Vidon.me vs. Raspberry-Pi (Home Entertainment System) Review

For the past year or so, I've been running the AV-200 from Vidon.me as my entertainment console.  Hitting vidon.me's website, I see that they're offering an upgraded version of the android box with 1080p output.  So, already, my "review" is a bit deprecated as one of major complaints about the AV-200, the price-point, is rendered moot with the release of their new hardware offering.

I am sure, however, that there are relevant points to be made for the new product, which is being sold currently for about US$70 -- which is significantly cheaper than the AV-200's hefty US$200 price tag.  Also noted is that the price for the current generation box is a sale price with the MSRP being about US$100.

I've got a pretty solid network for my home with a couple NAS devices containing a combined 18TB of hard-disk storage which is ZFS'd down to about 8TB of usable, redundant, storage.  I currently am at about 75% overall capacity and my media center boasts about 650 movies, 1,800 television shows, about 4,500 songs, and thousands of photos.

My media center is on 100BT ethernet simply because the performance for streaming 1080p video is much better over the wire than via wireless.  While my home LAN is 1000BT, neither the AV-200, nor the Raspberry-Pi supports these speeds.

So, first up, the AV-200...

Vidon.me's AV-200 Media Device

Vidon.me's AV-200 Media Device

The AV-200 is a solid-box that's about the size of an external USB drive.  It's construction is solid and, for the past year, has exhibited no problems at all with the hardware.

The software is android and works just like any other android device, (phone, tablet, etc) in that you can use your google account to sign-in and access all the android-features associated with your account.  (Notifications, access to the Play store, etc.)

Since I've owned the box, there's been three major updates released by Vidon.me - the last one being more of a fix for the second one.

The AV-200 runs version 12.x of XBMC and, as of this writing, there are no plans to extend the version to 13.x (Kodi) or the upcoming 14.x release.  Other than the initial activation updates, the android OS hasn't been updated.

The best thing I can say about the box is that it's consistently temperamental.  XBMC will crash after every library scan dumping me back to the main menu.  While the company advocates the box being always-on, electricity in Mexico is horrible expensive so I have my entire media center plugged into a surge-strip which I keep off between use.

On occasion, when return to viewing, the XBMC software configuration has been wiped-out completely, and I have to reset everything:  skins, settings, add-ons, etc.  This is mildly annoying but since I'm not into a huge amount of customization, it's usually more of an inconvenience than anything else to restore XMBC back to it's regular state.

A few months ago, I had problems streaming a (movie) file and I contacted Vidon-me support.  I made a copy of the (AVI) file available to them at which point they said that the file couldn't be streamed because it was a "private" or "protected" file.  Regardless of the fact that my various computers could stream the file, via Plex, I couldn't do the same on the AV-200.  Which was one of two problems I experienced where streaming completely failed.

Other problems I've had have been with 1080P videos - depending on the network traffic, streaming can be interrupted or pauses completely during operation while the buffer is rebuilt.  My overall impression is that the 2GB of RAM isn't sufficient for consistently high-quality streaming at maximum resolutions.  As a result, I've gravitated towards 720P videos instead simply because I don't see the buffer lag at this resolution.

One other thing I noticed about the AV-200 was how annoying it was to link your gmail account to the OS - every time you boot the AV-200, you're presented with a bit of lag-time because Android is updating your gmail, your hangout messages, and a plethora of other minor annoyances that you don't really care about when all you want to do is watch a show.  After a couple months of this, I finally unlinked my account from the OS so that I could spend the sparsely-available resources on video processing.

The lack of regular software updates to the operating system, or to XBMC, coupled with consistent crashes following every library updated finally forced me to evaluate other options.

I'm not crazy about the Apple TV as Apple quality control has been plummeting.  I've no interest in the Chromecast because of a lack of XBMC support.  I had a Roku-3 but I tired of Plex as the media content delivery tool and the ability to quickly and easily load captions for my media.  That and the Roku licensing pretty much hamstrings all the "features" of the product if you're not geographically located in the US.

But, lately, I've been doing a lot of stuff with the Raspberry-Pi B+.  There's a NOOBs update that includes XMBC release 13.x (Kodi) so I decided to give that a try.

Raspberry-Pi B+

Raspberry-Pi B+

The NOOBs install contains two XBMC distributions:  OpenElec and RaspBMC.  

My first attempt was to install RaspBMC - I'd read where it was more configurable, with respect to the under-lying operating system and that updates were more-frequent.

I installed the RaspBMC OS and just met with consistent failure across multiple attempts.  While the Pi would boot, XBMC refused to start with a looping error that's apparently well-known on the interwebs.  I tried all of the suggestions to work-around the error but none were successful.  I finally gave-up after many hours of installing, re-installing, switching SD-cards, power-supplies, configuration parameters, etc., as hopeless.   In my mind, the distro is broken out-of-the-box and should be avoided.

I next tried the OpenElec installation (using the same hardware) and the installation went without a problem.  I booted and started XBMC and immediately started to configure (read my network repos) loading data into the software.

This is the one place where the AV-200 beats-out the Pi - processing speed.  The Pi-B+ ARM processor clocks in at 700Mhz and there's 1/4 of the onboard RAM (512MB) that's available in AV-200.   While I was reading libraries, I was monitoring the Pi's memory/resource consumption via the top utility - the processor was consistently using about 90% of available memory and the CPU load was in the mid-2's range.  Clearly hauling ass.  Yet the apparent load/processing times for reading in large file repos were noticeably shorter on the Pi then they were on the AV-200.  For example, to read-in a repos of about 300 movies took just over an hour.

The other significant difference between the Pi and the AV-200 is that the AV-200 comes with an infrared remote control.  Some preliminary research on adding a similar controller for the Pi made me cringe.  Besides the price-point of the remotes, configuring them for use with XBMC seems to be universally dreaded.

Instead, I went with the XMBC-Remote app from the iTunes store (also available for android devices on the Play store).

XBMC-Remote Control Screen

XBMC-Remote Control Screen

Once you've configured XBMC to allow control via HTTP, using this app as a remote is pretty awesome.   More so since you don't have to "point" it at a receiver in order for it to control the Pi!

I spent most of the day loading in my library - OpenElec using the space available on the SD-Ram card (in my case, about 5gb or so) to store the media data that XBMC downloads.  Plenty of room to grow!

I'm still just getting used to the Pi but, as of yet, streaming different file types (AVI, MPEG, X.264, etc.) at different (720, 1080) resolutions hasn't been a problem and I've yet to experience buffer lag at all.

I've downloaded a couple skins for XBMC to try out and so far, the Pi has been performing flawlessly without even a single crash.

Summary

Ease of set-up:   AV-200
The AV-200 is a plug-and-play device.  OpenElec requires some DIY skills - installing NOOBs and then installing OpenElec on the SD-ram card.  There's no need for you to access the underlying OS but you can via SSH.  Although certain staples, such as apt-get or passwd (change the root account's password) have all been disabled by the OS.

Stability: Raspberry-Pi B+ w/OpenElec
As I stated earlier, I can crash XBMC on the AV-200 on-demand.  It's annoying but not fatal but you're still inconvenienced waiting for the AV-200 to sort itself out.  Also, the release version of XBMC is significantly better on the Pi than it is the AV-200.

Price Point:  Raspberry-Pi B+
I bought my Pi using the Cana-Kit from Amazon and even with the extras, it was still less than half of the cost of the AV-200.  Of course, I didn't get a remote with the Pi, but the remote software on my iPhone was free and I don't have to gyrate it's angle-of-attack for the receiving unit to successfully process a request.

Performance: Raspberry-Pi B+
While the Pi does a better job at displaying video (no buffer stutter), the AV-200 is significantly faster at processing library updates.  However, as pointed out earlier, the AV-200 also consistently crashes XBMC following said-update and has to be re-started.

Relevance: Raspberry-Pi B+
The OpenElec distro contains the latest stable release of XBMC where as I don't think the AV-200 will ever be updated to the current rev currently used by the Pi.

Winner:  Raspberry-Pi B+
Surprising absolutely no one at this point...

Please feel free to leave your comments and suggestions about this review.  I hope you got some use out of it.

Other Resources:

Raspberry Pi XBMC Solutions Compared: Raspbmc vs OpenELEC vs XBian

Turn a Raspberry Pi Into an XBMC Media Center in Under 30 Minutes

The Remote Control Conundrum: How to Choose the Right Remote for Your Home Theater PC