Once your OS of choice is installed (note: Sapphire provides Windows drivers on a bundled USB drive) you will have a full desktop experience. Whereas media players try to mimic PC functionality with sluggish web browsers and dedicated widgets the Edge HD is no different to your laptop or desktop. Pick the browser you want and don't worry about widgets because the full sites are there.
Another sizeable advantage is codecs. Media players may come loaded up with multi-format compatibility (well all except one), but a desktop OS means you can install anything you need and never be out of date. The reliance on media player manufacturers to update codecs through firmware upgrades is gone. The downside media player advocates will tell you is you don't get the specialist user friendly interface. The good news is this isn’t entirely true.
Arguably the best UI of them all is that of the Boxee Box and Boxee makes its UI freely available for download on Windows, Mac and Linux. Windows Media Center isn't bad either and there are many other options including LinuxMCE and MythTV which operate as digital video recorders, not just playback platforms. Unlike a media player, a media centre allows you to pick the user interface you like most.
Of course none of this means anything without two key factors: 1. That the Edge HD performs, and 2. That the price is right.
The first of these is a qualified success. Nvidia's ION2 chip means downloaded 720p and 1080p High Definition video playback is a breeze. No skipped frames and minimal strain on the CPU. HTML5 also works well, but you will need to install the latest Adobe Flash player beta to get the best out of streaming Flash web content. This is because, despite being dual core, the Atom is still something of a technological weakling. It works fine for basic web surfing and desktop work, but HD without assistance from the ION2 is off limits. Interestingly ION2 does mean some basic gaming is possible – notably titles like World of Warcraft and The Sims at lower resolutions – but don't expect Crysis to be anything other than a series of blocky stills. On the plus side the Edge HD is virtually silent in operation.
When it comes to price things are equally complicated. The Edge HD costs just £248 including VAT. This makes it only £49 more expensive than the Boxee Box and £91 more expensive than the WD TV Live despite offering far greater functionality than either. This is great for Linux users, where the distribution is usually free, but Windows fans will need to find another £60 for Windows 7 Home Premium taking the cost beyond £300.
At this level it would arguably be more practical to buy an ION equipped netbook which typically retails for £249- £299. Like the Edge HD they can also be easily connected to a TV or monitor via their HDMI port, unlike it they can be unplugged and used on the move. Furthermore the Edge HD's tiny chassis means it is not officially upgradeable whereas the hard drive in a netbook is easily swapped out should more capacity be necessary.
Sapphire has created a stylish, Full HD capable media PC with wonderfully compact dimensions and a real sense of style. Full fat desktop functionality makes this a mouth watering prospect, but on closer inspection the price isn't as cheap as it first appears making an ION equipped netbook a potentially more flexible alternative.