Acer was one of several vendors to offer a Media Center PC at launch, and as such, it's no surprise that Acer's Aspire T620 suffers from many of the same shortcomings found in other first-generation Media Center systems.
The T620 closely resembles a tidy and well-rounded home multimedia PC, which might not sound like a bad thing, but it's this character that draws away from its central role as a Media Center. A Media Center PC should be a Media Center first, and PC second, and the T620 is still a PC first, and Media Center second.
Acer has, however, made some real attempts to make the T620 a viable appliance to place next to your TV, but it still falls short of the ultimate Media Center vision.
Like the Media Center PCs from HP and Optima, the Acer Aspire T620 follows fairly conventional desktop PC lines. At its core is a moderately stylish tower, with the usual swag of PC peripherals attached.
The tower itself is more compact than the average midi-tower, although it's still unmistakably a PC. Despite the slick black and silver colouration, it's not the kind of device you want drawing the eye in your living room. You'll either want to hide it away, which will make the DVD drive difficult to access, or you'll have to live with it plonked next to your telly and hope people don't notice.
Inside the case everything is laid out with expert attention to detail. It's nice to see a tidy case, including cables tied out of the way and an efficient use of space. However, given that the innards only occupy about a half the space inside the enclosure, it's disappointing Acer didn't choose an even smaller and more space efficient chassis.
Powering the T620 is a Pentium 4 3GHz coupled to a Gigabyte 915 motherboard. These give the T620 a considerable amount of processing grunt, although they're let down by the single 512MB stick of DDR RAM. Dual channel is almost ubiquitous these days, and a second 512MB stick would give the T620 plenty more legs performance wise.
Still inside the case, it's nice to see a discreet graphics card handling video output instead of relying on onboard graphics. In this case an ATI RADEON X300 SE with 128MB of RAM takes care of things nicely. It also features S-Video output, which is the bare minimum for a Media Center. Even though composite or component output would also be nice, at least the T620 has some way to connect it to a TV straight out of the box, unlike some other Media Center PCs, such as the Optima MyPC.
Given the Media Center's emphasis on PVR functionality, it's a little surprising the T620 only sports a 80GB SATA hard disk. Drives twice that size are very inexpensive, and would give you plenty more headroom when it comes to recording TV.
Sound is handled care of the 915 chipset's onboard Intel High Definition Audio. This is a decent sound chip for the home environment, and you get a choice of conventional 3.5mm PC audio inputs and outputs or SPDIF for digital. Unfortunately, there's no stereo RCA or optical connectors, which makes it difficult to integrate into an existing home entertainment system.
The choice of speakers is also questionable. A pair of small black and grey desktop speakers are all that's provided with the T620, and besides the fact they're not surround, they're also are woefully inadequate for the likes of DVD playback in a moderately sized room.
Thankfully the 17-inch Acer TFT screen is excellent, with clear picture, fast response time and a native resolution of 1,280 x 1,024. Even so, if you're planning for your Media Center to live in your lounge room next to your telly, then arguably any PC display is redundant.
The final expression of the T620 as a PC first and Media Center second is the inclusion of a wired keyboard and mouse. These are totally inappropriate for the living room, especially considering Media Center is designed to be used from a 3 metre range with a remote control. Small wireless units would definitely be preferable.
One great feature is the 7-in-1 media reader, which handles SmartMedia, SecureDigital, Memory Stick, Compact Flash, and more. This makes it ideal for digital camera users who want to upload their images to view in a slideshow.
The 3GHz Pentium 4 managed to propel the T620 through SYSmark2004 to a respectable overall score of 162, although the 512MB of single channel DDR memory held it back from its full potential. With another 512MB stick of DDR in dual configuration, you could expect the T620 to perform around 20 per cent faster.
Still, it's more than capable of Media Center tasks, and didn't stutter or stall once in general operation. The RADEON X300 SE can also manage basic 3D, but will fall behind when it comes to high-end games like Half-Life 2.
The common theme among the first generation of Media Center PCs is they don't know whether they belong in the study or the living room. You can use Media Center in the study, although then Media Center just becomes a glorified Windows Media Player 10.
The Acer T620 also battles with this identity crisis, and while it's a very competent and well rounded home PC, it's not a very good Media Center.
If Microsoft had released Media Center Extender devices, then PCs like the T620 could live in the study and just stream media to your TV via wireless, but alas, there's still not even a release date for Extenders, so we can't count on them yet.
Many vendors are working on the second generation of Media Center PCs - ones that are designed specifically to fit in with your other entertainment appliances. So, if you want a Media Center for the living room, it's worth waiting to see how things develop, although if you just can't wait, then the T620 is one of the better choices today.