Intel NUC as a media centre

For the past few years i have been using a variety of DLNA clients, including an Astone MDT310, WD TV Live Streaming, PS3, Xbox360 and the built in DLNA client in samsung TV’s. The Xbox and PS3 media centres are ok – but the rest are just plain terrible.

The Astone has difficuly connecting to network shares with auth, is slow, noisey and bulky, the sound drops out constantly and the interface is average.

The WD TV Live streaming seems to randomly loose its settings occasionally, the networking settings also randomly disappear and only seem to be reconfigurable after a random combo of turning off/on, resetting etc…. and again and has similar difficulties when connecting to any authenticated shares.

The Samsung TV’s… well, the DLNA client is slow, cumbersome interface etc

All 3 of the above also have difficulty with fast forward, skip to time and when combined with my Synology NAS media player, cannot be paused… as the Synology goes to sleep and apparently doesnt wake up quickly enough for them to resume playing.

The xbox 360 and PS3 suffer from far less of these issues – in fact they are quite good…. but im not going to put a 360 in multiple rooms just for this… and the PS3 and xBox 360 lack some other functionality.

So, the solution – go a full PC. I have a full PC media centre on my home cinema setup, but especially now with a kid, its handy if the missus can put a TV show or movie on during late night feeds or general baby grizzling “i dont want to go to sleep” type nights. I wanted a small form factor though (similar to WD TV live type size) if possible – and a quick search led me to the intel NUC or the Xi3….. not surprisingly, the intel NUC was available locally, the Xi3 wasnt.

So im purcahsed a Intel NUC (DC3217IY), a stronium 4GB DDR3 1333 SODIM and a Kingmax mSATA 32GB SSD for $450 – a substantially larger investment than the $100 required for a WD TV live or similar media box.

Got it home, opened the box and got the incredibly wanky intel sound which some marketing chump thought would be cool, chucked the drivers onto my bootable Win7 USB stick, plugged everything in…. straight into windows setup…. but no HDD detected…. loaded the drivers from within setup, thinking it was just a driver issue… still no drive. Re-seated the drive, tried again…. nothing. Tried to get into the BIOS…. no dice…. couldnt see the screen, wasnt sure what was happening.

Long story short, the NUC seems to not display the BIOS or any POST screens when run through an amp (mine is going through a denon 1911)… so plugged it directly into the TV (a panasonic) – could now see the BIOS screen, but whenever i pressed “F2” to get into the BIOS, the machine just rebooted. After a bit of googling, i found that it was a common problem with certain TV’s and amps…. pretty poor. Eventually i found a TV in the house it worked on, got into the BIOS and found the drive wasnt there at all… thinking it was a faulty drive, i returned it, got another…. same problem… (very) long story short, the Kingmax 32GB mssata SSD does not work in intel NUC’s….. so i swppaed it out for a kingston 64gbmsata ssd – the drive detected, and it was all good.

Installed Win7, installed drivers, updated, created domain account , added autoadminlogon, granted read access to the NAS, added lync account, customised background etc – and we were all good to go.

The device delivers what it needs to…. its a low power use media centre, that allows me to use lync, a web browser – has no compatibility, speed or configuration issues (like the WD live and Astone), gives me full flexibility to run any application i need to in the future. As its a windows device – i can also put it on my domain and address security and configuration issues via AD/Group policy…. which is nice.

On the downside – the piece of hardware has obviously not been well tested…. not being able to get into the BIOS on what seems to be a whole swag of TV’s/recievers is obviously a pain…. once the device wakes up from sleep, it takes an absolute age (15 seconds + ) for the network to become available again, which is a pest. (A setting in the BIOS may help – but since i cant get into the BIOS…..) and obviously the price, when compared to a WD TV Live or equivalent is substantial. Feature wise, it would be very nice if there was either included or optional IR sensor built into the case…. it would just finish it off nicely.

In summary – it’s a device that is a good size, good power usage, has a decent amount of power for what it is – they just really need to fix the BIOS so its actually usable on most TV’s and receivers! Sure its $400-$500 (depending on what components you put in there) – so a good $300-400 more than a WD TV box…. but i think its worth it. Management, flexibility, compatibility – all the things that WD TV live (and similar) doesnt have.

3 thoughts on “Intel NUC as a media centre

  1. There is a list of devices that you have skipped over that may be worth a look.
    An Apple tv with XBMC loaded
    The G-box xD
    or Gbox Midnight or any of the other boxes on boxtoptheatre.
    I have been watching the NUC with interest. This review may put me off.

    Also have you tried the WDLXTV firmware for the WDTV..I found a vast improvement in reliability.

    Upgrading to the latest DSM seemed to have resolved my crash after pause issues for now anyway.

    1. I havent skipped over anything….. after trying 5 different DLNA devices with various combo’s of configurations and firmwares – i decided to PC was the way to go….. i wasn’t going to continue throwing money away on devices that may or may not work well – when i could fairly confident a “full PC” solution would. fair enough you’ve found a device that works well for you, but for me – i got to the point where i wasnt willing to keep trying devices.

      As far as putting you off the NUC – fair enough, that wasnt my intent – the NUC is good, but expensive and still has some bios issues to be taken care of. If that put you off buying one, then so be it.

      I havent tried any 3rd party firmwares for the WD TV Live, and thats a fair point….. they still wouldnt have given me the flexibility for Lync etc, but it might have been good enough to make me re-consider spending the extra…. too late now though 🙂

      Yer, my DSM is current – and it is only on the samsung DLNA client that the failure after pausing occurs, other DLNA devices seem to handle it better.

  2. Fair cop.
    I do recommend that you try the windows version of XBMC on the NUC, I ran it for a while on an old pc in the games room and it seemed to work fairly well. I might still give the NUC a go when Rev 2.0 is released fixing some of the issues/bugs that you highlighted.

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