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January 26, 2003
Chyang Fun E-Note

January 4, 2003
Lian Li PC-402A

November 4, 2002
Netbox Cubit

October 24, 2002
EPIA-M Preview

October 12, 2002
Jetway B860T

October 9, 2002
RealMagic XCard

October 3, 2002
Morex Cubid 2688R

August 17, 2002
Morex Cubid 2677R

August 9, 2002
G-Alantic 610i

RealMagic XCard Review
Posted on October 9, 2002

Hardware Installation

Hardware installation was a doddle. It's only a PCI card, and there's only one slot. We plugged the remote control receiver into the serial port, and then inserted the supplied batteries into the remote. Here's a picture of the card inside our test MiniCube case.

And here's the card inside our Cubid case. Aaah - how long we've been waiting for this moment...

Software Installation

Software installation wasn't so smooth. On a clean Windows XP system, we first installed the drivers, then the player software. Or at least we tried to - the installer wouldn't run. We uninstalled and tried the latest versions from the website several times, and after 15 minutes of messing about finally got it to install. Perhaps we're just incompetent, but things should install smoother than this.

Connecting the XCard to a TV

The XCard produces a full screen video image from an MPEG1, MPEG2 or MPEG4 source, and outputs it to its TV-Out and VGA Out sockets. If the VGA pass-through cable is connected (i.e. Graphics card VGA Out --> XCard VGA In), it will add the full screen video on top of that during playback.

What this means in practice using the EPIA is that if you want to use this card with a TV, and still see Windows, you're going to have to either:

a) Use a TV with a VGA input
b) Use 2 inputs on the TV (both can be either S-Video or Composite, or indeed SCART), and switch between them
c) Use 1 input on the TV, and switch between them manually, or with a switching box (SCART for instance)

We chose b). We found a composite video to SCART lead and used that for the EPIA output, and used the S-Video output direct into the TV for the XCard output. Connection methods will of course vary depending on what your TV can handle. We could have hooked up the XCard S/PDIF audio output to an external amp for Dolby Digital surround sound - but we don't have one. Shame. If we were using a VGA monitor, we wouldn't need to switch inputs, as the video image is added to the original VGA output.

The Remote and Software

The supplied remote control can control most aspects of the bundled XMedia application, complete with an On-Screen Display for basic things such as volume, video title, brightness etc. What it can't do is add anything to the playlist - so anyone thinking of replacing their mouse and keyboard and use XMedia as a HTPC front end app might want to think about how they load their playlists. Perhaps Sigma will add a full on-screen menu with playlist control in future software releases.

Here's a picture of XMedia, the bundled playback software. If those buttons look a little confusing and badly drawn - they are. But the application is skinnable, and once Sigma release the SDK we should hopefully see a few WinAmp style skins on the interweb.

But the look of it doesn't really matter - the XCard only supports full screen video output - so by using the remote control and OSD you won't need to look at it, except to add items from your hard disk onto the playlist. This is XMedia in expanded mode, with an empty playlist on the left.

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