We find it a bit mind-boggling that home-theater PCs don’t generate much interest among mainstream consumers. These machines offer so many features, and most people are already familiar with the Windows interface. Luckily for we enthusiasts, companies like AsRock keep working diligently to improve HTPC design. The Vision 3D delivers nearly every digital entertainment feature you could you could want, including Blu-ray 3D, Internet TV, video on demand, online music services, and access to all the digital media stored on your own network.
The machine’s $850 street price renders it very expensive compared to, say, a media-streamer like the Boxee Box, especially since it doesn’t come with everything you’ll need to get started (more on that in a moment). On the plus side, however, TV networks and service providers such as Hulu can’t block an HTPC from accessing their content online.
Nvidia's 3D Vision Kit will add another $200 to the price of this kit, but it's essential if you want to watch Blu-ray 3D movies.
You’ll find no operating system, keyboard, or mouse bundled with the Vision 3D—and this isn’t necessarily bad, because you won’t be paying for items you don’t need or want. The machine does come with an infrared Windows Media Center-style remote control, however, as well as the OEM version of Cyberlink’s PowerDVD 10. When pricing the machine, don’t forget to factor in the cost of whatever OS and controllers you decide to use. And if you want to watch Blu-ray 3D movies, you’ll want Nvidia’s 3D Vision kit ($200 with extra glasses costing $150 each).
AsRock uses components more typically found in notebook PCs, so the entire system is cooled by a single fan. If the 500GB hard drive doesn't provide enough storage, you can add external drives using the machine’s eSATA, or USB 2.0/3.0 ports.
Nvidia’s GeForce GT 425M graphics processor, coupled with 1GB of DDR3 memory, enables the machine to decode Blu-ray 3D movies and stream both video and high-definition soundtracks (Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio) over a single HDMI 1.4a cable to your A/V receiver.
The only feature missing from this machine is a TV tuner. You could add a USB device to grab over-the-air programming, but this HTPC will never replace your cable company’s set-top box or DVR. That’s about the only criticism we can level at this rig. It delivered excellent image quality in Blu-ray movies, it’s capable of streaming HD audio over HDMI, and it supports HDMI 1.4a for Blu-ray 3D. It’s better than any Blu-ray player or media streamer on the market. Heck, it’s the best home-theater PC we’ve tested.