In the depths of the dim, dark past -- 2004 -- Windows Media Center was to be the salvation of the PC industry, and herald a time when PC became less about IT and more about consumer electronics. But how do we put this delicately ... it's hard to make the noise on screen, but the survey says ... "bom-bomm".
Media centres these days are mostly tower PCs that have remote control functionality and a user interface such as that bundled with Windows Vista Premium. This isn't the fault of the manufacturers, necessarily, and HP was one of the few companies which released a "VCR-like" PC onto the overseas market. There could be a number of reasons why they just didn't take off -- whether it was limited processing power, buggy software, or noisy fans. HP's new m8000 series, while not fully leaping back into the lounge room fray, is a welcome addition to the desktop arena.
This is the "hero" product for HP and has everything that opens shuts, whirs and bleeps. Firstly is the onboard HD DVD drive: while the included 19-inch LCD is unlikely to be able to resolve the HD format in all its big-screen glory, this is still a notable inclusion. Secondly, the Intel Core 2 Duo processor E6600 is a butt kicker, and in conjunction with the 2GB of RAM and nVidia GeForce 7600GT graphics card, this PC has a serious multimedia arsenal.
One of the best aspects of HPs new Vista range is its focus on ergonomics and design. The tower, LCD and peripherals all share the same "look" and are designed to be used as a complete package. The keyboard and mouse are wireless which means you can connect the PC up to the TV and use them from the couch.
The package also includes an internal high-definition TV tuner, which will let you record and pause live TV.
HD DVD doesn't come cheap, and for AU$3,699 this HP Pavilion is getting into the higher register of desktop systems. Also, it's still early days, but many pundits are tipping Blu-ray as the eventual successor to DVD, so HD DVD may not be the best choice for future-proofing.
Lastly, would you put a tower in your lounge room? Or would you instead opt for an Xbox 360 and use it as a Media Center extender.
If you want living-room friendly, then the m8000 series may not be the best bet -- we'd instead recommend HP's own TouchSmart PC or even Sony's unusual looking Panel PC. However, if you're looking for a PC with the lot, then the HP Pavilion m8095a might be worth considering.