As with most of the first generation Media Center PCs, such as the Optima MyPC MCE and the Acer T620, the HP Media Center PC is in a traditional tower form factor. It's a little disappointing that the only Media Center PCs released in Australia so far haven't been designed in new forms that would suit sitting in a living room TV cabinet -- perhaps excluding the Toshiba Qosmio, which is a notebook. If Media Center PCs are to flourish, manufacturers need to come up with designs that look more like DVD players or game consoles rather than something you'd find in an office.
The test model we received came with a 17-inch flat panel monitor with dual-hinge, adjustable pedestal and Harmon Kardon satellite speakers. The LCD has a sleek, space saving design that is easy to move into a comfortable viewing position.
HP bundles a wireless keyboard and mouse combo that gives you a bit more freedom and a lot less clutter at your desk. There is a heap of shortcut keys at the top of the keyboard providing quick access to functions such as photos, music and video. Alongside these are Internet keys catering for your favourite sites such as shopping, sports, email and chat. Other keyboard buttons control the optical drives and multimedia keys, including a volume knob.
The majority of the front of the HP MCPC is taken up by two slide-open compartments. One houses the optional Personal Media Drive -- a hot-swappable 160GB drive that slots entirely into the front of the PC. The AU$399 drive allows you to store an awful lot of photos, audio and video. As it supports USB connections as well, it's perfect for carrying pictures and movies over to a friend's house.
In the other front compartment there are USB and Firewire ports as well as A/V connections: S-video, composite video, stereo audio, headphones and microphone. Having these ports at the front is very handy if you want to quickly hook up a camcorder.
At the back of case are digital audio connections: five USB ports, two Firewire, S-video, composite video and analogue audio inputs. Beside these are inputs for the TV and FM antennas.
At the heart of the HP Media Center PC is Microsoft's latest home entertainment operating system, Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005. While retaining all the features of Windows XP Pro, Media Center also lets you view photos, listen to music, watch and record television -- thanks to a built-in TV tuner card -- on an interface suited to viewing from a distance on the TV, rather than a traditional PC monitor.
Conveniently located at the top of the HP MCPC is a 9-in-1 media card reader making it a snap to transfer digital photos. Supported formats include SmartMedia, MultiMediaCard, Secure Digital, Memory Stick/Memory Stick Pro, IBM Micro Drive and xD Media.
Entertainment software includes Windows Media Player 9, Moviemaker 2, InterVideo WinDVD Player SE, RealOne Player and iTunes. HP also throws in the educational suite, Microsoft Encarta, and Microsoft Works for productivity.
Intel's 915 chipset, a 3.4GHz Pentium processor and 1024MB of RAM provides ample grunt for recording live TV, viewing photos and navigating the graphic-intensive Media Center interface. The m1199a didn't skip a beat when we went through the multimedia features of the operating system. A large 160GB SATA hard drive provides ample storage for thousands of digital photos, ripped CDs and hours of video.
In addition, a dual layer DVDÃ‚Â±RW burner as well as a 16X DVD-ROM drive is included. There is a Radeon X300 with 256MB of dedicated video memory, which delivers excellent performance when playing back DVDs and rendering graphics in games.
Built-in 802.11b/g wireless and software allows the MCPC to act as a access point for your home network. We had no trouble connecting to our office network and achieved ideal throughput.
For AU$3,799 the HP Pavilion Media Center PC m1199a is a powerful multimedia machine that has no trouble keeping up with the features of Microsoft's home entertainment operating system. However, we look forward to the next batch of Media Centers to be released, hopefully in designs that will fit better in the living room.