UPDATE: Xtreamer Ultra – What I Will Be Looking At

by Damian on April 12, 2011 · 4 comments

in News

A few weeks ago I decided to write an article about the Xtreamer Ultra, a mini-ITX PC announced by Xtreamer. A big reason for my article was because I felt there was a lot of confusion and questions about the Ultra. One of the big questions I had was about the claim that the Xtreamer Ultra would be capable of bitstreaming HD Audio. The Ultra is based on the Atom/ION2 platform, which is simply incapable of bitstreaming HD Audio (when I say bitstreaming HD Audio I am talking about sending the original TrueHD or DTS(MA) HD Audio track mostly present in BluRay untouched to a Receiver for decoding). The claim about HD Audio bitstreaming didn’t quite seem to add up, and after digging around it seemed the answer was that the Ultra would be using the Realtek ALC892 Sound Chip which would allow for HD Audio bitstreaming. However, even with this it was still hard to confirm for a few particular reasons in my case:

1) There is very little information available about the Realtek ALC892 Sound Chip

2) HDMI is required in order to bitstream HD Audio. With the Ultra the ION2 GPU would be tied to the HDMI port and would be responsible for outputting both Audio and Video. Even if the ALC892 is capable of bitstreaming HD Audio, somehow Xtreamer would need to find a way to have the HDMI port use the ION2 GPU for video but the ALC892 for audio. If possible (and honestly I have no idea if this can even be done) this would be a great feature. However, it does beg the question that if it is possible, why haven’t PC motherboard manufacturers already implemented this since there are motherboards using the ALC892. This would definitely be a killer feature to advertise.

Since I started asking questions, reference to bitstreaming HD Audio has been dropped (although it still shows in their YouTube advertisement) and instead 7.1ch HD Audio is referenced. Bitstreaming HD Audio and 7.1ch HD audio are not necessarily the same thing as the latter could involve the PC actually decoding the HD Audio and sending through as LPCM, a convenient way to word things to dance around the subject. This topic has been discussed on several forums such as AVSForum and MPCClub. Well, it looks like enough people raised red flags over this claim as Xtreamer just released an official response (you may not be able to view as I believe you need to be a registered member to view topics in the forum):

We see this issue is causing you all a little confusion.

So again. We will repeat what was announced and published in FAQ already.

Officially we can say now that the ultra is unable to bitstream high-end codecs such as TrueHD and several DTS variations. It is the safer answer for us to provide you . This situation can of-course be changed with future updates made by the various software vendors and the open source community. It can change with an update by nvidia as well. We cannot confirm.
We did not focus on HD Audio bit-streaming with this product. We tried to achieve capable machine in good price and in good package that works out of the box. You can find better solutions in the market if this is your main or only focus. they will also cost you nearly 2 times more than what we currently offer for the xtreamer ultra. It will come also with no accessories and will not run out of the box.

Their response does seem to raise more questions then answers. First off, they can “officially” say, so they “unofficially” knew? This is viewed as the safer answer, claiming something and after numerous questioning taking it back is safer then only advertising what you have officially confirmed? The limiting factor in being able to bitstream HD Audio is the ION2 hardware, so it seems rather convenient to then say this is something for the software vendors and open source community to resolve.

The statement then goes on to say that HD Audio bitstreaming was not a focus. Huh, then why in the 1 minute 22 second YouTube advertisement do they specifically mention HD Audio and Blu Ray Bit-Streaming (around the 46 second mark, right after some guy finishes flexing his muscles, a screenshot can be seen at the bottom of this post). When you have a minute to advertise a product I would think you would want to highlight all the areas of your product that should be focused on. You then read about how to build a similarly capable HTPC with hd audio bitstreaming would cost nearly twice as much as the Ultra, but readers here know that is not true as you could easily build a mini-ITX HTPC running the Intel Sandy Bridge Platform (which supports HDMI 1.4, HD Audio Bitstreaming, 3D BluRay, etc…) for $400-$500. This is right on par with the Ultra. There is also the claim that any other PC will not run out of the box. To an extent this is true since supposedly the Ultra will have a preconfigured USB boot drive running Linux. However, what is amusing about this is a good majority of the special features the Ultra advertises requires the Ultra to be running Windows 7. Since the Ultra does not ship with Windows 7 nor an internal hard drive I would not exactly claim that it ready to run out of the box ;-)

I am not trying to raise a ruckus here and since the Ultra is currently not available to anyone there is no way to confirm many of the things being advertised. However, since I do get asked often about media players/HTPCs I have to make my best effort to analyze based on the readily available information. For all I know when the Ultra is released it will be awarded PC/player of the year, and if so, congratulations to Xtreamer. It angers me though to see a company advertise a feature, give vague responses when questioned, and then after constant press from the community finally back down from the feature in a rather unapologetic manner.

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Hi, my name is Damian, and I'm tech gadget addict! Although I always had some interest in technology, it wasn't until I got my EX470 and more importantly found Mediasmartserver.net, that my interest became an addiction. My goal, aside from world domination and to see the Mets/Broncos win another championship, is to set up the perfect digital home where all my media is available at the click of a button. When I am not writing for Mediasmartserver.net you can find me over at my blog at http://www.adigitalhomeblog.com or follow me on twitter


Brajesh April 12, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Fool me once, fool me twice… I don’t think these guys will ever learn. The Prodigy looked promising to me, but I have doubts on that too in light of Xtreamer’s continued practice of smoke-and-mirrors.

Damian April 12, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Yeah, I have no idea what to think about the Prodigy. I have heard some suggestions that the initial UI that was advertised was nothing more then photoshop, but honestly until it actually gets in the hands of users we really have no way of knowing.

sgvroadster April 13, 2011 at 5:38 am

If Xtreamer say that software or firmware update can get HD Audio bitstreaming to work via HDMI… why hasn’t any other HTPC brands utilize it or market that they got it working? At least none I can find confirming software can get it to work in other HTPC forums…

Damian April 13, 2011 at 6:10 am

Yup, completely agreed. That has been my main point. If this was possible every motherboard manufacturer would be going head over heels to implement this already. The fact that no one has speaks volumes…

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