If you want to turn your den, home office, or dorm room into a home theater without making the move to an A/V-style form factor, the HP Pavilion Media Center TV m7360n offers the same media-friendly features we saw in the previous model, the HP Media Center m7260n Photosmart PC; however, it adds a shiny Intel Viiv sticker on the front. Even though we like many of the proprietary features on the $1,150 (after $50 mail-in rebate) m7360n, including a LightScribe DVD burner and a slot for HP's Personal Media Drive, the value of the Viiv branding is dubious.
Less a new technology than a convenient branding of familiar parts, a Viiv system is supposed to be optimized for multimedia use. The Viiv spec mandates the Windows Media Center Edition operating system, 5.1 or 7.1 audio, and Intel's Quick Resume instant on/off technology. An Intel dual-core CPU--in this case a Pentium D 920--is also part of the spec, and it's one of the more useful requirements of Viiv. Other things we think you need for a great entertainment PC, such as a TV tuner (which is included) and a decent video card (which isn't) are not part of the Viiv requirement, so just looking for the Viiv sticker may not be enough for your needs.
We also wish the m7360n had more room for expansion. Like the m7260n before it, the m7360n is a preconfigured system sold without a monitor or speakers, so you'll have to make sure it includes the components you want. A better idea might be to build your own custom version of the machine on HP's Web site. The customizable version is called the HP Pavilion Media Center TV m7360y.
The two-tone silver tower has a nine-in-one media reader built into the front face. The reader's position above the DVD drives makes it easy to access even when the system is on the floor. Two vertical front doors conceal an HP Personal Media Drive Bay on the left side and FireWire, S-Video, and composite-video inputs and dual USB 2.0 ports on the right. The Personal Media Drive is a portable plug-and-play hard drive from HP that connects via the built-in slot common to HP's Media Center systems. The drives also include a USB 2.0 connection for use with other PCs. Personal Media Drives are sold separately; the 160GB model costs $169.
We particularly like the included LightScribe DVD burner, which lets you inscribe grayscale labels right on the surface of compatible media. It's one of two optical drives; the other is a standard DVD-ROM. The tower also has a small compartment on the top where you can store a stack of your favorite CDs, DVDs, and games or just keep a supply of blank media at the ready.
With the exception of two open RAM sockets, the Pavilion m7360n has no internal expansion space; you'll have to rely on its six USB 2.0 and two FireWire ports for adding devices. That's not a huge problem--the system has everything most users need--but it's a red flag for anyone thinking of installing a second TV tuner, a second hard drive, or an aftermarket sound card. A single standard-definition tuner card comes included, and the onboard audio provides up to 7.1-channel surround sound--but it's up to you to supply the speakers.
Compared to the other first-generation Viiv systems, the Pavilion m7360n falls in the middle of the pack in terms of features. The iBuyPower Viiv-350 doesn't include a TV tuner card at all, while the Dell XPS 400 has dual standard-definition tuners. Only the $3,700 Polywell Poly 975MCE-Extreme offers high-end features, adding a GeForce 7800 GT to its dual SD TV tuners.
Stocked with a dual-core 2.8GHz Pentium D 920 processor, an impressive 2GB of DDR2 SDRAM, and a 300GB hard drive, the Pavilion m7360n is well suited for use with . On CNET Labs' BAPCo SysMark 2004 application benchmarks, the Pavilion m7360n was statistically tied with the Alienware Area-51 3500 Viiv system, which uses an identical Pentium D 920; however, it fell 15 percent behind the Viiv version of Dell's XPS 400, powered by a 3.2GHz Pentium D 940. The weak link in the hardware chain is the Nvidia GeForce 6200 SE graphics card, which just can't push pixels fast enough for modern games.
HP's branded wireless mouse and keyboard have an effective range of about 15 feet, meaning you could engage in couch-top computing if you wanted that 10-foot experience Media Center types always crow about. The keyboard has dedicated media-playback controls that work in the Media Center interface, but it lacks the green, MCE-specific Start button. The remote is the same custom job HP has been shipping for a while, but we prefer Microsoft's standard Media Center remote. HP's button layout isn't particularly intuitive, and the remote isn't backlit for easy nighttime use.
Like most HP systems, the Pavilion comes with a generous and useful software bundle. Among the highlights: , a year's subscription to MSN Encarta Online, and the industry's two finance-management heavyweights: Microsoft Money 2005 and Quicken 2006 New User Edition. We especially like the remote-operable Media Center versions of Muvee AutoProducer, for turning home movies into cool music videos, and HP's Image Zone, for printing and sharing photos.
HP's one-year standard warranty is notable for including next-business-day parts replacement and toll-free, 24/7 phone support. The company's support site provides real-time chat that's also available 24/7, and it promises to answer e-mail within an hour.
|BAPCo's SysMark 2004 rating||SysMark 2004 Internet-content-creation rating||SysMark 2004 office-productivity rating|
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Alienware Area-51 3500
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005; 2.8GHz Intel Pentium D 920; Intel 945G chipset; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 128MB Nvidia GeForce 6200 TurboCache (PCIe); Hitachi 250GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA
Dell XPS 400 (Viiv)
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005; 3.2GHz Intel Pentium D 940; Intel 945P chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 533MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 6800 (PCIe); two Maxtor 250GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Intel (RAID 1)
HP Pavilion Media Center TV m7360n
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005; 2.8GHz Intel Pentium D 920; Intel 945G chipset; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 6200 SE (PCIe); Maxtor 300GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005; 2.8GHz Intel Pentium D 820; Intel 945G chipset; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 128MB ATI X300 (PCIe); Seagate 160GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005; 3.46GHz Intel Pentium Extreme Edition 955; Intel 975X chipset; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7800 GT (PCIe); two WDC WD740GD-00FLC0 74GB 10,000rpm Serial ATA, two Maxtor 7Y250M0 250GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; Integrated Silicon SiL3114 SoftRAID 5 (RAID 0)