Most people who buy computers these days end up getting a laptop or a tablet, and that makes sense because portability is king. But desktops are still making an impact in small amounts, and by combining the desktop with something small, Acer seems to have found a quirky little niche, with the return of the home theatre PC.
A rather unusual entry for Acer, the Revo One is a computer that may surprise you.
Another desktop, this computer isn’t made strictly for the office or the desk, with home theatres the likely place this one land.
It’s still a computer, that said, and as such still has computer insides, with Intel’s Core i5 dual-core 5200U (“Broadwell” generation) powering this system, accompanied by 8GB RAM and as much as 2TB of storage.
Microsoft’s Windows 8.1 is installed on the computer out of the box, and there’s even room to expand the storage using two SATA ports found on the inside of the machine, with an SD card slot found on the very top of the unit.
Connections are fairly standard, with 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth, with Gigabit Ethernet providing wired networking if you need it, too.
A lone HDMI connection is offered, as is a single Mini DisplayPort, with four USB ports provided in the Revo One, made up of two USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 ports.
The system arrives in a plastic chassis with an external power brick, with a wireless keyboard and mouse also included.
Acer lists various configurations for the Revo One, including a Celeron variant with only 2GB RAM and 60GB solid-state storage, a Core i3 model with 4GB RAM and 1TB hard-drive based storage, and the model we’re reviewing, which includes a Core i5, 8GB RAM, and a 2TB conventional hard drive.
There was a time when the home theatre PC was the next stage of the computing world. People saw it as a place the desktop could evolve to, because you would watch all of your content on your big TV, and not your small monitor, so why not have a computer there too?
But the idea was a little short lived, especially as modern consoles rocked up with enough processing power and internet-friendly smarts, logging onto the world wide web and streaming media from catch-up TV services, YouTube, and even USB drives that you plugged into the consoles or possibly a drive on your home network.
With the most recent gaming consoles, though, much of this delivery mechanism has gone away, and while we have a way of getting onto the world wide web with practically every device in your home, for many, the idea of a PC that can playback movies, handle your music, share your photos, tackle video games, and let you surf the web on a huge screen is enticing.
For Acer, that idea is happening in the form of a computer made for the TV room called the “Revo One”. It’s a cute little machine, and one that doesn’t take on the look of a typical desktop, resembling more that of a NAS drive, except with the guts of a computer inside.
From the outside, it’s all white glossy plastic, with the Acer logo showing itself clearly on the bottom, a bunch of ports on the back, and a locking switch along the back bottom that can let you open the computer up.
Press that switch hard and the computer will open as you remove the top casing from the body itself.
Inside, what you won’t see is the small computer encased behind plastic and an SD card slot up top, flanked on each side by a hard drive expansion slot, providing a level of upgradeability for people who want to add more storage than what’s being provided.
Living in this section, however, is the guts, with Intel’s dual-core Core i5 variant of a fifth-generation processor, 8GB RAM, and a 2TB hard drive. Just as a note, with 2TB on the inside and two hard drive bays on the outside, there’s a reasonable amount of flexibility in terms of upgrading things.
Beyond this, the real guts of the computer sits inside the plastic, but you’ll probably never get to see it unless you arm yourself with a screwdriver and a reason to look.
And really, there’s no reason to do that, because you’ll only find the processor, the maximum memory the machine can support (8GB), and another hard drive.
It’s better to focus on the hard drive slots on either side, knowing full well you can upgrade them when you want to, simply by removing the plastic latch and light metal hard drive casings, installing a 2.5 inch hard drive on either side and adding storage when you want to.
That’s good to know, because with 2TB on the review model, you can easily upgrade the storage simply by purchasing another drive and installing it. Easy, and something few NAS drives that sit in this footprint offer.
Plug the Acer Revo One into a monitor or TV, the wall, and bring that included keyboard and mouse to the table with the wireless USB dongle, and then get to switching it on, finding a Windows 8 screen ready to work with you.
On the downside, there’s no touchscreen bundled in here, and it’s unlikely you’re going to have a touch-enabled TV, so you better go through the Windows 8 mouse gestures because you’re going to need them. Fortunately, Microsoft will take care of that for you upon start-up, and once you’re good to go, you can load videos on the machine and turn the Revo One into your media friendly machine.
The keyboard and mouse aren’t solid efforts, though, and while they’re free, we’d rather buy something else to use with this machine than spend another moment wasting our time on this mediocre accessories.
First there’s the keyboard, which is small, simple, and highly portable. It’s also overly springy, uncomfortable to type on, and generally feels like it’s going to fall apart as you use it, almost as if it were built by a toy company.
Acer’s mouse isn’t much better, with very little pick-up by its ho-hum ten buck optical mouse, though at least both of these are wireless, so that’s something.
Ultimately, we’re critical of the accessories because they don’t feel like they complete the package tremendously well, almost as if they were thrown in just because Acer needed a mouse and needed a keyboard before the Revo was boxed up and sent out.
And that’s not cool for one reason: Acer’s Revo feels like it was designed to be a proper modern home theatre PC solution, with a small capsule-like computer that could sit next to your TV and provide to you Windows on a silver platter, and access to your content on a drive, or two, or three.
Leave it on and sharable, and the rest of your home could get in on the fun, with a compact laptop-drive based network drive.
It’s a great idea, and with the right software, would make sense to homes not currently relying on a video game console or streaming solution to access their TV shows and movies, especially since services like Netflix and Foxtel Go, as well as catch-up TV from the local stations, will run on websites.
In fairness to Acer, it does feel like the company at least tried to atone for this poor measure of an input peripheral with the inclusion of an app for your phone or tablet that will turn that smart device into a touchscreen mouse for the computer.
It’s a nice touch, it is, but it’s merely a touch, and even the mediocre optical mouse bundled into the pack works better than relying on your phone’s screen to move the mouse cursor, which just ends up feeling clumsy.
Acer could have tried harder. and probably should have.
The keyboard and mouse could have been designed to work alongside this design, and could have really screamed “total package” rather than “bonus keyboard and mouse”. They could have been a decent portable keyboard with multimedia functionality, and a touchpad mouse thrown in for good measure, just like the Logitech K830.
But it isn’t. Rather, Acer’s keyboard is cheap and nasty, loses characters, and doesn’t feel like the product the Revo computer strives to be.
The specs don’t help the Acer Revo get to that dream, either, because while the Core i5 sits in the newly released “Broadwell” range of fifth-generation Intel processors, there’s not a lot to the machine, and it’s built like an Ultrabook from a spec point of view, with 8GB RAM, no discrete graphics card, and just enough grunt to get into writing, web surfing, and playing back of videos and other multimedia content.
You’d hope a home theatre styled computer might just provide enough horsepower to get a little gaming done, but even running with a recent Intel chip and 8GB RAM, you’ll find it’s just a little too low end to do much more than a basic game like Fruit Ninja.
And that brings us to the price, and with the machine ringing up at the register for $1099 with our review model, we’re not sure this is value for money.
On the one hand, you have a machine that is small and upgradeable, but on the other, the performance just isn’t there for much more beyond watching movies, and there are better ways to go about watching flicks on your home network than purchasing a mediocre machine just for that.
You have to admire the slight gamble that the Revo is, with Acer trying to show that it can still innovate in the desktop space with a machine that sort of takes that older style of machine and makes it relevant for the home theatre, too.
And there are aspects we really like, and really admire, such as the internal design, with an approach reminiscent of the Mac Pro, albeit on a much smaller and less expensive scale. Seriously, we could see this used in homes as a media server, and coupled with software like Plex or XBMC, or even something from CyberLink emulating the old media centre software, it could be a great asset, allowing homes and families to control their own media viewing in the home.
But the specs aren’t there for this to be a total media experience, not unless you’re looking solely for a computer simply to play back movies and surf the web from, and there are much better ways to go about doing this. You could use an Apple laptop, iPad, or iPhone and pair it with Apple TV for less than $100, or rely on practically any device and use a sub-$50 Google Chromecast.
You could even find plug in a hard drive to your home router, or go further and grab network-attached storage, using a smart device like a modern TV or computer to run the media files from that drive to your home theatre.
And that’s the problem: there are so many ways to deliver what the Revo does well, and not enough reasons to opt for the Revo over something else, especially when the comparison is likely going to be something made by Dell or Alienware and offers more grunt for roughly the same cost.
We applaud Acer for making the effort, we do, but next time, in the second version of this one, it might just want to push the specs a little more, because right now, the bang for your buck is lagging just a little, or enough that we’re willing to look past the top design and go with something that out performs it.