A radiator style design that won't be to everyone's tasteThe Ultra is obviously part of the Xtreamer range, looking very much like a large SideWinder. The design, with all those fins, won't be to everyone's taste however. Don't be fooled by the radiator look either: there's still a fan inside and when hot air is expelled it makes quite a bit of noise.
It comes with two remotes. The first is standard, with luminous buttons but the second is more original and has a backlit mini-keyboard with a touchpad and a laser pointer the purpose of which isn't at all clear. Both look rather entry-level, with poor plastics and a slapdash finish.
A multimedia oriented Linux system
Ubuntu, Xtreamer style
There are several options for browsing your multimedia files. The 8 GB USB key that comes with the machine houses a version of Linux (Ubuntu base) modified by Xtreamer. When you start it up, you can either launch the operating system as it is or the XBMC or Boxee system. Both of these are media centre interfaces with particularly good reputations.
In both cases, it's best to install the operating system on a 2.5-inch (only format accepted) hard drive as there are numerous slowdowns when using it from the USB key, making using the Ultra rather painful. There's a guide to help you set all this up but as we say in the inset, this solution won't be accessible to everyone! Newbies beware!
Our choice: XBMC, for the way it looks and the possibilities it givesOur preference is for XBMC, which has a particularly well-designed interface. There's a video jukebox and automatic creation of files for films and series.
Photos can be displayed in the form of thumbnails, as can music album covers. All the information contained in audio files can be read, whatever the encoding format used.
Different examples of what you can do with XBMC and its numerous skins
Compatibility: no limitsThere's excellent multimedia compatibility and even heavy HD videos can be played without any slowdowns. When there are any issues with a particular format, you can install a codec which will enable you to play it.
Take the example of Blu-ray backups, notably ISOs. By installing the right tool you can play them, though not as easily as all that (you have to simulate the presence of a disc player). You can, then, do pretty much anything with the Ultra but you will have to get your hands dirty, which obviously isn't for everyone, especially as many users won't be familiar with Linux.
Managing support for Dolby and DTS tracks is also rather complex. You can send audio to an external audio amp when you listen to simple audio flows but HD poses more of a problem. DTS HD MA and HR are sent as 'core' flows (= DTS at 1.5 Mbps) while Dolby True HD is converted to multichannel PCM. You can convert DTS HD to PCM but, once again, this is a complicated operation.
Computer connectivityOnly HD televisions and computer monitors are compatible with the Xtreamer Ultra. You'll only find HDMI and DVI video outs at the back of the device. The audio is channelled via the stereo jack, the optical out or the HDMI socket.
Six USB 2.0 sockets (two of which are at the front) and one eSATA port mean you can link up all types of peripheral to the Ultra. Networking is via an RJ45 Gigabit socket, which gives high speeds (29.5 MB/s) and allows fluid HD video playback.
- Excellent multimedia compatibility
- Choice of interfaces: XBMC, Boxee...
- Linux system preconfigured
- Two remotes, one of which has a mini-keyboard
- Newbies will struggle with the Ultra, some of its configuration is very complex
- Low-end remotes
- The design won't be to everyone's taste
Democratising the mini-computer concept is a very worthwhile idea. The possibilities are practically infinite and the pre-configured interfaces really very successful. Nevertheless, there's still some way to go before this solution becomes accessible to mere mortals. Experienced users who don't mind spending a bit of time on set-up will however find that the Ultra has plenty of appeal.