Turn your PC into a multimedia machine – Brian
SUMMARY: The PC meets Car Stereo (and others)
In this wonderful world of multitasking we live in these days, it’s amazing the products designers come up with, to fit more and more functions into increasingly
smaller spaces. When the item delivers as promised, and performs all of the tasks it’s designed to do well, more often than not, it’s a winner.
When I was asked if I’d be interested in looking at this item, I couldn’t say yes fast enough. On paper, it’s an outstanding item, chock full of features. In pictures,
it’s attractively styled and flashy.
But, we deal in reality. “How well does it work?”
I’ve had the opportunity to give this a good test, and I must say, it works pretty well. There are some features that are a bit quirky, and other items that are a bit
rough around the edges, and some that are flawless. Over the next few pages, we’ll see what is and isn’t, and I’ll relate my thoughts on them.
In the simplest of terms, the VPC-1000 is basically a modified 16x/48x DVD-Rom, with a fold down faceplate reminiscent of a new car stereo attached to the front of it.
- 16X DVD-ROM, 48X CD-ROM
- FM radio receiver (FM Wave Range, US/Europe: 87.5 – 108MHz, Japan: 76-91MHz)
What it does with these basics are quite impressive;
- Mounts in a standard 5.25″ CD-Rom bay (or can be used externally)
- Reads CD, DVD, VCD, CDR, CDRW, and more
- Five mode equalizer: Flat (bypass), Rock, Pop, Classic, and Jazz
- SRS Audio Processor: Stereo, SRS WOW, SRS Trubass, SRS.
- Built in clock display, with sleep timer function
- OS Compatibility: DOS (Separate device driver needed), Windows 95/98/SE/ME/2000/XP, OS/2 warp, Novell, SCO Unix, Linux.
- Operates independently of the PC, meaning it can be installed/configured to run even if the PC is powered off.
The last one there…operates independently….. Yes it does. There’s two ways this unit can be wired up, one of which allows it to work even if the computer is
off. Completely. I thought this was a really neat feature
Let’s take a look at what’s in the box, and I’ll elaborate further on how it can do this later.
The drive is boxed like a regular optical drive usually ships, with a layer of items packed in on top of it. Pictured above, top to bottom are the AC power adapter, the actual board
that runs the radio, the remote control, a bag with all the required cables, and an instruction/installation manual.
Have you ever gotten an item that includes a manual that the English translation is difficult to decipher? This is two of them. I really had some trouble understanding some of the
points they were trying to make in the instructions. This in turn added a small amount of guesswork to hooking this unit up, which is unfortunate.
In fairness I must note the manual is marked “Draft v0.1”. I hope that they can get someone to proofread the final version before it gets printed. While this has nothing to do
with the build quality of the item, or it’s functionality, it’s disappointing to have to guess at some of the installation instructions on an item like this.
The included cables are (top to bottom); 20 pin flat ribbon cable, connecting the optical drive to the expansion card, optional internal power cable, 4 pin analog sound cable (from the
expansion card to your sound card or motherboard header, if onboard sound is what you use), and tied together are the speaker cable and antenna lead. Also included are a quartet of screws
to mount the drive with.
The two big cables here are the top two. Both measure in at just a tick under 20 inches long (50cm). When I installed this, it went into a Chieftec midtower case (SX1000 clone) I
had the expansion card/bracket installed in the lowest card slot, the drive was in the next to top CD bay, and the cables just barely reached. These are good sized cases however, so chances are
quite good you’ll have no problems hooking these cables up.
As I mentioned above, this internal power cable is optional. You can either use this cable (in conjunction with the AC adapter), or run the optical drive and radio directly off you PC’s power supply.
If you do the former, this is how the unit can operate independently from the PC. If you power the drive from your PSU, you need the computer on to operate all functions of the unit.
The 4 pin analog sound cable is a standard issue optical drive component. This connects the expansion bracket to your sound card internally. The 1/4″ phono jack connects externally. One end
plugs into the speaker output of your sound card, the other into the input jack on the expansion card.
The antenna uses an old style RCA jack, and is fairly short. This is one of the few items I’d change right off the top, by buying or making a longer cable. Because the cable is as short as it is,
radio reception suffers somewhat. A longer antenna lead would greatly improve reception.
The included remote control is a very well laid out item. If anything, it’s a bit small, so those with larger mitts (myself inclusive) might be a bit fumble-fingered
with it at first.
It ships with a thin sheet of plastic covering one side of the battery (barely visible above, on the right edge) to prevent it from discharging between manufacturing and purchase.
One thing immediately obvious in using the remote is how it transmits. This uses IR (Infra Red) rather than RF (Radio Frequency) to connect to the unit. This means you must
be in a direct line of sight of the drive faceplate for the remote to function. While the range it has if fairly good, you’re very limited by the narrow angle you must be within in
front of the computer.
While this does infact mount into an open expansion slot on the PC case, it doesn’t actually plug into the PCI slot itself. This board contains all of the circuitry needed for the
various functions the radio uses. The card is fairly small, and shouldn’t effect airflow through your case. The ports on the card;
Top, across; Rear In, Rear Out, Antenna, and DC 12v.
These are somewhat misleading as labeled, at least in my opinion, as the supplied cable would connect from your main (front) speaker jack to the “in” jack on the card and your speakers themselves
would connect to the “out” jack on the card. These are the only speaker jacks available.
Bottom, across; 4 pin power socket (only used with AC adapter), 20 pin data cable socket, “SPDIF Output”, and “CD Digital Output”.
These last two confused me, as they are identical to the standard audio connections found on every optical drive. The 2 pin “SPDIF” socket sure looks like a standard 2 wire digital connection,
and the 4 pin one mirrors a standard analog connection.
This is how the bracket looks installed in the PC. The ribbon leads up to the back of the drive, and the 4 pin audio connects to your sound card (or again, motherboard, if using onboard sound as
shown here) in the analog input socket (hence the confusion above). In this configuration, the unit would only run when the PC is powered up. The optional internal power cable would need to be installed, and run alongside the ribbon up to the drive, to
The back end of the drive itself differs only with the deletion of the two standard audio ports (2 pin digital, 4 pin analog), and the inclusion of the 20 pin ribbon cable socket.
Installing it is straightforward, with one exception. Because of the special faceplate on the front of the drive, it needs to sit slightly deeper into the case to fit flush out front. Or, you can mount it
so that the faceplate sticks out slightly if needed.
I was caught in between when I put this into my Chieftec, because of the drive rail mounting the case uses. I had to leave it hanging out slightly, and because of this, the door on the front of the
case covering the drive bays would not close fully.
Something to bear in mind, if your case has a door similar to this case, or you use a Chieftec/Antec/similar case. I eventually just removed the door until I finished with testing out the VPC-1000.
This is a pretty good shot of the front plate, as you can see fairly clearly all of the various functions and settings available. Along the very bottom is a ten character text/numeric
display, that shows several different messages depending on what is turned on/off.
With the VPC-1000 set up to operate independently of the PC, and the unit itself is shut off, it displays the time (as is visible here) If the VPC-1000 is configured to only run when the PC is on, the time doesn’t save,
and would need to be reset every time you turned the PC back on. If they incorporated a standard CMOS battery into the circuity, I’d imagine the time could be saved similar to how your BIOS settings are.
When the radio is on, the station is displayed, as the volume level is changed, this gets displayed, when the radio is off and the computer is on, this displays “PC SOUND”, and so forth.
On the outer ends of the display, is a set of horizontal bars. This gets used in addition to the text when setting the volume (as the setting is raised, more bars light up, from bottom to top), and these also
function as a “graphic equalizer” of sorts, as the radio is on, with each end showing the output for the left and right channels respectively.
Either I’m listening to WZLX-Boston, or the VPC-1000 is emulating a CPU ID utility, and trying to tell me I’m running an old Pentium 100MHz CPU. =P
Seriously, “P01” means “Preset #1”. The VPC-1000 is capable of storing several preset radio stations, similar to how a car stereo would.
The round CD indicator uses two colors, which blink on and off in sequence, resembling a turning disk. Neat.
To access the optical drive tray, you must first lower the faceplate, by pushing the button on the top right corner of the faceplate. It does not open automatically, like some
high end car stereos do. This would have been a real nice feature, but would have also been difficult to implement, and likely cost prohibitive.
Pushing the button and lowering the faceplate does however cause the CD tray to automatically eject. But if you were to right click on the drive in “My Computer”, and select “Eject”
with the faceplate closed, it will not open (and could perhaps damage the drive if done repeatedly, as the tray strains trying to open with the faceplate closed).
Once the tray is open, there is no button to push to have it close. You have to push the front of the tray in, until is starts to automatically retract closed.
To me, this is somewhat of a shortcoming, as I’m always afraid of pushing on the drive tray to close it and stripping out the plastic teeth (or breaking them off entirely) used to close the tray. I’ve
tried to repair a few optical drives that this method of closing has damaged. I’d rather have a button, thank you, but again, that’s just me. Some people close their drives this way
and never have problems.
By and large, I was quite pleased with the performance of this item. It did have a few shortcomings, but nothing too substantial.
One thing that kind of bothered me a bit was the way you must change from station to station. It’s a very slow process, step by step up the dial.
On some digital radios, after holding down the tuning button for a second or two, the unit will scroll through the stations quite rapidly. Unfortunately, the VPC-1000
does not. So if you wanted to change stations from, say 90.5MHz to 107.1 without using any presets, it goes like this; push the button, move to 90.7, push the button, 90.9,
push button, 91.1, ad infinium. Very, very slow.
Quicker would be to select your presets in a wide range, and jump from preset to preset, and then move incrementally to the desired station (assuming it’s not a preset)
from the closest preset you’ve programmed in.
As mentioned earlier in this review, the somewhat short length of wire used for the antenna hampers reception a bit. It’s very easy and inexpensive to make your own antenna lead,
so this isn’t a big problem. If Asour were to double the length of the antenna lead, it would make a marked improvement in reception however.
Also, as mentioned earlier, the remote control requires a direct line of sight (and cannot stray too far off of a direct line in front of the unit). If you’ve got one of those
desks that the PC sits in a cubby-hole underneath, you’ll be forever leaning down to change the station, etc.., even with the remote. And if your case has a front door over the drives
like my Chieftec does, it compounds the situation further.
Granted, with all the pretty lights on the front panel of the VPC-1000, you really wouldn’t want it hidden behind a door, but what if that desk, and/or Chieftec case was the only one you own?
As a CD/DVD-Rom, the unit performed flawlessly.
The VPC-1000 is a bit of a “hit or miss” affair, with more “hits” than “misses” however. Perhaps it’s best point is that it’s able to operate independently from the PC it’s mounted in.
Visually, it’s a very sharp item, and with the lights turned low, the display on the front is very attractive indeed.
This would be ideally suited to those planning on building themselves a HTPC, with all of the many functions that are built into the VPC-1000. With the wide range of media it’s capable of reading,
the FM tuner, clock, and more only using one drive space, it would be at home in one of those teeny Shuttle mini cases as well.
The front faceplate felt kind of cheesy opening and closing. It kind of has a cheap, plastic feel to it, somewhat delicate. I never had any problems with it opening or closing, but of the entire
unit, this part “felt” the weakest. How durable it is will likely depend on the amount of use, and treatment it receives. If you’re rough on anything, it usually will break somehow, but this part
feels like it could break if abused, even slightly.
The biggest issue I’d have with this item however, is the instruction manual. Asour really needs to revise this, and work on the grammar. With all of the products made nowadays, with multi-lingual
manuals, this product arrived with a manual printed in English only. For the suggested retail price of this item, they should (in my opinion) make sure they get the translation into that one language accurate.
All in all, this is still a very good product. I’d like to thank Directron for sending it out.
- CPU: Pentium II 400MHz, Celeron 366MHz, AMD K6-2 400MHz or higher.
- System memory: 32MB minimum.
- OS: Windows 95/98/ME/NT 4.0/2000/XP, OS/2 warp, Novell, SCO Unix, Linux.
- Integrated 16x/48x DVD-Rom – FM radio receiver
- Four Color vacuum fluorescent display
- Built in clock/alarm clock
- Can operate independently of the PC being powered on
- Can play CD-DA/MP3/FM radio with PC power off
- Four channel stereo input selector (CD-DA, MP3, FM, PC-sound/Aux-in)
- 32-Step volume control
- SRS WOW audio processor (SRS WOW, SRS, SRS TruBass, Stereo (bypass), 4 step SRS WOW Width level control, 4 step SRS WOW TruBass Punch level control
- Five mode preset equalizer (Flat (bypass), Rock, Pop, Classic, Jazz)
- Last status recall automatically when PC powered on
- IR remote control
- DVD read, 16x max
- CD-ROM read, 48x max
- Access time (average), DVD = 120 msec, CD = 110 msec
- Seek time (average), DVD = 110 msec, CD = 100 msec
- Full seek time (DVD and CD), 200 msec
- Compatible disk formats: CD-R, CD-RW, DVD+RW, DVD single layer/dual layer/80mm disc, DVD-R, DVD-RW (v2.0), CD-ROM (mode 1), CD-ROM XA (mode 2), Photo-CD, CD-DA, CD-Extra
- Compatible disk size: 120mm, horizontal and vertical, 80mm horizontal only
- Interface: ATAPI/EIDE, PIO 1 ~ 4, UDMA 0 ~ 2, Multi-word DMA 0 ~ 2
- Buffer size, 512KB
- MTBF: 100,000 POH (20% duty cycle)
- FM range: US/Europe; 87.5MHz ~ 108MHz, Japan; 76MHz ~ 91MHz
- Stereo Channel Separation: >24 dB
- Signal to Noise ratio: >50 dB
- Total Harmonic Distortion: <2%
- MP3 Player Compatible format: MPEG 1 Layer 2/3
- Dimensions: 149mm x 43.1mm x 222mm
- Weight: 1.5Kg
Warning: This is a RPC-II DVD-ROM drive. The number of times you may change regional code setting is limited to five (5).