The quest for the perfect home theater PC is a constant balancing act of form, functions, and aesthetic appeal. AMD had a few reference designs on display this year in the form of tablets and hybrids. One in particular caught our eye though—the design of their super-sleek mini PC was striking.
They had a unit set on top of a television paired with a couple of Xbox controllers running Fifa 14, which we played with. Roughly the dimensions of a business letter envelope this fanless wonder with solid graphical horsepower had us all wishing it was a real product we could put through the paces with Windows or XBMC on our TVs back home. They were not able to provide specifics about the internals but commented we should see something from an OEM with the guts of this before end of year.
Most intriguing about their design was the incorporation of a front facing camera that created a bit of a lip meant to rest on top of the television or somewhere nearby, creating additional interesting possibilities for video calling applications and more. The unit had a single port to connect to a tiny breakout box, not much bigger than a box of matches, that contained the HDMI, power, and USB ports—all over a single DockPort cable back to the main unit. The breakout box could easily be mounted strategically behind the TV set it was connected to.
Another unit we were able to spend some quality time with was an actual product we can look to buy in the first half of this year. A modular PC concept under the name Tango gave us a glimpse of what may someday manifest itself into how all of us use our computer/phone hybrids in dockable scenarios floating between home, work, and travel. The builders of this product are seeking funding on Indiegogo now, and the base unit will sell for $299. It contains an AMD A6 5200 APU, Radeon HD8400 graphics chipset, adjustable amounts of DDR3 RAM, up to 8GB, and mSATA storage options.
This PC in a form factor similar to a portable 2.5” HDD is meant to go wherever you go and be docked in a housing that connects it to power and ports. The $69 docking unit provides 3 USB 2.0 ports, 1 USB 3.0 port, 100Mbit Ethernet, 802.11N wireless, and a single HDMI connection. The actively cooled docks are meant to remain static, while the PC can be carried wherever you go. The performance off of this design was more than adequate as we played Call of Duty: Modern Warfare at 1600×1200 with 4x antialiasing.
Sparking Our Imaginations
With AMD’s presence in every current-gen console system from Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft we were excited to see Microsoft’s Project Spark on display. For those of you not familiar with Spark, it takes concepts from Minecraft and Little Big Planet to provide players or designers a way to create game experiences that can be shared with the world. We were afforded a massive overview of the game’s capabilities and crowd sourced potential from one of the team members responsible for delivering the final product. He demonstrated world creation, character manipulation, and how to adjust very nuanced portions of the individual elements in the game through a marvelously simple programming implementation.
Think of it as a recipe, or modular rules engine, that takes no coding skills whatsoever. For those of us that have written little to no programming, the capabilities to create a highly customized unique experience were astounding. Kinect integration allows for motion and speech capture that can be directly imported into the game’s character models. A portion of the time we played with someone’s in game version of Ryse: Gladiator Arena fighting. The possibilities for creating worlds on the go with your PC version and picking them up on the console when we got home made us wish we could spend some of our time doing that on the flight back.
Back to the Future
The glory days of AMD beating Intel to the market with the first 64-bit 1GHz CPU seem like a distant memory. With the form factors and graphical horsepower they incorporated in their offerings after acquiring ATI and dominant presence in the major gaming consoles of the day, one can only hope they continue to grow and innovate in ways that keep their competition on their toes.