I've held off on reviewing the Ceton Echo Media Center extender for some time now. There are several reasons for this but the main one is that I was part of the beta program. Having my overall review tainted by beta hardware is hardly fair to the Echo or Ceton.
Much has changed since the beta. The device I first received was a bit slow and had video issues. These bugs have since been squashed by the Ceton developers and what you have now is a device that is quite capable of bringing Windows Media Center to the other TVs in your home.
The Ceton Echo is small. I mean really small. If you've used any of the third party extenders in the past you'll be amazed that this little device can provide so much content to your other TVs. It literally fits in the palm of your hand yet can stream all of your HD content anywhere in your home.
Outputs include HDMI and optical audio (TOSLink) so you need a modern HDTV or A/V receiver with HDMI in order to use the Echo. You'll also find a network connection (10/100/1000) and a mini USB port on the back of the Echo. The mini USB connection is used for power. Whether or not the Echo could be powered by the USB out on your TV is something I haven't tested but it may be worth looking into.
The hardware itself looks good and can be made to disappear in your living room or bedroom. You won't find any fans inside the Echo so this is a silent solution. Perfect for the bedroom or any where in the house where extra noise is going to distract from the show you're watching.
The remote control, while solid, has some quirks that put me a bit off. Firstly, the number buttons don't have any letter labeling on them for text entry. Certainly not a deal breaker since I do most of my Media Center text entry on the HTPC itself but without having memorized which letter match up to which number keys it can be a bit of trial and error if you're trying to search for programming.
Another issue with the remote is the batteries. Most come with AA or AAA batteries that are easily replaced. The Echo's remote on the other hand uses watch style batteries that not every store carries and can actually be difficult to find depending on where you live.
This does provide the remote a slim profile which isn't bad at all. The buttons are a bit close together for my larger fingers but I've become accustomed to using it over the last few months. The layout felt familiar when compared to the Xbox Media Center remotes I've used in the past with button placement in about the same place.
When it comes to reviewing the software running on the Echo you're really talking about the Media Center experience you're going to get while using the device. Overall, this is an extender experience so thinking it'll be as good as on your HTPC is foolish. However, making a comparison to the Xbox 360's extender session is fair and in that regard the Echo does lag a bit.
It's not that the Echo provides a bad experience. On the contrary, as Ceton has continued to release upgrades and bug fixes, the Echo has gotten to be on par with and exceed any third party extender to come before it. The biggest issue I have however is with the menu system. While it looks just like Media Center on your HTPC, it doesn't move the same way. The transitions can be a bit slow and stutter from time to time. My understanding is that this isn't something that Ceton can control but it's sad that Microsoft has saddled them with the responsibility of trying to provide a great experience without all of the necessary tools.
The remote is probably the biggest drawback that the device carries with it. If it were a bit bigger or labeled better this wouldn't be an issue but you may want to consider a Harmony or similar universal remote if you use them in other parts of the house.
Beyond the remote issues, the Ceton Echo has performed exactly as expected since the beta finished. I doubt that it has the polish that Ceton wants but in a world where Media Center is waning, the company has put a lot of effort into ensuring that your Media Center HTPC is available anywhere in your home.