It’s fairly commonly recognized that the gap between home video game consoles and the PC has been an ever-shrinking one in recent hardware generations and Alabama’s Envizions is about to bridge that gap ceaselessly.
In the event that you are unfamiliar with Envizions, the domestic hardware developer is no stranger to rolling the dice and taking a stab at an industry absolutely dominated by corporate giants. An update to the sold out beta EVO Smart Console released back in 2008, the forthcoming EVO 2 DX is an all-new hybrid PC Android-based gaming hub. While the official global release of this hardware is slated for the fall, we were able to secure a unit from the factory with which to put through the ringer.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of the test itself, perhaps a little info on the objective of this particular console is in order: The EVO 2 DX is custom designed for the television gamer looking for the unique experience of PC gaming with the bonus ability to tap into the massive Android market for games and apps typically reserved only for smartphone and tablet users. Motion gamers aren’t overlooked either as full gesturing capabilities come packaged as well (at this time requiring only a standard webcam to interact; EVO-specific hardware not unlike the Kinect/ Playstation Move is in the works).
Pricing puts the unit closer to the PC gaming hardware side of the spectrum than it does the ever-decreasing current generation of home consoles with two variations planned at launch: A standard Windows 7 Premium system and a Blu-Ray equipped version for $579 and $679 respectively.
The hardware itself is surprisingly sleek in person; an all black slim case offset with only a single red EVO badge on the upper right of the front panel. The red and black motif is masterfully applied to the wireless controllers as well. Like most modern hardware, the ability to store and operate the DX either horizontally or vertically is based upon user discretion and the stand required for vertical operation is included.
Initial glances at the case itself fail to reveal the abundant functionality present: the front containing a single power button, a pair of lights, twin USB ports, an optical drive and an SD card slot. The rear of the system boasts a plethora of connectivity options including 6-additional USB ports, HDMI output, standard 15-pin VGA monitor output, DVI output, a pair of e-SATA ports, standard 1/8″ speaker output and mic input.
Firing up the system is a one-button affair and complete boot-up of Windows 7 Premium took on average under a minute after a few custom EVO/ Android screens. Initially the specialized coding and unique functionality of this system may go undetected, as the desktop itself looks fairly standard (with the notable exceptions coming in the form of a trick red & black animated EVO background and a custom rotating-icons tray at the top of the screen).
Navigating the OS is a mouse-dependent affair; a fairly natural matter through the Windows operations, a bit neat while popping through the normally-touch-screen only Android applications. Speaking of, a plethora of Android-based games came preinstalled on our test unit’s hard drive, with the ability to browse and download from the Android Market at will.
The unit runs surprisingly quiet, with very little indication of operation (even when compared to any of the three current-generation game platforms). A single fan kicks on immediately and never emits more than the slightest hint of its motorized whirling. Along those lines the DX tends to run quite cool, even under the strain of multiple hours of heavy gaming.
The wireless controller sadly, isn’t as universally recognized by the system as we would have liked; comparable to the customizable assigned operation associated with a standard PC (but useless for operating system navigation). It is however, high-quality, sturdy and quite comfortable in the hand; reminiscent of a slightly beefed of version of a Sony dual analog controller and set up to perform similarly as well: The P3 center button for example turns the controller on and toggles through the player-assignment number (1-4) as indicated by red LEDs on the top. An included USB dongle is required for wireless operation as are three AAA batteries (not included) in the back of the controller itself.
Before we dig into the experience of gaming on the system, it should be noted that none of the functionality of typical PC/ Windows 7 use is compromised here and in fact, should you so desire, it would be entirely possible to treat the EVO DX as a slim-formed, quiet and cool-running desktop for business use/ media center. Features like the Blu-ray optical drive and HDMI output mean it will be as at home in any entertainment center as it would a desk (just keep in mind a wireless USB mouse will certainly be required to make use of its OS).
A big part of this system’s appeal lies in its gaming ability and fortunately, right out of the box, it contains the ability to run game programs through quite a wide range of media. Using the included BlueStacks app, accessing the ever-expanding Android market place is as simple as launching the application and selecting what you wish to try. We played literally dozens of games during our time with the console this way (ranging from Angry Birds clones to driving games, shooters etc.) without encountering a hitch. The BlueStacks app is such that it doesn’t always make maximum use of screen space or support high definition but games always ran smooth, with consistent frame rates and flawlessly reproduced sound.
If the Android marketplace isn’t your bag, the fact that the system comes equipped with Windows 7 Premium as its primary operating system means access to the realm of PC gaming via the Internet or physical media. We installed multiple PC games (PC DVD) onto the unit’s hard drive for purpose of review and discovered that the hardware is plenty adequate to keep all but the most hardcore PC gamer satisfied. Considering that the technical specs pale in comparison to the bleeding edge game-specific systems of late from the likes of Alienware (see full EVO specs below), we were quite surprised with the versatility demonstrated. Perhaps the absolute epitome of its performance is witnessed in those blockbuster PC titles from a few years back: Farcry 2, Battlefield 2, Crysis and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare for example, ran beautifully with the graphics set at their highest level of detail and frame rates peaked out. Today’s current crop of titles (Battlefield 3 & COD: Modern Warfare 3) were certainly playable with a bit of tweaking of the graphics output settings (and naturally lower frame rates; in our tests roughly 29fps at 1,920 x 1,200 resolution). However, using the included HDMI cord, the results looked surprisingly decent upon the 42″ VIZIO 1080p HD television we used for testing.
Finally, and separating the EVO console from any other gaming PC out there, Envizions boasts a small but growing library of EVO-exclusive titles. Among these are three comic book-based adventures actually adapted from graphic novels published by the company’s CEO, Derrick Samuels, back in the early 2000’s: Immortal Assassins, Sin, and Kid Destiny. The fourth first-party title is a card/ family-puzzle game called Qquip bearing some appeal of the classics Uno or Crazy Eights.
While the titles are yet in Beta phase, I was able to play-test Kid Destiny at length via an FTP download onto the EVO DX’s hard drive and came away quite satisfied with its simplistic yet addicting 2D game-play (think Super Mario 3 with a hint of Alex Kidd thrown in for good measure).
The fact that Envizions is committed to developing first-party software (in addition to courting developers for exclusive EVO content) represents the critical difference between offering a console and simply assembling a mid-level gaming tower. The EVO 2 DX’s specifications are such where the unit is a fully functioning PC/ media center, a gaming hub, with a touch of Android’s limitless gaming appeal. The forthcoming Evo 2 hardware (minus the DX heading) will be more affordable, much smaller and forego the PC functionality found here.
Back to the EVO DX, however, a pre-installed CamSpace application allows for motion-based gaming not unlike that of the Wii; a platform that uses a standard webcam to detect human gestures and turns everyday products (like cans, bottles, boxes, etc.) into controllers capable of operating within both new or existing games and applications. CamSpace has developed a small library of educational games that are accessible from their official site though a little clever searching revealed third-party games (many of which border on Wii-cloning) that worked surprisingly well with, of all things, an empty soda can acting as the Wii remote.
The last pack-in goody to report on would be the EVO 2 DX Pocket; a 4.3-inch Android (version 2.3) 80211 b/g/n WiFi equipped tablet designed for the specific purpose of synchronizing games and apps so as to be able to take the EVO Android experience on the go. This unit is available separately for around $79 (in both 4 & 8GB options) and aims to compete within the saturated Android-equipped affordable tablet market. At 4.3-inches however, Envizions’ hardware could potentially walk the thin line into smartphone-level portability often unattainable by bulkier tablets.
In conclusion, the home video game console market is a place dominated by international corporations with deep pockets and the capacity for producing staggering product numbers. Envizions Inc. has already defied the odds by successfully releasing a console back in 2009 and enduring the rough economic climate following long enough to bring to market this, the EVO 2 DX with plans of releasing the standard EVO 2 within the upcoming year as well.
Rather than go head to head with Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony, theirs is a strategy of filling in the ever-narrowing void separating the PC and console gamer. The hardware itself may consist primarily of off-the-shelf PC components but the functionality of combining PC gaming with Android compatibility and first-party EVO-exclusive software forthcoming, the EVO 2 DX cannot be accused of simply treading upon already-established paths. The system will be released in fairly low numbers initially, available for order from the company’s official site. The plan here being one of meeting demand as it arises rather than stocking excessive supply initially and trying to meet sales quotas to cover the investment. PC users, Android gamers, and console aficionados will all find much to be excited about here.
EVO 2 DX Spec Sheet/ Build Info
350GB Internal Hard Drive
2 GB DDR2 RAM
Super Drive/ Blu-ray drive (depending on bundle)
AMD 785G Chipset + SB750 Chipset
Socket AM3/AM2+/AM2 Quad-Core Opteron & Phenom
HT3.0 Technology Support
Integrated ATI Radeon HD 4200 (DirectX 10.1)
a) ATI Stream, 1080p, Blu-ray HDCP playback
b) Hardware Decoding H.264 / VC-1 / MPEG-2 / DivX
VGA / DVI-D / HDMI 1.3 outputs
4 x SATA II 3Gb/s AMD RAIDXpert RAID 0,1,5,10
Dual Channel DDR2 667/800 SODIMM
Integrated ALC662 6-CH HD Audio
1 x 32-bit PCI, 1 x mini-PCI Express, 2 x eSATA
Advanced 3+1 PWM Design, 20-pin ATX Power
OC-CON High-Polymer Solid Capacitors
ECO-design for EuP (Energy Using Product)
Support CPU Smart FAN/ Windows 7 Premium