Let's Talk About the Ceton Echo
We’ve now kicked off the Ceton Echo Beta program and the first wave of beta units have been sent out to testers. Every day we’re getting closer to commercial launch in November!
It’s clear from all the comments in the various forums, news and social media sites online that excitement for the Echo is high, which is awesome. It’s also clear that people still have questions about the Echo and are confused about some things. This blog post will hopefully answer those questions and clear up the confusion.
Goals for the Beta
First of all, it’s important for people to understand that the beta program is for testing. It is not a preview program. It is not a special sale. It is not a way to get an Echo before it’s finished.
It is designed to help ensure that the Echo is a great product when it launches in November. The beta will put the Echo through its paces in real-world homes, with real-world users, working with a myriad of configurations and networks, in a variety of markets around the world.
By definition, a beta product is not a finished product. There will be bugs. There will be features that aren’t working well, or aren’t yet working at all. Companies do beta tests in order to find and fix those things. Anyone who is not comfortable working with beta quality software should not participate in the beta program and should instead wait until the Echo launches in November.
When it comes to Media Center, people have all kinds of non-standard apps, plugins and configurations they use. Many of these work just fine with Windows Media Center (WMC), even though they’re not supported by Microsoft and you’ll never see them listed as a feature of WMC on any WMC datasheet or brochure. The same is true with the Echo. Echo will support many things natively out of the box. Other things will work with the Echo but we can’t guarantee they’ll always work, or support you if they don’t work, since we have no control over them.
So let’s talk about what the Echo is and is not.
Echo is Windows Media Center Extender (MCX) first and foremost. It’s based on the MCX code we have licensed from Microsoft and the main thing it does is extend the WMC experience from your media center PC to secondary TV sets in the home. We’re adding some additional capabilities where we can like a browser, and will continue to add features and capabilities over time, but please don’t confuse the Echo for a streaming media receiver or an Xbox, as it is neither today.
The Echo beta is not feature complete right now. For example, while you can play higher bitrate video, the Echo will only display up to 720p at the moment. We expect to have full 1080p by launch. Some codecs are not yet there but will be by launch. Internet browsing isn’t there yet but is planned for launch. The feature set and technical specs that Echo will support when it’s launched in November are explained on the Echo pages on our website. If something you’re looking for is not there, please assume the Echo will not support it in November, at least not natively. As you’ll read in the rest of this post, some of those things might be possible with third-party tools however.
So, let’s get to some specifics …
As a Windows Media Center Extender, the Echo is limited to containers that Windows Media Center can handle. In fact, a Windows Media Center Extender doesn't deal with containers at all, which is why they have not been included in our specification list. Out of the box, Windows Media Center does not support the MKV container; however, there are several third-party solutions available that add support to WMC for the MKV container. We’ve provided a list of codecs that the Echo will support at launch on the Echo product page. If your Windows Media Center PC has been configured to handle the MKV container, and the codecs within the container are also supported by the Echo, it should be possible to play that content back on the Echo.
VIDEO_TS Folder Support
Much like MKV containers, WMC doesn’t natively support sending VIDEO_TS to the Echo. There are third-party solutions which will automatically transcode the VIDEO_TS on-the-fly for playback, which should work with the Echo.
Currently the Echo does not support DTS and is not expected to support it at launch. We hope to add DTS support in the future but we can’t say yet when that will be.
Internet Streaming Services
We plan to add a web browser to the Echo by launch, though it is not enabled the current beta build. The browser will support HTML5, which means you can use it with online media sites that use HTML5. We hoped to support Flash as well; however, once Adobe announced they were no longer supporting Flash on ARM-based systems, we obviously weren’t able to do so.
Netflix, Hulu, etc.
Most of the major streaming media sites are moving to HTML5. As those services become available in HTML5 you’ll be able to use them with an Echo. At launch we do not expect you’ll be able to use the Echo with Netflix, which a lot of people have asked about specifically.
Media Center Plugins
In the same way Microsoft can’t support third-party plugins like My Movies, Media Browser and such, we can’t support them in Echo either. That doesn’t mean they won’t work with the Echo, just like it doesn’t mean they won’t work with WMC. One of the things we’ll learn from the beta program is which plugins and apps work well and which do not.
Echo is designed for wired networks, as we’ve said all along. The reason is that WiFi simply doesn’t have the bandwidth and Quality of Service to consistently deliver reliable HDTV signals today. WiFi is even more problematic when you’re sending multiple streams of HDTV around the home, as will be the case in many Echo user homes. If your home isn’t wired today, you do have options, as you’ll see below.
MoCa & PowerLine
For those unfamiliar with MoCa (Multimedia over Coax), it is a technology that lets you turn your in-house coax network into a high-speed wired Ethernet network and is a great option for people whose homes aren’t wired with Ethernet today. PowerLine (aka HomePlug) is a similar concept except it uses your existing electrical wiring at home instead of coax.
The Echo was never planned to have built-in MoCa. It does however support third-party MoCa adapters like those from Actiontec and Netgear just fine. It also works with PowerLine adapters, however we recommend MoCa over PowerLine since MoCa has higher bandwidth speeds and better QoS.
We do plan to introduce our own MoCa adapters in the future as options for the Echo and other products. They will not be available at launch however.
Wireless Keyboards and Mice
We’re in the midst of testing this as part of the beta. Early indications are that the Echo will work with standard USB wireless keyboards and mice.
Universal Remotes/Harmony Remotes
We’re in the midst of testing these too in the beta and early indications are that the Echo will work with them as well.
The prototype Echo we showed at CES did have Composite output in addition to HDMI. The final Echo design has HDMI only. For people who want to connect Echo to a TV that doesn’t have HDMI input, the Echo will work with an HDMI to Component or Composite converter.