If the idea of having your entire CD collection stored inside a hi-fi, being able to beam it all over your house and being able to stream music from your PC wirelessly sounds appealing, you're looking at the right music system.
The Philips MCI-500H is the latest and greatest Streamium system from Philips, aimed at being the central musical hub of your living room. It's on sale now for around £400.
Depending on how much your eyes are deceiving you, you may be fooled into thinking this comprises two separate hi-fi units. The two pseudo-separates are in fact one unit -- a block of navigation and control buttons, and a block housing a gorgeous colour LCD screen. Between them is a tray-loading CD drive.
The main unit is more lightweight than we expected, but is well-built nonetheless. Philips' obsession with gloss hasn't gone amiss either, which is something you'll either love, hate or indeed not care either way about, which is where our opinions fall.
A pair of pretty solid 50W two-way speakers are included, featuring 133mm (5.25-inch) woofers and 25mm (1-inch) silk dome tweeters.
Up from the 80GB hard disk we usually see in systems like this, Philips has stuck a 160GB model in the MCI-500 for ripping your CDs to. And you can rip them at MP3 bit rates between 128Kbps and 320Kbps. Ripping to lossless FLAC or WAV would've been a nice touch, but Philips never has been fond of supporting lossless audio.
This remains true with the formats it'll play over your home network from your PC, or from USB memory sticks via the integrated USB socket -- MP3, WMA and AAC files are fine, but FLAC, OGG, Lossless WMA and WAV are ushered away. Clearly the audiophile isn't the target market here -- it's all about convenience.
In keeping with this, CDs can be ripped to the hard disk with a couple of clicks of the 'record' button, and if the system is connected to the Internet via Ethernet or Wi-Fi (both are supported, included encrypted networks), the system will access the Gracenote CD database, adding artist, album and track information into the files it rips. That said, a less extensive version of the Gracenote database lives on the internal hard disk, so popular CDs will be tagged without any Internet connectivity.
Other Philips Streamium systems can stream any music stored on the MCI-500 over an ad-hoc wireless network, too. So you could easily stick ain your bedroom and have it pull music from the MCI-500 in your lounge. You can add up to five such 'Stations', all of which can simultaneously stream whatever's playing on the central unit.