TBS Technologies is known primarily as a manufacturer of digital TV tuners that you can add to your PC.
With the Matrix, TBS is branching out to the single-board PC market. The Matrix can work with the TBS’ USB TV tuners (as you might guess) to extend its functionality as an HTPC. It’s capable of running Android and Ubuntu, too, and that’s only the beginning of the big things this little machine can do.
TBS provides links on its website for the Matrix’s compatible OS images, so you can install the one that best matches your needs. To function as a full-fledged HTPC, the Matrix supports open-source media center utilities, such as XBMC and VDR.
TBS uses a clear acrylic case to enclose the Matrix’s single-board system. Openings are cut into the acrylic for the various I/O ports, power inputs, and system buttons.
Each port is labeled, and the precise cuts give the Matrix a professional look. There’s a vent directly above the heatsink/fan CPU cooler to exhaust hot air from the processor, as well as a bottom intake vent where cool air can enter the case.
The Matrix is powered by a Freescale i.MX6 system-on-a-chip that consists of a quad-core 1GHz ARM Cortex-A9 CPU and a quad-core Vivante GC2000 for graphics processing. There’s 2GB of memory and 16GB of eMMC storage. The latter is where you’ll install the operating system and applications. You can expand the storage capacity by connecting a hard drive or SSD to Matrix’s SATA port. You can’t install an OS to a drive connected via the Matrix’s SATA port, but the option to add mass storage can nonetheless be a convenient way to store and access large multimedia collections. (There isn’t room inside the Matrix for the SATA drive, so getting an external enclosure might not be a bad idea.) Adding a TV tuner to the mix also means that the Matrix can use a connected drive for PVR storage. To power the SATA drive, TBS provides a floppy-to-SATA adapter cable that you can connect to the 4-pin floppy connector on the motherboard.
TBS designs the Matrix with lots of connectivity. To start, there are three USB 2.0 ports, one of which you can use for a TV tuner. Many TBS USB tuners come with a remote control that you can use to navigate a media center environment.
There’s also a mini PCI-E slot where you can install mini PCI-E devices supported on Linux, such as an HD video decoder.
A full-sized SD card slot provides yet another way to expand the Matrix’s storage capacity. If you open the case, you’ll also find a microSD card slot on the reverse side of the board. For networking, the Matrix has built-in 802.11b/g/n and a Gigabit Ethernet port To deliver video and audio to a monitor or HDTV, the Matrix features an HDMI port. In our testing, the Matrix’s HDMI output supported resolutions up to 1,920 x 1,080. TBS also offers an optical S/PDIF output and 3.5mm analog output to let you connect the Matrix to an A/V receiver or a pair of headphones, respectively.
Would it surprise you to know that, by default, the Matrix runs TBS’ MatrixTV OS? It’s a customized Linux distribution based on VDR and XBMC that’s designed for HTPC use. We like that it can offer live TV capabilities when the Matrix is paired with a TV tuner.
If you want to switch to Android or Ubuntu, burning an OS onto the unit is a relatively easy process. One thing you’ll need is a USB mini cable (Mini B), as it’s necessary to connect the Matrix to a PC and upload the OS into the Matrix’s eMMC memory. We were able to use a mini-USB-to-USB cable that came with our Android phone to do the job. TBS indicates that you’ll want to start the installation by downloading your preferred OS from the company’s website. Extract the ZIP file to a folder on your PC. Next, toggle the Burn/Run switch on the motherboard to Burn. Now, you can connect the mini USB cable to the USB OTG port on the Matrix and a USB port on a Windows PC. Power on the Matrix and open the file “MfgTool2” in the OS image folder on your PC. The MfgTool2 application should find the Matrix, and when it does, click Start.
It’ll take a few minutes to install the OS.
When finished, you can turn off the Matrix, flip the Burn/Run switch to Run, and the Matrix is ready for its newly installed OS.
The default MatrixTV OS is certainly easy to use. The interface has sections for Video, Music, Pictures, and TV. MatrixTV quickly found the media stored on a connected SATA hard drive, an SD card, and a USB flash drive. The TV function make it easy to time-shift shows. We were able to use the built-in electronic program guide and recording schedule to find and record the shows we wanted to watch.
XBMC, VDR, TVheadend, MuMuDVB, and DVBlast are pre-installed on MatrixTV.
We also installed Android 4.2.2 onto the Matrix. The OS is just like you’d experience on a tablet or smartphone (minus the touchscreen, in our case), and it has access to the Google Play store catalog. XBMC also offers an Android app, so you can enjoy much of the MatrixTV media center functionality in an Android environment.
To test the Matrix, we ran 3DMark’s Ice Storm Unlimited test. The Matrix produced an overall score of 3460 and a Graphics Score of 3070. In Ice Storm’s graphics tests, the Matrix delivered fps rates of 17.9 and 10.7.
The Matrix certainly has an intriguing mix of hardware for an HTPC. In particular, we liked the ability to install a SATA hard drive. When you combine the Matrix with a TV tuner and a hard drive, you have everything you need for a capable PVR. We also liked that TBS provides several ways to transfer multimedia content to and from the device. The flexibility to run Android and Ubuntu also makes it viable for everyday use, should you want a miniature computer for the office or around the house (or anywhere). The Matrix explores the space without taking up much of it.