Aptly named for the sea creature of Greek mythology, the Scylla S301 from Creature HTPC is a monster of a media center system with an equally monstrous $5,400 price tag. But for your money, you get more gear than that in many high-end systems, with bonuses that include a GeForce 7800 GTX video card and 1TB of hard drive space. If you're looking to boost your home theater with a high-priced media center that can also handle advanced gaming and other strenuous PC tasks, the Scylla S301 outperforms other systems in its class.
The Scylla is housed in a black SilverStone LC10 component-style case that blends easily with any home-entertainment rack. But with no fewer than six fans working to keep internal parts cool, it's a bit noisy for a media center, especially compared to a fanless system such as the Niveus Denali. The power and reset switches on the stylish, uncluttered front of the system share space with four USB 2.0 ports on the left side and a double-layer DVD burner on the right. Audio jacks and a FireWire port hide on the left-side bezel. Unfortunately, the Scylla lacks an LCD readout panel like the one on the S1Digital Media Center for displaying useful information such as CD tracks, titles, and DVD chapters.
The rear of the system offers a plethora of audio and video connections, including TV and FM radio connections, courtesy of a Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-500 tuner card. The PVR-500 has dual TV tuners, allowing you to watch one TV show while recording another; alternately, using either S-Video or coaxial inputs, you can record two TV programs at the same time from your cable or satellite box. PCI tuner cards still provide lesser image quality than direct set-top-box connections, but the Hauppauge card is one of the better ones out there; it does an admirable job of signal processing with minimal loss of quality. Unlike the other systems we looked at, the Scylla doesn't include an HDTV tuner card as standard equipment. HD DVR recording is generally possible only from over-the-air signals, which would require setting up an external antenna.
Despite having an onboard audio controller with S/PDIF outputs, the Scylla also comes with a BlueGears HAD Digital X-Mystique 7.1 sound card with connections for an 8-channel speaker system and coaxial and optical outputs for integration into an existing A/V system. Other rear-accessible integrated connections include four USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, and dual Ethernet jacks. A PCI card provides data and power connections for an external Serial ATA (SATA) hard drive--an unusual but potentially useful feature.
The Scylla is built around AMD's Athlon 64 3800+ processor on an ASUS A8N-SLI Premium motherboard, which features a heat-pipe cooling mechanism to keep the chipset from overheating. Video comes by way of a single Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX with dual DVI outputs. There's not a whole lot of room for expansion inside the crowded case, but gamers will appreciate the availability of a secondary x16 PCI Express (PCIe) slot, which allows for an upgrade to a dual SLI-enabled graphics solution. Two additional PCIe slots (x1 and x4) and a traditional PCI slot are also available, although the 7800 GTX's heat sink and fan block the virtually useless x1.
The Scylla S301 is unique in offering users a massive amount of hard drive storage for archiving TV shows, music, video, and other digital content. In addition to an 80GB Hitachi Deskstar drive, which is designated as a program drive, the Scylla comes with four Western Digital 250GB SATA drives in a RAID 0 configuration, providing a whopping 1TB of storage and enabling the system to function as a true media server for networked PCs and appliances throughout the home.
In CNET Labs' SysMark 2004 application performance tests, the Scylla S301, the S1Digital, and the Niveus Denali turned in nearly identical scores across the board but couldn't keep pace with a similarly priced high-end desktop system, the Dell Dimension XPS 600, which was 21 percent faster. In 3D performance tests, the Scylla crushed the other media center systems, including HP's z555, all of which use a less powerful GeForce 6600 graphics card. Still, the Dimension XPS 600 took top honors, thanks to its dual GeForce 7800 GTX SLI configuration, besting the single-7800 Scylla by a 68 percent margin in our Doom 3 tests; in turn, the Scylla beat the Denali by 103 percent.
Unlike most other media center systems, the Scylla S301 doesn't use Windows XP Media Center Edition (MCE). Instead, it opts for XP Professional and SnapStream Media's Beyond Media and Beyond TV 3.0 media-center front-end software, which, like MCE, provides a slick, user-friendly interface and a built-in media player for accessing digital photos, music, movies, and recorded TV programs.
You can use Beyond Media to check your stocks and local weather and to view movie listings in your area (complete with trailers); you can also use SnapStream Spotlight to access online movie- and music-streaming services such as Live 365, CinemaNow, ESPN Motion, and Napster. Beyond TV lets you schedule TV recordings via a local EPG (Electronic Program Guide) and view them without commercial interruption using the SmartSkip feature.
Additional bundled software includes the ubiquitous Nero 6.0 CD/DVD burning suite, Acronis True Image 8.0 disk imaging and backup software, InterVideo WinDVD Suite, and a trial version of Symantec Norton AntiVirus.
The Scylla S301, like the Niveus Denali, comes with a Gyration wireless keyboard and mouse. The gyroscopic action of the Gyration mouse takes a little getting used to, but once you master it, you'll see why so many high-end vendors use it. You also get a wireless Saitek P3000 gamepad and a SnapStream Firefly RF remote and receiver for controlling the media center's front-end applications. A monitor and speakers are not included, but the Scylla is designed to fit professionally built home-theater setups, and Creature works extensively with home-theater installers. The Creature Web site offers no configuration options, but the company will collaborate with customers one-on-one over the phone to customize their systems.
Creature covers the Scylla with a standard one-year warranty, but we think a system costing upwards of $5,000 should come with a more generous program. Unfortunately, Creature does not provide onsite service as part of the warranty, nor does it have an extension program to bump the warranty period up to two or three years. Toll-call telephone support is available during regular business hours only; however, you can e-mail or IM the support crew for help during off-hours. The company's Web-site support page is a work in progress, offering little in the way of drivers or troubleshooting resources; we're told a live technical-chat service is in the works. The comprehensive included documentation has a helpful labeled photo of the system's rear panel and a diagram of a palatial mansion, color-coded to show which rooms Creature's different systems are best suited for.
|BAPCo's SysMark 2004 rating||SysMark 2004 Internet-content-creation rating||SysMark 2004 office-productivity rating|
|Doom 3 1,600x1,200 4XAA 8XAF||Doom 3 1,024x768, 4XAA 8XAF||Half-Life 2 1,600x1,200 4XAA 8XAF||Half-Life 2 1,024x768 4XAA 8XAF|
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Creature Scylla S301
Windows XP Professional; 2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 3800+; Nvidia Nforce 4 Ultra SLI chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX (PCIe); four WDC WD2500JD-00HBB0 250GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; Hitachi HDS728080PLA380 80GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Silicon SiI 3114 SoftRAID 5 controller (RAID 0)
Dell Dimension XPS 600
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005; 3.8GHz Intel Pentium 4 670; Nvidia Nforce 4 SLI Intel Edition chipset; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX (PCIe SLI); two Hitachi HDS725050KLA360 500GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Nvidia Nforce 4 Intel Edition Serial ATA RAID Controller (RAID 0)
HP Digital Entertainment Center z555
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005; 3.0GHz Intel Pentium 4 530; Intel 915G chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 128MB Nvidia GeForce 6600 (PCIe); Maxtor 6B250S0 250GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA
Niveus Media Center Denali Edition
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005; 3.2GHz Intel Pentium 4 540; Intel 945G chipset; 4,096MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 128MB Nvidia GeForce 6600 GT (PCIe); two Seagate ST3400832AS 400GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA
S1Digital Media Center Platinum HDTV Edition
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005; 3.2GHz Intel Pentium 4 640; Intel 915P chipset; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 128MB Nvidia GeForce 6600 GT (PCIe); WDC WD3200JD-00KLB0 320GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA