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Start-up designs high-quality PC TV

Posted: 13 Oct 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:PC? TV? Apple? start-up?

A start-up is entering the PC TV market with a souped-up computer that hides behind a flat screen television. Francois-Xavier Gardes, owner of Piixl, wanted an Apple iTV, but he suspected the iPhone giant will never ship one so he designed his own. It's a PC, but a high-quality one.

Gardes is no engineer; he spent 10 years working as an investment banker. But consumer design is his passion, one he has spent years learning. This month, his company launched the fruits of that work.

The G-Pack provides streaming video, PC games, a Blu-ray player and more, according to the company.

"The idea was to remove any boxes from around the TV," Gardes said in an interview from his London office. "There's definitely some DIY involved, but it's better than trying to hide all those cables," he said.

The $1,600 G-Pack includes an Intel Core i3 processor and Nvidia GTX-960 graphics card. It uses a set of carefully placed high-end fans to cool the 500W beast so it's cool to the touch while remaining quiet and not interfering with the thermal envelop of the fast-screen TV.

"We tried water cooling, but it's expensive and there are things that can go wrong," he said.

Early designs used custom motherboards, but the shipping product is based on an off-the-shelf ATX PC motherboard with two key custom parts. A small PCB replaces the lithium battery coin cell, making room for heat pipes for the processors. Piixl also needed to design a custom flexible riser for the graphic card.

ATX motherboards can't have a GPU lying flat next to them, so we needed a flexible PCI Express riser. There are many flex risers available, but none were satisfactory because they cripple performance by 30-50 per cent. So we had a custom board made in the US. It's the only one we know of that sustains a full tilt PCIe link. It's a smart design that makes sure the wires don't affect signals, and it's a fairly expensive part.

Like his inspiration Apple, Gardes took the high road. "We could have made a really crappy $1,400 product or top-notch $1,600 PC," he said, noting the product uses a high-end $400 chassis rather than a typical $300 one.


G-Pack uses a custom PCIe riser for its GPU and high-end fans.

The concept of the G-Pack was inspired by the Apple iMac, the first mainstream all-in-one computer. "I thought why not build a PC that's more like that. You buy a new TV and PC at different times so this enables that," he said.

But what if Apple does come out with its own iTV?

"I don't think they will, the rumour is they have had prototypes for years, and if they do it will be more expensive," Gardes laughs. "Apple is used to getting two dollars for every dollar they spend, and I don't think they will get it with a TV," said the former investment banker.

Even if Apple did release a system, "an iTV would probably be an ARM-based product, or maybe something that takes its processing from a nearby Apple computer, so it would never compete in terms of performance with our solution," he added.

Like Apple, Gardes took time getting his supply chain in place. He expects to be a low volume maker for some time, but he wanted to be prepared for success:

There have been a number of iterations on this design, some built in the U.K. and some in Taiwan and some more expensive. The main challenge was getting a supply chain we are comfortable working withthat's taken years, really.

We found a real good partner for integration and another for manufacturing and testing it so that we can scale, building both small volumes and 10,000 units extremely well, too.

- Rick Merritt
??EE Times

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