Media Center PC

Lenovo caters to the unusual lounge with new Vista Media Centres

People in the market for a media centre PC are often as equally swayed by the looks of the thing as they are the specifications; after all, if it’s going to take pride of place in your living room then it has to at least make a token effort to fit in aesthetically.  Some machines do that by trying to be as small as possible, others go the “high-end hifi” route and gloss themselves up… and then there’s Lenovo.  I’m not sure exactly what sort of interior design you’d have to have in order for the ThinkCentre M55 Ultra Small to blend in – a Klingon Bird of Prey theme, perhaps? – but thankfully the guts of the thing stand up to inspection even if the casing is an acquired taste.



AV Behemoth – but where’s Vista?

A little bit of free consultancy for you all: if you’re going to call your product “Clever”, you better make damn sure it lives up to the name.  Therein lies the challenge for UK-based CyberSelect, who have seen fit to name their latest Media Centre PC the Clever 3000.  First impressions are okay; it’s a big box, for sure, but a relatively handsome one at that, and it wouldn’t look out of place in a rack of home AV equipment.  But do the guts of it live up to the name?


Well, you can’t argue with the storage.  2TB lurks in there, as a 1,500GB RAID array, snuggling up to 2GB of RAM, dual hybrid tuners (or three digital tuners, your choice) and an Intel Core2 Duo processor.


HP desktop touchscreen Media Centre

Here’s a little warning for all those slender Tablet PCs out there who refuse to eat their vegetables.  If you’re not careful, one day you’ll get fat and stop being a portable computer any more – you’ll have to sit on a table and suffer the indignity of being jabbed at by someone’s chubby fingers whenever they want to be entertained.

The Register’s hardware team took some time to comfort the HP TouchSmart IQ770, itself the main character in that torrid tale, to see how useful a touchscreen media PC could be.  It’s not underpowered by any means (specs after the cut), but with a 19-inch screen you wouldn’t want it to be your sole media display.


Intel shows off its Viiv partners

Lacking a little in detail it may be (i.e. aside from names, there’s none!), but Krunker’s photo essay on the variety of compact media PCs using Intel’s greatly-vaunted (by them, at least) Viiv technology is an interesting indication of just what manufacturers will be pushing us to slot under our TVs this coming year. 

Generally it’s all quite predictable, although still pleasant enough for the lounge: slim boxes, some with built-in optical drives, either horizontal or vertical in orientation.  There are a couple of notable exceptions, with Best Logic’s “football helmet PC” being a rather wretched example, and Onkyo’s mini-HiFi style PC being a far nicer one.

Onkyo Viiv media PC

Intel Viiv enabled PCs [Krunker]

Windows Home Server makes your data its domain

In a further move to take over not only your study and living room, but generally your home as a whole, Microsoft unveiled the media-excitement that is their Home Server.  An embedded OS with a definite entertainment bias, it’s designed to be both so straightforward to use that your technophobic, button-hashing mother could use it, while also allowing the gadget-freaks among us to tinker away.

A tabbed interface presents simple options with no mention of drive letters, file types or codecs.  Streaming is handled dynamically and becomes a simple matter of switching on wherever you want to watch.  It’s also available outside of the home network, via a portal page secured by the Microsoft Live framework; this not only lets you catch up with photos, music and video, but can also present a virtual desktop of any PC on your network.  Home Server will also take it upon itself to seamlessly back up all your computers, with a proprietary RAID-like array of easily expanded storage.

Reports differ as to whether it’ll be available in software-only and pre-built forms, with Engadget claiming solely the latter while Paul Thurrott states both will be options.  Expect to see it publicly available in the second half of 2007.

Windows Home Server Preview [Paul Thurrott’s SuperSite for Windows]

Vista MCE remote features SideShow independent display

Cool as it might be, having a SideShow supplemental display on the outside of your laptop isn’t the most essential thing.  Yes, it’s handy to be able to check your calendar or address book without booting Windows up fully, but most power-users (i.e. the people who would be most likely to use SideShow) will already have that information on their smartphone.  Far more practical is Interlink’s SideLink remote control for Windows Vista Media Center; it has a SideShow display from which you can browse listings and recorded shows, set programmes to record, even preview recordings should you enjoy watching them on a tiny screen.

Wireless communication with the remote is likely to be Bluetooth given the company’s existing product range, and no release date has been given (perhaps considering that the official Vista release is yet to happen).

Press Release [via Engadget]

Compact Barebones PCs get CPU update

As compact PCs get more and more powerful, the argument for having a full-sized desktop or tower unit in your study grows weaker.  Latest to wave the flag for the little man is Japanese barebones manufacturer Dirac, whose Noah range of Mini ATX cases certainly don’t skimp on the specs.  Available in a multitude of colours, each comes with 2GB of RAM, SATA and DVI ports, and a choice of Merom or Yonah CPU support via a 945GT chipset motherboard.  That means you can take your pick of Core Duo, Core 2 Duo and VIIV processors, making this either a very capable media centre or a respectable workhorse.

Lounge-friendly features like a 13.8dB 8cm fan will only win Noah friends among home-build media PC makers, as will the included stand for positioning the compact unit upright.  No news on availability or price, yet, though.  Pictures of other colour options after the cut.


My Movies beta adds webcam barcode scanning

Perhaps it’s because I didn’t have a spell in supermarket retail when I was younger, but the idea of scanning barcodes and getting that “beep!” sound makes me all a-quiver.  Someone at My Movies obviously feels the same, because they’ve released a beta of v.2.20 of their Windows Media Centre plug-in that uses a standard webcam to scan in DVD barcodes and add those to the database.

On its eventual full-release there’ll be a growing, user-contributed store of front and rear DVD covers that’ll automatically be added to your own collection. 

My Movies Downloads [via eHomeUpgrage]

Dual hard-drives squashed into a Shuttle-sized case

Here’s something useful: a small-form-factor PC that has space for not one, but two hard-drives.  Japanese company MiniPC (I guess the name says it all) have taken all the good parts from their previous designs and come up with a Shuttle-sized box that can support Celeron, Core Solo, Core Duo and Core 2 Duo processors, as well as having a MiniPCI and a PCI Express slot, FireWire, ethernet and those all important dual 2.5-inch SATA hard-drives.  There are two models available, the LF800 and LF800A, with the only distinguishing feature of the latter being DVI; they both measure 210x220x115mm and weigh 2.5kg.  They’d make ideal media-PCs, although that big top-mounted fan is a tad ugly for the living room.


YouTube news – Verizon & Windows MCE to get access

Some YouTube news for you now, seeing as how I know that their $1.65bn buy-out makes them all the more alluring.  First off, there’s the news that Verizon are close to negotiating a deal to feature YouTube videos as part of their Verizon Wireless “V Cast” service.  While it’s unknown whether access to the YouTube archive would be full or limited, it was also suggested that the video service would be used to provide an “on-demand” TV feature to be launched nationwide. 


Not interested in YouTube on your cellphone?  Well how about on your Media Centre PC, then?  Yougle is a free Windows MCE plugin that lets you browse through the content on not only YouTube but Google Video, Grouper and DivX Stage 6, playing footage back in full-screen.

Verizon near content deal with YouTube [Reuters]

Yougle [via Automated Home]

Tiny Evesham Media Center PC gets the once-over

Mini media PCs seem a great idea in theory, but often practice is a cruel highlighter of flaws and that’s just what Pocket-lint attempted to do to the Evesham Mini PC.  Fitting a full Windows Media Center computer with digital TV tuner, 100gb hard-drive, 2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo and 1gb of DDR RAM into something with a 165mm-square footprint sounds like witchcraft to me, although my top calendar-sources tell me Halloween has passed.


MCE Tunes brings iTunes music into Windows Media Center

Now I’m neither an iTunes nor a Windows Media Center user, but I know a lot of people would love to be able to play their DRM-encrypted music library from the former through the lounge-friendly interface of the latter.  Unfortunately, encrypted music can’t currently be streamed that way, at least not without the addition of a little programming magic (or illegally breaking the copy-protection, which is of course not something we’d suggest you do).  Thankfully the binary-kids at Proxure have decided to unleash some of that necessary magic, calling the end result MCE Tunes.


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