/16565

    And it’s $129.

  17. dculberson says:

    Phisrow has an excellent point. As long as the hardware solution supports the codec you’re using, it’s going to vastly outperform a software solution on a low end commodity processor.

    That’s why hardware MPEG decoders were relatively common when we were using 200mhz processors. They didn’t run any faster, but they did one thing and did it well.

    Also compare to the GPU. Trying to run Windows solely on a GPU would result in painful performance, but send it video work and it’s orders of magnitude faster than a CPU at it.

  18. enealio says:

    i’m with you jitrobug. if there’s no netflix or hulu on it, i’m not wasting my time. i do like the built in torrent client though. but for the price, i can buy a decent used computer with better specs and run that as my media computer.

  19. enealio says:

    sorry, should have been, i’m with you CODEKITCHEN

  20. Daemon says:

    I’m really not getting the point of these boxes. My computer does everything they do, only better.

    Of course, I’m still trying to figure out why anyone owns a TV or stereo these days.

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