Built by a local manufacturer, the AVR-500 is the epitome of a fully featured HTPC box; if there's a way you prefer to digest your media, chances are that this box can handle it. Obviously, you'll pay a premium for the privilege, but when compared against the combined price of a PVR, Blu-ray player and media server, it's actually outstanding value.
This is a full-sized HTPC, contained within a sexy SilverStone case that looks very much like a high-end amplifier. At the heart of this box is Intel's excellent, new quad-core i5 3550 CPU. Running at a maximum frequency of 3.7GHz, it's not just the CPU's raw MHz that helps this box obliterate our encoding benchmarks. The processor also includes Intel's new HD Graphics 2500, a speedy integrated graphics chip that is adept at encoding media files, thanks to Intel's Quick Sync technology.
It would have been nice for the CPU to feature HyperThreading, to deliver even zippier transcoding, but this HTPC can easily handle real-time transcoding of dual video streams. This means that you and your partner can both watch video on your iPad or laptop, streamed over the network from the HTPC, even if the original format isn't compatible with your device. The manufacturer has used an excellent low-noise cooler to ensure the powerful CPU stays cool, yet whisper-quiet; there's no way you'll hear this HTPC in even the quietest moment of your favourite horror movie.
TV addicts will get a kick out of the quad-TV tuner card, which, when paired up with the included installation of Windows Media Centre, offers a viewing experience infinitely cooler than even the smartest TV. It's possible to record four different channels simultaneously, or watch one while three other channels record, and the gorgeous Media Centre interface makes automated recording a breeze.
Storage duties are handled by a sizeable 2TB mechanical drive, while a smaller Intel 60GB SSD gives the Windows 7 Operating System an impressive performance boost. It's no wonder that the AVR-500 took the lead in our holistic system benchmark, PC Mark Vantage, though the Scorptech Mantis Intel box wasn't far behind. Using the AVR-500 from the couch couldn't be easier, thanks to the Logitech K400 wireless keyboard, which includes a handy little touch pad to handle mousing duties. HD movie lovers are spoilt for choice, with the inclusion of a Blu-ray combo drive, which is piped to your big screen device of choice via HDMI. Those with legacy amplifiers will appreciate the optical S/PDIF output. Build quality is good, if unremarkable, with all internal cables neatly bunched, though not tucked out of the way like the Scorptech boxes.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
It might not be the most affordable HTPC, but the AVR-500 is certainly one of the most powerful on the market. This box can handle all of your media requests with aplomb, all in one gorgeous and silent package.