The problem with most Media Center PCs to date is that they look like PCs. The Gateway 610 series is one of the first Media Center PCs to break the mold. For $1,999, the stylish all-in-one Gateway 610XL we saw solves many of the design issues and is a true convergence device that works almost equally as well as either a flat-panel TV or a high-end PC. An innovation we appreciate in particular is the integrated speaker system with unobtrusive subwoofer. The 17-inch wide-screen LCD is still too small for large rooms, but this is an excellent solution for bedrooms, kitchens, and dorm rooms.
The Gateway 610 series will never be mistaken for an ordinary PC. Though it carries Gateway's logo, much of the credit belongs to Intel and its digital home initiative (in fact, the identical product is &siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Eelonex%2Ecom%2Fexentia%2Findex%2Ehtm" target="_blank">sold overseas by a different company).
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Sleek design makes the Gateway 610 series Media Center ready for public spaces.
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Though the design is unified, we'd prefer a smaller keyboard.
A single, sleek unit houses a 17-inch wide-screen display, stereo speakers with a subwoofer that's smartly housed behind the screen, a TV tuner and an IR receiver for the remote control, and, oh yeah, a fully loaded PC. The wireless keyboard and mouse mean you need just two cables to use all of Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004's basic features: the power cable and the TV video cable, which can be coaxial, S-Video, or RCA (composite). Since we tested with DirecTV satellite service, we also attached the included IR blaster to control the set-top box.
|/sc/30565073-2-200-DT1.gif" width="200" height="150" border="0" />||/sc/30565073-2-200-DT2.gif" width="200" height="150" border="0" />||Side-mounted DVD+RW drive and media ports keep the front panel uncluttered.|
The Gateway 610 series is a huge improvement over competing models, which have 10 or more cables hanging off the back by the time you connect the components. The Gateway 610's all-in-one design eliminates this problem, and the 610X and 610XL models even have built-in 802.11g wireless, so there's no need to string an Ethernet cable or install a Wi-Fi adapter.
We tested the 600XL, but no matter which model you choose, the system will measure 21.3 inches wide and 16 inches high including the stand. It has a sturdy handle in the back, but you'll need both hands to budge this 30-pound unit. The display tilts up and down within a limited range, but it does not swivel or pivot to Portrait mode, and you can't adjust the height (it sits about 4.5 inches above the desktop).
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The rear-mounted subwoofer adds punch but stays out of the way.
The rest of the design is equally simple. There are no legacy ports, so aside from the video in the connectors mentioned above, the back panel has analog audio-in and audio-out, digital audio-out (SPDIF), Ethernet and modem, and four USB 2.0 ports. On the right side of the display is an optical drive bay, and on the left, a hatch hides a media-card reader. On the top edge are buttons for power, volume, channel, and brightness, as well as a connector for an FM antenna, a new feature in Media Center 2004. Hidden at the base are an extra USB 2.0 port, a FireWire port, and headphone and microphone jacks.
Our complaints about the design are relatively minor. The keyboard is serviceable and has dedicated buttons for the Media Center OS, but its design is uninspired. We'd gladly opt for a smaller keyboard that would fit on (and look better on) a coffee table. The keyboard and mouse also have a relatively short range (about three feet from the front and six feet side to side). The remote, however, is well designed, offering good range and providing one-button access to live and recorded TV and other Media Center services.
The Gateway 610 series' simple design belies its complex set of features. Beneath the hood is a basic flat-panel TV and a high-end desktop PC.
It is available in three different models, ranging in price from $1,500 to $2,000. All models include the same 17-inch wide-screen display and stereo speakers with a subwoofer. But the models have important differences.
We tested the top-of-the-line 610XL, which includes a 3GHz Pentium 4 processor, 512MB of memory, ATI Radeon 9200 graphics with 128MB memory, a DVD burner, and integrated 802.11g networking. Our test system also had a whopping 250GB hard drive, but a still-large 200GB hard drive will ship on 610XL models, a change Gateway made to the system after submitting our review unit. In addition to slower processors, less memory, and smaller hard drives, the less costly models do not include a DVD burner, a big drawback for those who like to archive their favorite TV shows to disc. The entry-level 610S also lacks discrete graphics--it has integrated Intel Extreme Graphics with shared memory--and wireless networking.
|/sc/30565073-2-200-DT4.gif" width="200" height="150" border="0" />||/sc/30565073-2-200-DT5.gif" width="200" height="150" border="0" />||Lots of connectors, but with a wireless mouse and keyboard and internal 802.11g, you may not need them.|
The 610XL is more than enough PC for anyone short of a serious gamer, but the 610 series has some real shortcomings as an LCD TV. Though the 1,280x768 display provides plenty of pixels to display true HDTV (1,280x720), it has neither component-video input nor DVI, so there's no way to connect an external HDTV tuner to view high-definition programming as you can with many 17-inch LCD TVs.
The unit has hard brightness controls, but none for color, contrast, or other image adjustments, and there is no OSD (onscreen display) from which to tweak the settings. This lack of display control is especially frustrating because Media Center's new Display Calibration wizard attempts to help you with image fine-tuning. You can adjust color and save those profiles using ATI's driver accessible from Display Properties in Windows.
Via the remote, you can choose from three aspect ratios: standard 4:3 (windowbox) and either stretched or zoomed in to fit the full 16:9 wide-screen display. The latter shaves off the top and bottom of the image, which is especially glaring if you are watching a channel with a crawl such as ESPN2, CNBC, or CNN Headline News. It does not offer a mode that stretches only to the edges of the image and leaves the middle intact, which is generally preferable because the overall image appears less distorted.
Finally, though the OS lets you watch TV in a small window while performing other Media Center tasks, you can't do true PIP with two video sources or channels.
The Gateway 610XL model we tested is the most powerful configuration in the all-in-one Media Center line, and in general, it lived up to our expectations. Its performance was virtually identical to that of the Dell Dimension 4600C with Media Center. Both systems had 512MB of 400MHz DDR SDRAM, but the Gateway 610XL had a slightly faster processor (3GHz Intel P4) and superior graphics (ATI Radeon 9200 with 128MB memory). Both systems edged out the , which has a 3.2GHz P4 but only 333MHz DDR SDRAM, and easily bested the sluggish . Don't expect the same level of performance from the 610S or 610X models, but overall, the 610XL was a nimble performer that we would recommend for both for both office and Media Center tasks.