Aspen Media Products is a company that offers both consumer and gaming media products. They are committed to manufacturing Media Servers that deliver more than just home media and more than any competitor’s product. They have several different configurations available in their Consumer Line. The AMP CL-1058DIY (starting at $998) includes a cable card tuner, an option that is normally reserved for higher priced models. It allows customization options such as processor, memory, storage and even adding an additional cable card tuner. The choice of a 100 watt x 5 amplifier card or 7.1 preouts is also included as an option. The CL-1058BD (starting at $1249) being reviewed here also gives users a few customization options and comes standard with a Blu-ray player. The CL-1058BDH (starting at $1549) adds a 500 watt, 5.1 surround sound package including 5 satellite speakers with stands and a 300 watt powered subwoofer. The CL-1058H (starting at $1349) includes the 5.1 surround sound package, but comes with a standard DVD drive.
The AMP CL-1058-BD Media Server features a built-in Blu-ray drive that runs on an AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual Core 5000+ 2.6GHz processor loaded with Windows Vista (32-bit) Home Premium. The system comes standard with 2GB of memory, a 500GB hard drive, an ATSC tuner card and an ATI Radeon HD 3200 graphics processor. Optional upgrades include a Quad Core AMD processor, cable tuner options and storage up to 4.5 TB.
This Media Server allows you to store and view your digital photos, burn and listen to your favorite music, PVR (Personal Video Recorder) and watch your favorite TV shows, and download and watch your favorite movies. The Blu-Ray drive allows you to pop in any of the latest Blu-ray movies and enjoy full 1080p high definition video and multi-channel DTS or Dolby Digital audio.
A large round button illuminated in blue on the front of the unit is used to power the computer on or off. There is also a button to open/close the disc tray. There are no other controls on the front of the unit. The drop down panel reveals several memory interface slots (CF/MD, MS, SM/XD, and SD/MMC) along with a pair of USB 2.0 ports. All of these interfaces come in handy when using digital media such as those from cameras. There is also a microphone input and a headphone output if needed. While the unit comes equipped with a 500GB hard drive, it is likely that many user will quickly fill this up and require additional storage space. Fortunately, there are several interfaces on the back of the media server.
This media server has a wide range of connections for both digital and analog devices. A standard analog RGB video output is provided along with an HDMI interface, as well as four USB 2.0 ports, a wired ethernet jack and a FireWire connection. Coaxial S/PDIF input and outputs are available through RCA connectors. The built-in tuner card has standard RF F-type connections. This particular media player does not come with discrete 5.1 or 7.1 analog outputs. In addition, the digital outputs (HDMI or coaxial) do not carry uncompressed multi-channel audio, but rather standard DTS, Dolby Digital or PCM audio.
The CL-1058-BD Media Server comes with an 86-key BTC wireless (2.4GHz) keyboard with an integrated trackball and operates on four "AA" batteries. The keyboard weighs only 1.7 pounds and measures 14.75" wide by 5.9" high. A set of 16 hotkeys sit along the top of the keyboard and there is a dedicated button to launch Windows Media Center. A small USB RF receiver must be plugged into the media server for the keyboard to operate. The keyboard worked fairly well, yet we did encounter occasional erratic behavior when using the trackball. However, it did provide a reliable interface to the media server.
The IR remote included with the CL-1058-BD gave us familiar handheld control when navigating Windows Media Center or when watching movies. The large green button launches Media Center for quick access to a host of features. The buttons are spaced adequately enough to make it easy to use. However, there is no backlighting on this remote so using it in a dark environment will prove challenging.
Our system is set up around a Denon AVR-5308CI A/V receiver with video sent to a Mitsubishi HC5500 1080p projector. The video image is projected onto a 100-inch, 16:9, Stewart FireHawk filmscreen. The receiver handles all the latest surround formats and utilizes HQV video processing and scaling. We connected the HDMI output of the media server to the Denon and configured the media server for 1080p to maximize resolution. Our speaker system consisted of RBH Sound's MC Series (MC616C front channels, MC44C surrounds, and a TS12AP subwoofer). The RF input on the back of the CL-1058-BD was linked to our large Terk
TV-38 rooftop antenna and provided us with excellent reception. Premium HDMI and coaxial digital interconnects were provided by Ethereal and Accell cables.
The CL-1058-BD is clearly geared for those looking to get into a Home Theater PC or Media Server and Aspen Media Products (AMP) has made it so easy. Watching movies (DVD or Blu-ray), using the PVR from local broadcasts, viewing video clips, listening to music, or viewing photos has never been easier. Having configured several HTPC systems myself, it was nice to see the company has taken much of the headache out of doing it yourself. The CL-1058-BD system was stable and performed well during the time we had it in our setup. Technical issues can be worked remotely from their site using a remote access program. This remote feature allows their technical team to address virtually any issue without having to spend hours on the phone or worse yet, send the unit back for a simple software fix. We took advantage of this when we accidentally performed an update on the TotalMedia Theater software used to play DVD and Blu-ray discs. The company does disable many of the configuration features that savvy users want access to. The reason for this is to prevent users from changing areas that affect the performance of the machine. However, this can be frustrating for those used to taking control of their PC.
ATSC Tuner with DVR
An advantage of using a media server built around Windows Media Center and a tuner card is the ability to capture video and store it on the hard drive. In addition, DVR functions are available for pausing while the material is still being saved to the hard drive. Local broadcasts can easily be recorded and watched concurrently or at a later time (assuming the broadcaster has not flipped the broadcast flag). Program information is displayed on the screen along with options for playback. We recorded several programs and the picture quality was outstanding. We also had a very positive experience using the DVR functions. Having owned the Dish Network ViP722, which is considered to be one of the best DVRs out there, this is saying a lot.
The CL-1058-BD comes loaded with ArcSoft's TotalMedia Theater. The playback software (Version 188.8.131.52) takes full advantage of some of the latest playback features including BD-Live. The system does not support DTS HD True Audio or Dolby True HD through the HDMI cable, so we ran standard DTS and Dolby Digital through the coaxial digital output. The Denon AVR-5308CI receiver had no problem decoding these 5.1 formats with movies and music we played using the CL-1058-BD.
The CL-1058-BD is a powerful media server that is geared for those looking for a pre-configured unit that is easy to use and loaded with features including Blu-ray playback. Customers who purchase a qualifying media server with Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit or Windows Vista Ultimate 32-bit are eligible for a free upgrade to the corresponding version of Windows 7 32-bit upon release. Unfortunately, customers must ship their media server back to Aspen Media Products for installation. Not a bad deal for those waiting to pull the trigger due to the release of the new Windows operating system. Several configurations are available including a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) version. If you always wanted a Home Theater PC and didn't want the hassle of configuring it yourself, the AMP CL-1058-BD provides a simple solution.