Evesham ebox Plus review
This review was written before PC Pro became aware of the current situation at Evesham, now run by a different management team. Currently, PC Pro does not recommend anyone buys an Evesham system.
The latest incarnation of Evesham’s ebox builds on the earlier “V” version (web ID: 84956), which came through our Labs a year ago. From the outside, the key change is a move from the silver casing to a black anodised aluminium front, with its glowing green power button – reminiscent of the original Xbox.
The exposed audio, USB and full-sized FireWire ports are still ugly on the front, but are less noticeable against the black panel. More significant changes appear on the rear, though, where the all-important HDMI output now features, allowing simple connection to an HDTV. There’s also component output for connection to older TVs, or VGA to projectors, but there’s no scart.
The HDMI port is driven by the onboard Radeon X1200 GPU; it’s HDCP compliant and has 512MB of dedicated memory. It’s also able to share up to 512MB of the main 2GB of RAM for a healthy total of 1GB. It isn’t intended for gaming, though – we recorded a paltry 6fps in Call of Duty 2 at our low settings – but it’s more than capable of playing back high-definition H.264 video smoothly, even at 1080p.
There’s an empty PCI-E 16x slot for a beefier graphics card should you want more 3D oomph, but you’re limited to low-profile cards. Another good reason for leaving that slot empty is heat. As it stands, the Plus doesn’t run particularly hot, but it’s nowhere near as quiet as the Philips LX2000. The ebox emits a low hum that you’ll notice in a quiet living room.
Audio is handled by the onboard Realtek chip and can output up to eight-channel sound via the six mini-jack sockets. However, those with an existing AV receiver will want to use the coaxial S/PDIF output. It’s possible to use the HDMI output for audio, but it initially proved unreliable in our tests – we had to reset the configuration in three separate places in the Control Panel to get it working.
Vista Home Premium is installed, bringing with it the latest incarnation of Windows Media Center. Evesham has also managed to shoehorn the infrared receiver inside the ebox Plus, so you can use the bundled Philips remote control without an unsightly external receiver. Like the LX2000, the remote can put the system into sleep mode, but can’t wake it up – particularly annoying.
Evesham also includes a Microsoft Remote Keyboard, which is designed for Media Center and also uses infrared. This doubles up on many of the remote control’s Media Center buttons, but it’s more usable in the dark thanks to backlit buttons. However, the mouse pointer control is tricky to master and, even then, it’s a pain to use compared with a real mouse.
Media Center zips along nicely with the Athlon 64 X2 4200+ installed, with each core running at 2.2GHz – we had no problems recording one Freeview channel while watching another. Unlike many other media centres we’ve seen, the ebox Plus has just the one aerial input, using a Hauppauge Nova-T-500 dual-tuner PCI card, removing the need for a splitter. There’s plenty of space to store recorded TV shows on the 320GB Western Digital hard disk – well over 200 hours if you don’t fill the 275GB of free space with much else.
If you do run out of space, you can archive shows to DVD using Media Center’s built-in CD/DVD burning option. The slimline Sony DVD writer is a slot-loading model, keeping the front panel tidy. Plus, it’s considerably more lounge-friendly than the LX2000’s tray-loading drive, which could easily be broken off by little fingers. It’s a shame there’s still no HD DVD or Blu-ray option, but then that would add several hundred pounds to the price.