Despite many recent headlines, we’re not quite in a post PC world yet. If you’ve built up a sizeable library of movie files over the last decade or so, there's still no easier way to play back arcane file types and encoding methods than on a real computer.
Media streamers and consoles struggle with even common file types, and as useful as streaming technologies like UPnP, DLNA and iCloud are, the route of least resistance for getting a file from hard drive to screen is to have a PC next to your TV.
Sapphire Edge HD2 – 1080p video
Enter Sapphire’s microscopic nettop, the Edge HD2. This soft coated sliver of a PC is equipped with one of the higher power Intel Atom processors and Nvidia’s Ion2 graphics which means it's capable of playing back 1080p files in any format so long as you have the right codecs loaded up. And if you don't, it's a matter of seconds to acquire them online.
Sapphire Edge HD2 – stream machine
Because the Edge HD2 runs Windows (there's a version which runs FreeDOS which is ￡100 cheaper) setting it up to stream your media library to other devices around the house or over the internet is just a question of finding the right software. And since it never consumes more than 40W of power, you're getting a far more flexible device than a standard NAS server without increasing your carbon footprint.
Most importantly, it’s a perfect size for the lounge. We’ve tested rmote controls that are bigger than this, and yet it’s got a reasonably roomy 320GB hard drive on board and USB ports all round to add extra capacity as required. If even that is too much for your minimalist aesthetic, there’s a VESA mount included for strapping it to the back of your telly and keeping it completely out of sight.
Sapphire Edge HD2 – connections
For all that, however, it's not quite the perfect media centre. For a start, there's a lot of distracting fan noise when both graphics and CPU are running flat out to decode 1080p video. The bigger sound issue, however, is that there's no digital audio out. In fact, there's only a headphone socket round the back, so you can't hook it straight into a surround system unless you go via HDMI to the TV then into a standalone amp.
And speaking of cables, its tiny size has its pitfalls when it comes to elegance. Once you plug in a wireless dongle (there's no Bluetooth built in) for a remote control or keyboard, a USB sound card for digital audio, a USB optical drive and a second hard drive for extra space, you end up with something that looks more like a network gateway than a sophisticated media machine.
Sapphire Edge HD2 – lots to love but not essential
All this means that there are loads of reasons to love the Edge HD 2, but we're not sure there's a compelling one to buy it. If you're looking for the most sophisticated and simple way of playing back old DVD rips on a HDTV, you'll probably want to sacrifice a bit of flexibility and size and go for a cheaper, dedicated, silent media box instead.