Pivos Aios HD Media Centre Review

nVidia_Freak - 2011-09-10 20:46:26 in Prebuilts
Category: Prebuilts
Reviewed by: nVidia_Freak   
Reviewed on: October 4, 2011
Price: $99


Social networking is very much a part of everyday life, whether it be on Facebook and Twitter or, for the more visually oriented, YouTube and Flickr. Whether one chooses to partake in these forms of communication is one's own decision, but even hardware manufacturers and their authorized resellers make use of these media networks for the sheer number of people they can reach. Free stuff, discounts, and deals are some of the things that are beginning to be limited, albeit in small scale and amounts, to these media. Whether one continues to stay out of or become sucked into these media is irrelevant in the face of their popularity, and one simply cannot deny that they are immensly popular.

It comes as no surprise then, considering the popularity of social networking, that devices supporting these social media are being produced. It may be surprising, however, to learn that some are being made for the exclusive use as a social networking hub. Pivos, a new, California-based company, has introduced the Aios, which is an HTPC-sized media center/social networking hybrid device. Streaming music, movies, TV, YouTube, SHOUTcast, and Flickr are just some of the tasks for which the Aios is designed. No major components comprise the inner workings of the Aios because it's optimized to be completely dedicated to those tasks. Let's have a gander.

Closer Look:

The Aios arrives in Halloween-colored boxing. Pure coincidence I'm sure, but the timing is nearly impeccable. Upon first glance, it looks to be a pretty cool piece of equipment. Coincidentally, Pivos has gone to some lengths to tell me that it is indeed a very cool thing with its multitude of features and capabilities displayed on the box. 1080p, 7.1 surround sound, gigabit ethernet, wireless N, USB 3.0, BitTorrent support, web browsing, and file sharing are just some of the things capable with the Aios.






At the low price of only 100 USD, this could be very tempting to those thinking of setting up an HTPC room but don't care to spend so much money for a dedicated system. The Aios is certainly very attractive considering all the media it is capable of handling. Equally impressive is the fact that it can manage nearly everything from anywhere so long as it is connected, whether it be via wired or wireless networking, any of the video inputs, or even an internal hard drive. Indeed, the Aios supports, but does not include, the addition of one 3.5" bay-capable SATA hard drive. Even if the Aios is completely isolated, it can still be used to play back anything located on the hard drive. Considering the small volume of space the Aios uses and its light weight, it could easily be brought on an extended trip and used in hotel rooms with HDMI-capable displays, or with any such display for that matter. It is, without a doubt, a very versatile device.



In addition to the playback of various media formats, the Aios also supports basic web browsing through a trimmed-down version of Internet Explorer. Although I would rather see something other than IE, I would not consider doing anything particularly private or personal with the Aios.  Plus, the risk is minimal if only media files are stored. The Aios also has specific applications for places such as YouTube, Flickr, and internet radio among others. The socialites among you will not be disappointed with this integration. (Un)fortunately, there are no apps specifically made for the likes of Facebook or Twitter, but rest assured - they can be accessed via the built in web browser.



Included with the Aios are a few things to make getting started a little easier: a couple of pamphlets answer any immediate setup questions, a standard A/V RCA cable to connect a DVD player or other RCA device, a USB3 interconnect for use with a computer, a remote control, and two screws to facilitate the installation of an internal storage drive. The remote itself is full-featured and contains buttons for everything. The remote is large and medium-weighted to make gripping comfortable. The included pamphlets explain the functions of the buttons should any issues arise.


Closer Look: The Unit

The Aios is a sleek unit with a brushed metal finish that looks nice but traps grit somewhat easily. This type of surface does not scratch as readily as a glossy one would, but care must be taken because the faceplate has a very glossy finish. Overall, it looks great and ought to fit in nicely wherever it is placed. No matter where it resides, it should not have any issues staying put due to the four large rubber feet located on the underside of the unit that provide an excellent amount of grip.












On the right side of the Aios is the tray for the internal storage drive. Once in place, the caddy is either flush with the rest of the surface or just below it, but never protruding from the side. Squeezing the two triggers to remove the tray shows that this can also act as a tool-less mechanism due to the presence of prongs sticking out along the sides where screw holes would normally be located. One set of holes is left available for extra holding power or vibration dampening. A quick peek inside the bay reveals the standard SATA power and data connections. Also on the right side of the faceplate is an additional USB 2.0 port for more convenient connectivity. On the opposite side of the faceplate is a multi-card reader that supports SDHC, MS Pro, and MMC flash memory formats.



All the various input and output options are located on the back of the unit. Component-out, RCA-out, coaxial and SPDIF-out, and HDMI-out are the options to cover every common display in use today. One RJ-45 Ethernet jack, two USB 2.0 ports, one USB 3.0 B-type port, and a power jack with toggle switch are also present.


What makes the Aios tick? Located inside the device on a small PCB are various chips to handle all the processing needs of the Aios. The main brunt of the work is undertaken by Realtek's RTD1185DD media processing chip, a chip that was specially built to handle the tasks at hand. Hynix has supplied a 2GB chip of RAM identified as HY27UF082G2B, perhaps to be used as storage for the user interface and as a buffer for the streaming services. JMicron's JMS539 SATA2 chipset takes care of any connected storage drive, and Genysis Logic's GL850G handles USB 2.0 traffic. Wired networking is also the responsibility of Realtek and its common RTL8211D gigabit controller. Two unidentifiable chips with the identification Nanya 1121 are also present, however, I am unable to ascertain their specific use. Curiously, no chip was seen for USB 3.0 support. Now that we know what makes the Aios work, let's see how it performs...


...but before we do, a side note. Upon bootup, the Aios displays what is either a sort of POST code or something very insulting. After a short period, however, it displays the time. Luckily, the LEDs are amber, which is a far underused color for information displays.


Closer Look: User Interface

Both the user interface and menu navigation of the Aios are straightforward and not overly flashy. They are pleasing, but not gaudy. After booting up, the main menu appears with a column of icons along the left side that are used to access the various setup options, programs, and file viewers. First up is the file manager, which allows you to access any connected devices. Using the file manager only seems to make video files viewable, but it is a quick way of finding them.












The next three buttons are file browsers for movies, music, and photos respectively. These file browsers display a list of the properly sorted files to which the Aios has access. In order for these file browsers to work, however, the 'Scan Storage' option must be enabled. This option creates file lists by scanning the devices to which the Aios has access. All three of these menus look identical beyond displaying different icons next to the file types.


The Apps menu contains shortcuts to all the included apps that might be commonly used. YouTube, Picasa, SHOUTcast, Yahoo! Finance, Flickr, and others are available at the press of a button. When using these programs, text can be entered either with the remote control via a virtual keyboard or a connected USB keyboard. Of note is the IMS app, located at the upper left. Selecting this app reveals more sub-app choices. Within you will find an internet streaming radio service called cnradio, which offers a wide selection of channels to choose from, including some from around the world. The rest, however, appear to be southeastern Asian movie and television streaming services. Some of them do not load and the system must be rebooted in order to regain functionality. Regardless, I am unable to read any of the languages these apps use; thus I am perplexed as to why they have been included. No matter, they are there for you curious people. The other apps work well enough, although they are very clunky with funky keyboard support (or lack thereof).



The Internet browser that I now believe is a version of Google Chrome, considering all the Google shortcuts available in it, is a little clumsy but is generally workable. Again, navigation is possible without the use of a keyboard or mouse, but full support for these peripherals would be very helpful.



The settings menu grants access to the various settings that determine your auditory and visual experiences in conjunction with basic system settings. The 'System' tab provides the most basic options such as setting the time, programming the screensaver and standby modes, as well as selecting the UI language.



The 'Audio' tab provides access to some of the audio output options, including whether the audio is sent out as lossy or lossless, a choice that must be made if the audio is being further processed by another receiver. One notable option is 'Night Mode', which limits the maximum volume at which the Aios will output audio if it is selected. This selection could be a welcomed fail-safe for quiet, late-night viewing.


The 'Video' tab lets the user select the screen format and provides some visual enhancement settings.  One option called 'Deep Color' makes hues more vivid and saturated.


Setting up the network functions included with the Aios is straightforward. A few options are provided to connect the Aios to a wired or wireless network. Within this menu, it is also possible to enable the various downloading abilities of the Aios such as BitTorrent and FTP server hosting. Unfortunately, the use of these functions depends somewhat on the functionality of the built-in web browser that, as previously stated, is not entirely navigable.



Checking the firmware versions and network settings is possible to ensure everything is in working order. The 'Misc' tab also has the option to access a USB thumb drive to find an updated system firmware file.

A couple stragglers are under the 'Advanced' tab, one for subtitle options and another for DTS-HD audio output. These two selections ought to be placed in the video and audio tabs respectively, but unfortunately they reside here.



Supported Video Codecs H.264, MPEG1/2/4, WMV9 VC-1, RM, RMVB8/9/10
Supported Audio Codecs MP2, MP3, OGG Vorbis, WMA, PCM, LPCM, MS-ADPCM, LC-AAC, HE-AAC, COOK, RA-Lossless
Supported Subtitle Types SRT, SMI, SSA, ASS, IDX/SUB, SUB
Supported Audio Output
Stereo, Dolby Digital ACe 5.1, Dolby Digital Plus 7.1, Dolby Digital TrueHD 7.1, DTS Digital Surround 5.1, AAC 7.1, FLAC
Supported Languages
English, Spanish, French, Dutch, Italian, German, Russian, Thai, Hebrew, Arabic, Japanese, Simplified and Traditional Chinese
Video Output
HDMI 1.3, Component, Composite
Audio Output
Composite, S/PDIF, Coaxial
Data Connections
MMC/SDHC/MS Pro card reader, 3x USB 2.0, 1x USB 3.0 data, 1x Gigabit Ethernet, 1x SATA2 hot-swap bay






All information courtesy of Pivios @ http://www.pivosgroup.com/#!vstc2=products


Testing Setup:


To test the Pivos Aios, I attempted to use every program available and tested every function that I could. General ease-of-use and functionality play a large part in testing this product because there are no benchmarks to run. Therefore, the experiences I present are somewhat subjective, but I will reveal any flaws or fine points as they are.


Media Playback:

The Aios had no issues playing any of the files I threw at it. Several raw camcorder m2ts files that I have trouble playing back on my own computer played flawlessly on the Aios. Although this is likely due to missing codecs on my part, the fact that the Aios can play them immediately and without work-arounds is excellent. Audio files were also played with absolute ease. FLAC files are indeed able to be decoded without issue, and I commend Pivos for choosing (and Realtek for making) the excellent RTD1185DD media processor. ISO image files were able to be played back as well and provided no difficulties. The remote control worked well, and all the buttons performed their functions admirably. Playing files from a hard drive or an external flash card saw no slow downs, skips, or any other unwanted occurrences.


File Transfers:

Transferring files between external cards and the hard drive, or between computers and the hard drive, was painless enough. Using the supplied USB 3.0 cable to connect the Aios to my main computer, I was able to see the Aios, or rather the hard drive inside it, as an external device. Transfers via USB 3.0 are much quicker than USB 2.0, but eSATA would have been preferred. Regardless, once the files were transferred they had no issues being recognized or played. On the downside, refreshing the file lists can take some time with connected USB memory devices or SD/MMC/MS Pro devices, particularly if they are of the slower sort. If an unindexed full card is connected to the Aios, it can take a minute or two for everything to be organized and then accessed through the file browsers. During this time the Aios may be unresponsive, but do not worry and shut it off because it will soon be ready for use.


Application Usage:

The included applications work well for the most part and provide some extra connectivity that is not present with the Internet browser. There were no problems streaming audio or video from webstreams or YouTube. Entering text can be a mild pain because of the shoddy keyboard functionality, and everything must be entered with the remote control and virtual keyboard. Fortunately, a mouse is not needed here and is, in fact, not an option for the applications because everything is selectable via the remote control. Functionally, the applications are near flawless.


Web Browsing:

Web browsing is relatively easy with the Aios. Unfortunately, there is no navigation bar within the browser and you must search for everything you need. However, once you navigate to a site you can add it to the bookmarks to be accessed later with comparative ease. It should be noted that the red button on the remote control switches between navigation and page modes. The default selection is page mode, which can give the impression that the browser functionality is broken. Switching to navigation mode allows you to select and choose otherwise seemingly unreachable links and buttons. Mouse support would be quite nice, but not once was it able to recognize a mouse, either wired or wireless. The lack of mouse support is the main gripe I have against the Aios.


Is the Aios worth purchasing? If you are looking to dabble a bit with the idea of an HTPC but do not want to spend several hundred dollars, this product is an excellent choice as a foray into that realm. Its modest price and more than sufficient ability as a dedicated media playback machine with a few extra goodies ought to adequately tempt anyone sitting on the edge. Its ease-of-use should be particularly attractive to those more familiar with the Windows or Apple OS, as it has a simple and straightforward GUI. The Aios also has a decent number of connection options for both A/V output and storage expansion that can easily make the Aios a formidable media library.

The only particular shortcoming experienced with the Aios is its lack of mouse functionality. Since mouse connectivity is an advertised feature, I am even more disappointed that it is absent. The lack of mouse support makes web browsing rather tedious, though not impossible. Web browsing would simply be a more pleasant experience on the Aios if it were available. Keyboard functionality is somewhat aloof regarding text input, although it works well enough for menu navigation in place of the remote. These small grievances do not entirely spoil the Aios experience; ultimately, the only reason not to try it for yourself is a lack of interest in HTPC or media center-like devices.