Report: Microsoft's Surface Pro as a secondary HTPC - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 54 Old 02-24-2013, 09:30 PM - Thread Starter
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I wondered recently in another thread if the Surface Pro—being a full-fledged Windows 8 PC—would be sufficient to act as an HTPC. There's been a lot of buzz, talk and reviews about the merits and shortcomings of the Surface Pro, so much so that more niché uses like HTPC haven't been covered. The Surface RT model is not able to run legacy Windows software, of course, so at least for now it's a non-starter in this arena. But I was intrigued by the newer Surface Pro.

I have a primary desktop-based HTPC hooked up to the main 65" plasma in the living room, but I also have a more modest home theater system in the bedroom, planted firmly in front of an exercise bike. I currently have an entry-level Denon receiver (AVR-1513) hooked up to an Xbox 360 in an effort to trick myself into exercising (lost 25 lbs. so far!) So it's been working, but I thought with a library of 800+ lossless-quality MKVs sitting on my NAS drives and at my fingertips, it would be another great way to pass the time.

I went ahead and bought a 128GB Surface Pro. At the time of this writing, they are still in very high demand and difficult to come by, which I suppose is another reason the AVS regulars haven't put one through its paces. I've been using the system for a week now, and although this is not meant to be a review of the device, suffice it to say everything you've read in the reviews is true: it's a full-fledged Windows 8 machine, has a great screen, a nice stylus, an amazing Type Cover keyboard, and USB / Mini DisplayPort connections. It also runs fairly warm and the battery life is pretty short, as reviewed.

One of the first things I did was install my suite of home theater software:

—Windows Media Center (as widely reported, unless you purchased Windows 8 early and got a free WMC Upgrade Code, this is a $10 add-on to the system. Not a big deal.)
—Media Browser, my preferred front-end for WMC7 (now WMC8?)
—LAV Filters (for subtitles, audio handling, etc.)

In terms of hardware, the Surface connects easily to a WiFi-n network as you would imagine. The screen of the Surface beautiful, and thankfully is 1920x1080 resolution, so it maps 1:1 to an external 1080p HD display.

The Surface has a single USB port, which you can use for anything you would on a "normal" computer—a wireless mouse receiver, external storage devices, or (most likely) a USB hub to connect even more devices.

While this report is centered on using a Surface Pro, I wanted to note some important (and not well-publicized) differences between this model and the RT model:

1) Most important, for some reason the RT model sports a mini HDMI output, while the Pro model features a Mini DisplayPort output. Make sure you get the right HDMI adapter for the Surface Pro! They look VERY similar.

2) You do NOT need to purchase Microsoft's first-party Mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapter. As of this writing they are currently as hard to come by as the Surface Pro itself. In fact, in my search for one, the Microsoft Store themselves stocked a Belkin adapter which they recommended.

3) Notable but not as important as the above, the Surface Pro uses a 48W power supply, while the RT uses a 24W power supply. These items are right next to each other on the shelf and the packaging is very similar, so if you purchase a second power supply (there is one included, of course), be sure to get the right one.

Anyway, back to the HTPC:

I was concerned that the Mini DisplayPort might not support audio, but thankfully it does. Upon connecting the Surface Pro via HDMI to my Denon receiver, the Surface Pro recognized the availability of my HDTV as a secondary display, and like any external display, you can choose how to use it with Windows 8: Mirror the Display, Extend the Desktop, Use Only the External Display, etc. Works like a charm.

Secondly, the Sound Control Panel also recognized the Denon AVR as a Sound device. I was monkeying around with some settings and was initially alarmed because I was getting video but NO audio from my receiver (it was still coming through the Surface), until I realized I had inadvertently set the Sound Control Panel back to using the Surface's relatively-meager built-in speakers. Just make sure to select your Receiver (it should switch to it automatically when you connect an HDMI device) in the Sound Control Panel of Windows Desktop mode, and you can Configure your speakers as normal there (2.1, 5.1, 7.1, etc.)

So, did it work? In a word, yes.

Here are a couple of shots of maybe one of the only 5.1-equipped exercise bikes you're gonna run across. As you can see, the Surface Pro fits perfectly on my particular bike's magazine holder, and it only requires the single HDMI connection to use on my bedroom home theater system. Of course you may need to also plug in a power supply, but a full charge will easily let you watch anything but the longest of films (4+ hours would be pushing it.) You may notice that I'm Mirroring the display in the photo here, which you might find distracting for watching a movie. No worries, under Power Options you can control what happens when you close the lid of the Surface (in my case, the Type Cover, which is folded back behind the Surface in the photo), and you can just set it to "Do Nothing" when closed, so the system won't go to sleep and you can just enjoy the picture on the external HDTV. Works just like any other laptop in this regard.



The performance so far has been flawless, but I've got a couple of tips:

1) Make sure you have either a great WiFi network, or have the ability to attach your Surface to a CAT-5 network (you can use a standard USB Ethernet adapter for wired connections.) I use the well-reviewed ASUS RT-N66U wireless router, which is rated with particularly high throughput, and my bedroom is only about 50 feet away from the router with a clear signal path. Your mileage may vary on your own network, but I had NO stutters and NO connection issues streaming a lossless-quality 30GB MKV from my ReadyNAS Pros to the Surface. It worked perfectly.

2) I happen to use the Poster view in Media Browser as my preferred interface on my primary theater system, and wanted the same interface for the bedroom. This interface happens to not be touch-friendly with the Surface screen. When you attempt to scroll through your library by swiping, it simply selects the first movie you touch, and opens the Movie Info screen for it. The solution adds another level of slickness to the setup, particularly if you're not able to keep your Surface Pro near you during playback: I researched several different Remote apps for my Apple iPhone 4S, and found that HippoRemote was an ideal way to control the Surface Pro without touching it. The HippoRemote connects easily to any computer (including the Surface) using the included VNC server (no configuration needed, really) as long as your iOS device is on the same WiFi network as the Surface Pro. I'm sure you can find an equivalent solution—if needed—for Android devices, etc.

What's great about HippoRemote is that only does it have a virtual touchpad, mouse buttons, and multiple keyboard layouts, but it also features a ton of preconfigured control layouts for virtually every popular multimedia program on the computer: everything from iTunes, Netflix, XBMC, and—yes!—Windows Media Center has custom key layouts you can use with common functions readily available. Plus, you can make your own layouts if needed, but the Windows Media Center configuration was great for me. I could quickly scroll around my Media Browser library using the Up / Down and Page Up / Page Down, Enter and Backspace keys to browse for a title. Or, just use the onscreen keyboard to type in the name of the movie you want.

Note that I only found HippoRemote helpful because I use the full-screen Poster view in Media Browser. The Surface Pro touchscreen may work better in other Media Browser themes or screen views and would be simpler than using a second device, but I didn't check them. A much more common usage scenario will probably be using an external wireless keyboard or remote for control, so those should work just as well as they would on a "regular" HTPC (the Surface supports Bluetooth connections too, of course.)

3) If you use Media Browser, it's imperative that you get the very latest version. Only the latest version supports Windows 8, which would otherwise have kept me from this experiment altogether.

4) The relative lack of local storage on the Surface Pro hasn't been an issue for me. While I did opt for the 128GB model and popped in a $50 64GB MicroSDXC card, you really don't need a lot of space. I've installed all my home theater software, Microsoft Office, the Adobe CS suite, several Steam games, iTunes, the entire Adobe Font Library for my design work, and still have 60GB free on the system drive, and haven't needed to touch the 64GB card at all. Any home theater enthusiast worth their salt is going to be storing their media on external devices anyway, so local storage on an HTPC isn't that important. I hardly use any local storage on my primary HTPC, either.

5) There's no reason why you couldn't install more software too, like Media Center Master (which I use to organize my library on my primary HTPC.) I'm sure other platforms like XBMC and Plex would work as well.

So, are there any downsides?

Only one for me: so far, the only thing I have not been able to get to work is bitstreaming DTS-HD and Dolby TrueHD audio codecs. Kind of a bummer. Not sure if it's an incorrect configuration, or (I think more likely) that the AV chip inside the Surface is incapable of bitstreaming the lossless HD audio codecs, unlike NVIDIA and AMD Radeon cards in dedicated desktop HTPCs. If so, it's unlikely that will ever be added given that this is a pretty niché feature. When I play back my MKVs, my receiver reports "Multi In Blu-ray" for Dolby TrueHD titles, and reports DTS (not DTS-HD) for those titles. The PCM light does come on for DTS, but I don't think that means I'm getting lossless audio decoding.

My LAV Splitter is configured to bitstream HD audio, of course, just like my primary HTPC, so I don't believe it's a configuration error, but I would love it if it was, because so far that's the only disappointment in the setup (and given that it's a secondary system hooked up to a freaking exercise bike, I can live with it.) If anyone has any luck bitstreaming lossless audio codecs from a Surface Pro, please post here. I would love to be proven wrong on this.

As a test, I also installed a Trial version of Arcsoft's TMT6, which as far as I know is one of the only pieces of software that can actually decode DTS-HD and Dolby TrueHD, and I didn't have any better luck. Not only was TMT6 NOT able to play an MKV stored on a NAS (it reported an unknown filetype, so I had to manually copy a test MKV to the Desktop in order to get it to open), but the playback performance was horrible and unwatchable. WMC8 and Media Browser with MPC-HC as an external player worked great.

Overall I'd definitely recommend trying a Surface Pro out if you are curious. Don't forget you have a FULL, completely portable Windows 8 PC at your disposal, which opens up all the viewing possibilities you also have: Netflix, PC gaming (a huge missed opportunity in the marketing of this device), web browsing, email, etc. While there are some shortcomings to the Surface (battery life being the most notable), overall the Surface Pro compares well to a MacBook Air—with the legacy catalog of Windows software dwarfing anything available for either OS X or iOS apps, for that matter. The Surface RT is more equivalent to an iPad, third-party apps notwithstanding. I use a Mac for my primary workstation and Windows 7 for my primary HTPC, and an iPhone and iPad 3, but so far the Surface Pro has been a great addition to the family.

And it'll probably only get better from here.

-Robert
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post #2 of 54 Old 02-26-2013, 04:07 AM
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Thanks for the review. I have been hugely curious about these tablets smile.gif Although my curiosty is also linked to the future of miracast (or whatever comes along to replace it) so that I can do away with any wires at all.

My dream is a tablet that I can use day to day, then when I want to watch a film I quickly load up my htpc front end on it (not fussy which program tbh) and browse my collection as I currently do on my PC. Then when I click play it pops up on my tv in glorious 1080p, preferably bitstreaming audio as well.

Although I think bitstreaming audio wirelessly might be a pipe dream.

I would settle for a similar setup you have there. ie plug in a hdmi cable and away you go. As it is a very small flexible htpc (disapointing about not being able to bitstream frown.gif are display ports ever able to bitstream?). How quiet is the tablet? Can you hear the fans?

However I think I might wait at the very least till wireless ac is more available, as hopefully this will have suitable speeds to bitstream bu-ray rips without any issues (wireless n seems a little hit or miss).

How do you find the tablet for other uses? ie how does it compare to your ipad? Is it a bit too heavy to use like a tablet? Would you ever take the surface pro out with you instead of an ultrabook or ipad?

Does it feel like a high quality device, does it run lighteningly quickly? Is there a lot of bloatware etc?

Thanks again smile.gif

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post #3 of 54 Old 02-26-2013, 05:41 AM
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I am interested in this as an option for my tablet media consumption and control of primary HTPC.

I have been looking at a iPad mini 2 as a possible purchase for this purpose, but after reading this review it opened my eyes to all the options that are available having a full OS on a tablet. The mini I like the size and form factor and I already use an iPhone 5 so cables won't be an issue. I'm still waiting for the release of the lighting cable to HDMI converting wire like they used to have on the old cable connections. With either the AirPlay streaming or an HDMI plug and converting files to play I'm VLC or the video app for iOS or even the Netflix or the new amazon prime streaming app.

I understand the lossless auto isn't going to happen with AirPlay or the HDMI cable. But over all the resolution would be the same.

What are people's thoughts on a surface pro vs iPad mini 2?
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post #4 of 54 Old 02-26-2013, 06:16 AM
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my initiali impression is, isnt airplay limited to stereo sound? That imediately makes it a no no for me frown.gif

Also, apple products usually dont like mkvs, again imediatly putting me off them as media hubs

finally, PCs have a huge selection of incredable media front ends, xbmc, media centre and mediaportal to list a few. Not sure of any for iOS yet.

however an ipad mini is small, the surface pro is pretty hefty for a tablet!

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post #5 of 54 Old 02-26-2013, 12:29 PM
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Looks pretty cool!  Thanks for sharing.


Can your HTPC Media Center / DVR Do this??

SageTV: Unrestricted full-quality 12 tuner HD Premium Cable recording, including "On Demand" in HD + OTA ATSC + DVB-S2 + Blu-ray/HD-DVD serving 5 clients.
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post #6 of 54 Old 02-26-2013, 05:40 PM - Thread Starter
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@RBentey100, good questions.

• The Surface Pro does have fans, but they are very quiet and not always active. I certainly have much louder white noise in my home than the Surface fans can generate. I think I heard them once when it was on my lap, but unless you're in a library you probably won't notice them.

• So far I haven't had any problems with WiFi-n, but perhaps the Surface 2 (which you can virtually guarantee they're working on) will integrate Wifi-ac if they want it to be bleeding edge. Otherwise ac will probably make it into the third rev of the Surface hardware for sure, but that's a long time to wait.

• The Surface in tablet mode is fine to use otherwise. In fact, I've tested myself this past 1.5 weeks by using it instead of my iPad 3. Not once in the past 10 days have I felt the need to pull out the iPad to do anything, which is a good sign. I will certainly keep my iPad simply for access to the wealth of iOS apps and games (and 3G internet access), but so far the Surface has met all my needs in a tablet. My next test is to take the Surface with me on my next business trip instead of my Macbook Pro with Retina Display, and see how it does as a laptop replacement.

• When it comes to comparing weight to other devices like the iPad, I would just reiterate from my original post what I think is a fair comparison.

The Surface RT only runs in Metro mode and cannot access the full library of legacy Windows software. Therefore it is much more equivalent to an iPad, which only runs iOS apps, not OS X software. The Surface RT is lighter than the Pro, and therefore compares more favorably to the iPad in terms of size and weight.

The Surface Pro, however, being a full-fledged computer is more fairly comparable to a Macbook Air. And the Surface Pro is smaller and lighter than a Macbook Air, which is an extraordinary achievement. It's the same speed, has the same RAM, is available in the same 64GB and 128GB storage configurations, has 2 cameras instead of 1 (only good enough for video chatting, though), has a higher resolution true 1080p screen with a much higher pixel density, is the same price for the 128GB model (the 64GB Pro is cheaper than an Air), and is nearly a pound lighter than the Air, which again is pretty remarkable. Plus, the Surface Pro of course has a touchscreen (with a Wacom-made stylus with 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity) which is not available for the Air at all.

So, is the Surface Pro heavier than the iPad? Definitely. But it's a full computer. So is the Surface Pro heavier than an Air? No, it's much smaller and lighter. That being said, if Apple ever makes a "hybrid" device like this—a tablet form-factor device with detachable keyboard that can run the full version of OS X without compromise—I'll buy it in a heartbeat.

• When it comes to the device hardware quality, I and all the reviews I've read agree that the Surface is an amazingly-well engineered product. It's sleek, simple, sturdy, and you can find a number of videos online about the care and craftsmanship the Surface engineering team took in the smallest of details, including developing an acoustically-tested hinge that makes a satisfying "click" sound when the Type Cover magnetically connects to the Surface, like the slam of a car door on a German-engineered vehicle. I have no complaints on the engineering, but will be curious to see how it holds up over time after extended use. Like most reviews have noted, however, the single-position "kickstand" built into the back is not as positionable as a typical laptop, so many people find it hard to use on their lap with the keyboard open. But if I'm using it on my lap, I'm probably using it in tablet mode anyway, so it hasn't bothered me.

• In terms of software performance, the Surface is also blazingly fast. I've also had no complaints on startup or wake times (both take less than 10 seconds!) and applications are snappy, responsive and some even just fun to use. Metro apps in particular perform very well. So far no reviews I've read had any complaints about actual performance.

• The other nice thing about the Windows 8 install is that it is absolutely absent of bloatware. There are no Dell Toolbars, annoying web browser add-ons, thinly-veiled marketing apps, unnecessary plug-ins, software or antivirus trials, or any other obnoxious cruft. In order to keep the most storage space available to the user, Microsoft simply could not afford to be sloppy with unnecessary software installs.

-Robert
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post #7 of 54 Old 02-26-2013, 06:01 PM - Thread Starter
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GREAT NEWS on a development in my report above: I've been able to get lossless audio codecs working on the Surface Pro!

But it wasn't for the faint of heart. In further researching the issue and poking around in the innards of the Windows 8 install, I noticed that if I was connected to my Denon AVR and opened its Properties in the Sound Control Panel, there is a tab listing the "Supported Formats" of sound. This is where the codecs available are listed, and it had three: DTS, Dolby Digital, and Dolby Digital Plus (no HD versions.) So that at least explained why I wasn't getting my lossless codecs bitstreamed to the AVR, and that it wasn't a configuration or user error.

Now, the Surface Pro is running an Intel Core i5 with the Intel HD Graphics P4000 chip. I went over to Intel's website and found the Data Sheet for the P4000, and it did in fact state support for DTS-HD and Dolby TrueHD!

Microsoft, as an OEM in this case, has every right to modify Intel's configurations to best suit their hardware, and apparently (and inexplicably) decided to disable lossless audio codecs for some reason.

I felt a bit intrepid so I found Intel's original drivers for the P4000 on their website. You can't use their Auto Discovery tools to find the right drivers for your device, as it recognizes your system as an OEM Microsoft device and tells you not to use their drivers, but instead use whatever Microsoft has provided. Fair enough. But there's nothing stopping you from manually downloading the drivers from their online library.

I went ahead and took a chance and installed the drivers, knowing full-well they could brick my system (I figured I had Recovery USB stick ready in case of disaster), so I let it run.

After rebooting and not noticing anything unusual, I connected the Surface back to my Denon AVR and—wallah!—under "Supported Formats", DTS-HD and Dolby TrueHD were now listed! The experiment paid off.

I fired up Media Browser with MPC-HC (with LAV Splitter configured to bitstream HD codecs, of course) and opened several MKVs. They all successfully lit up the DTS-HD and/or Dolby TrueHD lights on the Denon, and the system sounded great! Success.

So, should everyone do this? Probably not. But it's been about 24 hours and I haven't noticed any issues with the Surface in terms of crashing or performance. In fact, the Intel drivers actually add a new utility to the Surface called the "Intel® Graphics and Media Control Panel", which allows you to fine-tune aspects of the video display, such as color rendering (I find the defaults more than adequate). I have no idea if installing Intel's drivers in any way voids your warranty, nor do I know if this process will break or otherwise have to be re-performed if and when Microsoft issues any firmware updates to the Surface.

But so far, so good: my one biggest drawback for the Surface Pro as an HTPC is no longer an issue!

I'll be sure to report back to this thread if my Surface melts down or explodes in the next few days, but so far I may be one of the only people in the world with a Surface capable of bitstreaming HD audio codecs. The rest of the world probably doesn't care, but some AVS folks might wink.gif

-R
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post #8 of 54 Old 02-26-2013, 10:46 PM
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cool deal. the Surface Pro is such a slick machine...
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post #9 of 54 Old 02-27-2013, 03:32 AM
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awesome news on the bitstreaming smile.gif

Also thanks for all the updates smile.gif I know reviews contain a lof of the information, just curious from real world day to day use. Also from the viewpoint as a htpc (not many reviewers look into this aspect)

I think 2014 products will contain wireless ac, should be quite standard by then, hopefully this will come alongside wireless display/audio connections that are basically latency free smile.gif and can send uncompressed data.

heres hoping smile.gif

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post #10 of 54 Old 02-27-2013, 07:57 AM
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Thanks so much for your report. Can you provide a link to the Intel drivers or at least provide the version and date of release?
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post #11 of 54 Old 02-27-2013, 01:19 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rsinclair View Post

The Surface Pro is running a Xeon processor E3-1200 v2 with the Intel HD Graphics P4000 chip

Is this indicated by viewing system info in the control panel?

I wanted to know the specifics, but unfortunately the spec sheet says "Intel 3rd Gen Core i5" http://www.microsoft.com/Surface/en-US/surface-with-windows-8-pro/specifications

I thought at first it would be debut with one of the i5 3439Y processors, but several reviews make an effort to say "full" instead of mobile so perhaps 3570t?

A Xeon processor doesn't really make sense
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post #12 of 54 Old 02-28-2013, 12:22 AM - Thread Starter
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@Dark_Slayer You're right. A somewhat clueless but ultimately helpful Microsoft support rep had sent me this PDF, which apparently was the wrong one for what's used in Surface. The Surface does have an Intel Core i5 processor, not a Xeon, so I've corrected my original post.

So although the incorrect processor was listed, the more relevant part was correct: the Surface Pro runs the Intel HD Graphics P4000 chip, which is the bit that supports the HD codecs and is governed by a driver.

@Cactys, I got this link to a manual download of the driver from an Intel support rep. It's findable on Intel's website, so I don't see a reason why I can't link to it here.

The only thing I can say is to exercise caution when installing, you're doing so at your own risk. Not sure if it voids the warranty, or if there's a way to re-install Microsoft's OEM version of the drivers over these generic ones from Intel if any unexpected issues develop later, nor do we know if these generic drivers will get overwritten if/when any system/firmware-level updates are pushed for the Surface in the future.

Cheers,
R

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post #13 of 54 Old 02-28-2013, 05:25 PM
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Surface Pro is a computer, and just like any other computer you can update drivers yourself, or do it through Windows Update. It won't void a warranty, and Windows Update won't automatically install drivers, even if you have automatic updates enabled. The drivers you installed from Intel are definitely not generic - they are the manufacturer's drivers. If you want the original drivers for some reason, just uninstall the display driver, select the option to delete the driver, and reboot. The original driver will be used, and if a newer one from Microsoft is available, you'll see it in Windows Update.

Nothing to worry about.
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post #14 of 54 Old 02-28-2013, 06:31 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rsinclair View Post

The Surface does have an Intel Core i5 processor, not a Xeon, so I've corrected my original post.

So although the incorrect processor was listed, the more relevant part was correct: the Surface Pro runs the Intel HD Graphics P4000 chip, which is the bit that supports the HD codecs and is governed by a driver.

Sorry, that's not correct. The Surface Pro has the Intel Core i5-3317u processor which has the Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU, not the P4000. See here for the specs: http://ark.intel.com/products/65707
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post #15 of 54 Old 02-28-2013, 09:48 PM - Thread Starter
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Sorry, didn't realize there was a difference between the 4000 and the P4000.

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post #16 of 54 Old 02-28-2013, 10:11 PM
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Feature and performance wise there is no difference, but HD 4000 is used in Intel Core 'Ivy Bridge' CPU's and HD P4000 is used in Intel Xeon CPU's. Apparently just the name is different.
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post #17 of 54 Old 03-01-2013, 10:08 AM
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For what it's worth, you'll want the HD4000 driver installed anyway if you play (desktop / non Metro) games too, because otherwise, you're stuck with letterboxed games at lower resolutions.

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post #18 of 54 Old 03-06-2013, 10:15 AM
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Wow, been an AVS member since at least 2008 and this is my second post in all that time!

Just wanted to mention that I have been experimenting with something similar using the less expensive (and less capable) Surface RT. Although the RT does not support Media Center, it does have the usual Windows networking capabilities, including the ability to map network drives, join homegroups, share libraries, etc. Also there are any number of 'Metro' apps which allow playing of music / videos, viewing of photos, etc. So between these and the mini HDMI output, I've found the RT to be useful as a kind of 'mini HTPC'.

Network-wise, I have my media all sitting on USB drives on a Windows 7 desktop. These are shared both via traditional Windows file sharing and are included in the Win 7 machine's various media libraries, which themselves are then shared with a homegroup. The RT is a member of the homegroup and has added the Win 7's libraries to its own libraries. This is key because most apps want to see media in the libraries rather than simply as a network drive.

As far as the A/V part goes, my setup is pretty similar to Robert's. I have a Denon AV receiver (1611) and the RT is connected up via mini HDMI to one of the HDMI inputs on the Denon. Then that feeds out to a 65" Panasonic plasma. Only problem here has been I sometimes find the HDMI connection to be a bit on the flaky side. If I move the RT around and the cable wiggles, the connection will cut in and out. Have not determined yet if this is a problem with the cable, the port on the RT, or the AV receiver. Still playing with it.

Once I have the connection established, I use my favorite RT apps to play music or videos, or pictures or whatever. The built-in app for photos works pretty well, but the music and video apps leave more to be desired. For music I like "Music Info" and MediaMonkey. For videos "Press Play" works well and has the ability to play MKV files. There are of course plenty of other apps out there, if anyone has other favorites I'd be interested to know what they are.

BTW Windows RT is somewhat limited in video format capability. It plays MP4 and AVCHD (mts) files fine but will not play MPEG2 (mpg) files. It definitely won't play DVD VOBs, etc. MKV support is not native but there are players out there that will do it.

Kevin.
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post #19 of 54 Old 03-06-2013, 11:07 AM
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Originally Posted by frodaddi View Post

For videos "Press Play" works well and has the ability to play MKV files. There are of course plenty of other apps out there, if anyone has other favorites I'd be interested to know what they are.

Does PressPlay still have to do that pre-playback analyzing step for every MKV file? If so, you might want to check out mobile.HD. PowerDVD Mobile recently got an update to run on ARM devices as well, and so far, that one has the best format support I've seen, but it's expensive, has a horrible interface, and doesn't work with embedded subtitles.

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post #20 of 54 Old 03-06-2013, 11:16 AM
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Does PressPlay still have to do that pre-playback analyzing step for every MKV file? If so, you might want to check out mobile.HD. PowerDVD Mobile recently got an update to run on ARM devices as well, and so far, that one has the best format support I've seen, but it's expensive, has a horrible interface, and doesn't work with embedded subtitles.

Not sure, to be honest. I don't personally have any MKV files to play so I haven't investigated, although I know many people do use this format. For me personally, the most frustrating thing I find is the inability to play mpg files. I have a bunch of home videos from an old camcorder that won't play, and I don't want to go through the pain of converting them all to mp4. At one point I did install the trial version of mobile.HD but since it didn't do mpg I never paid for the full app and eventually the trial expired. Maybe I will download the trial for PowerDVD and see how it looks. Otherwise, holding out for VLC RT I guess.
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post #21 of 54 Old 03-10-2013, 07:52 PM
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oh yeah !!! XBMC running on the Surface Pro (local database) ... smooth lika buttrrr streaming 40GB m2ts, 4% cpu, 3-4 MB/s wifi
only thing is the fan is on :\ ... and its not whisper quiet(to correct: at higher than low speed) ... and its still quite warm by now...makes me wonder on lifespan of this device
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post #22 of 54 Old 03-26-2013, 03:19 AM
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Any word on how this is now after a few weeks of use?

is the ipad/ultrabook gathering dust or is the surface pro barely used?

How is the battery life day to day? Is it a bit too heavy/bulky? Anything in particular it is missing or you wish it didnt have?

Do you think Microsoft has done good with this combined with windows 8? Are we looking at the future or the past?

looking at intels timeline for GPU power as well future revolutions of the surface could be incredable.

finally, would you choose this or something like the lenovo helix coming out now if you had a choice (excluding cost)

Thanks smile.gif

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post #23 of 54 Old 03-26-2013, 10:02 AM
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Originally Posted by Rbentley100 View Post

Any word on how this is now after a few weeks of use?

is the ipad/ultrabook gathering dust or is the surface pro barely used?

How is the battery life day to day? Is it a bit too heavy/bulky? Anything in particular it is missing or you wish it didnt have?

Do you think Microsoft has done good with this combined with windows 8? Are we looking at the future or the past?

looking at intels timeline for GPU power as well future revolutions of the surface could be incredable.

finally, would you choose this or something like the lenovo helix coming out now if you had a choice (excluding cost)

Thanks smile.gif

So let me preface this all by saying I've never had an iPad, just never seen the use for me. I did have a HP Touchpad, that I also ran Android on. I wouldn't have bought that either, but I got it for free. And I've used tablet PCs for years, which you might say has me a little bit biased. I purchased a Surface RT in October (and immediately stopped using the Touchpad, because the Surface RT was better than that), and a Surface Pro in February. Also, in my case, my Surface is not used for anything HTPC related... though occasionally I will put MKV files on it for when I'm travelling.

In short, I still love the Surface Pro. The thing is though you have to know what you're getting. It's not an iPad replacement, it's a PC replacement. So I've needed a new laptop for a while now. My main PC previously was a Core 2 Duo -based Dell Latitude XT2 from 2009. It was showing its age in many of the tasks that I wanted to use it for, and so I needed something new. Since then, I gave the old PC away, as I had zero need for it. However, if it was to be used as a PC companion instead, chances are it's not the right device for you. If that's the case, the Surface RT, or an iPad is a much better idea for you. (Hell, in some rare cases, if you only use a browser and Office, like for example, my parents would, the Surface RT might be good enough for you too as a PC replacement; it just wasn't for me). So yeah, I do have a Windows Home Server with all my media on it, and a HTPC for heavy gaming and media playback on the TV. Other than those, the Surface Pro is now the only device that I use.

I get about 4 hours battery life, which is an improvement from my previous laptop / tablet PC. I'll always want more battery life, but considering the technology that is out today (again, if an ARM or Intel CloverTrail device doesn't give you enough raw power), 4 hours is great for this device. The same would go for weight. Yes, less weight is always better, but my XT2 was 4 pounds, and the HP TC1100 before that was about 3 pounds. So it's again a huge improvement. Screen dimensions on the device are the perfect compromise for me between usability and portability. The 10.6" screen and slimmer form factor makes it much more portable than any previous Windows tablet I've used, including the 11.6" Samsung Series 7 Slate that I bought and returned a year and a half ago. At the same time though, it gives me a big enough keyboard that I can actually use it.

What I think is missing? Something like Thunderbolt around the keyboard port, so that we could have a true desktop docking station. And the next generation of Intel hardware is going to be much more interesting. I needed a computer now though. And then I also wish they had gone with more proven Wifi hardware, because the Marvell chips they've used in the Surface Pro and RT have had major problems. Something like Intel wireless hardware would be more stable, and also give the added benefit of WiDi support.

My thoughts on Windows 8 are that it's a huge step forward in many ways, but the apps just aren't there yet. I love that there's so many tablet apps that are designed around touch now, but compared to an iPad, obviously there's a lot missing. The built-in apps are improving (a huge update for those came out last night), but they still need work. The core OS of Windows 8 is pretty good though, and really stable. There's some great concepts that are introduced, but some things will continue to need refinement. Which brings me to the Windows Blue preview that I've tried. It has a lot of tiny little changes that end up adding up to an improved experience. It'll be nice when that is released for real (but it's really buggy and nowhere near ready yet).

You mention Intel's GPU hardware, but that's not the full story. Obviously, the Surface Pro launched with Ivy Bridge. One of the biggest features of Windows 8 is Connected Standby, which you don't actually get with Ivy Bridge. It makes the device feel more like an always-on tablet, and not like a PC. That feature will not be available on Core class hardware until the next revision in Haswell. Haswell also will give the same performance as Ivy Bridge, with drastically better battery life. So, if a new PC is not something that you need now, I personally would say wait until the end of the year. Bay Trail (the next Atom revision) should also be coming by the end of the year, and that will give you much better performance than current ARM CPUs (and much better performance than current Atom CPUs) while having the power efficiency of a current Cortex A9 ARM CPU. That could be huge as well.

As for the Helix, it's the only Windows 8 device that I've ever truly considered other than the Surface Pro, and I'd guess that it's just as good a choice in many ways. The differences between the two come down to price, form factor (hard keyboard vs the keyboard covers) and other subtleties. That being said, the Surface Pro is my favorite computer or tablet I've ever owned, too. That only makes me even more excited for when the hardware catches up.

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post #24 of 54 Old 03-26-2013, 04:07 PM
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Thanks for the review. I was considering getting a surface pro, a decent sized USB thumb drive and using a HDHomerun to occasionally record tv fro trips, etc. I may wait for the next generation and see if the new chips can do anything about battery life.

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post #25 of 54 Old 03-27-2013, 06:58 AM
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thanks for the review smile.gif very useful read. sounds like a very nice bit of kit. Wonder when the UK will get to see it smile.gif

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post #26 of 54 Old 03-28-2013, 01:21 PM
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Thanks for the in depth review!

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post #27 of 54 Old 03-28-2013, 04:05 PM - Thread Starter
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@Rbentley100, I haven't had any significant changes to my initial report after more usage. I'm in the process of moving right now so I haven't been able to use the setup as much as I've wanted to, but so far no problems.

I keep the Surface with me at work and it's plugged in the whole time (ironically I use it as a secondary display for my MacBook Pro wink.gif ) so battery life hasn't been an issue for me, but on weekend use, sure I wish the battery lasted longer. But I could say that about virtually any mobile device I own. The heat is also still noticeable but tolerable, but here's to hoping they can make further improvements to battery life and heat dispersion in the next hardware rev—and there's still the strongly-hinted possibility of an external battery add-on forthcoming.

My first-week experiment in using the Surface exclusively over my iPad 3 has continued: since getting Surface, I actually haven't touched my iPad, or felt a strong need to use the iPad for anything specific. I'm not quite ready to sell it off or anything, since the ecosystem for it is so huge. Granted, I still use my iPhone more often than anything since it's pocketable and lets me do so much, but that's a different class of device.

In terms of Windows 8, that could be a post of its own, and there are of course tons of articles already written about its various strengths and weaknesses. I think the Modern UI (formerly Metro) side is indeed best-suited to touch devices like the Surface, and once you get it in your mind that the Start Screen is the replacement for the controversial removal of the Start Button, it's not that big of a deal. There are enough improvements in Windows 8 in general (such as incredibly fast startup times and other UI improvements to the Desktop) that it's probably worthwhile to upgrade even if you plan on spending 99% of your time in Desktop mode. As mentioned in the original post, now that Media Browser is compatible with Windows 8, I personally don't have any deal breaker set-backs using Win 8 over Win 7 for HTPC.

For now I'm quite comfortable with the choice of a Surface Pro over other devices (including the just-released Razer Edge) and the Helix, but like any other technology, eventually there will be a superior product on the market, and I imagine like all my other electronics (most notably Apple gear), I'll be selling off this device to pick up the next generation when it's available.

-R

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post #28 of 54 Old 04-02-2013, 07:41 AM
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cheers rsinclair, sounds very good to me smile.gif glad no irritations have appeared after using it for a bit that mean it just gathers dust smile.gif

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post #29 of 54 Old 04-02-2013, 09:50 AM
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awesome setup!

However its a bit expensive using surface pro as a HTPC, it definately looks great on the exercise machine.
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post #30 of 54 Old 04-02-2013, 09:55 AM
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Have you tried Miracast on it?

I'm currently using a $5 adaptor to hdmi, works great, but if you can get Miracast to work, that would be awesome!
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