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HP Pavilion Media Center TV m7690n - Core 2 Duo E6400 2.13 GHz review: HP Pavilion Media Center TV m7690n - Core 2 Duo E6400 2.13 GHz

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The Good Lowest-cost PC, desktop or otherwise, with an HD-DVD or Blu-ray drive (in this case, HD-DVD); strong configuration for playing HD movies also lends itself to gaming and Windows Vista; wireless networking included.

The Bad HD-DVD player begs to be brought into the living room, but the midtower desktop design says otherwise; limited room for expansion; too many promotional shortcuts and icons on the desktop; no HDMI output, only dual-link DVI.

The Bottom Line We'd rather see an HD-DVD drive in a living room-style case, but if HP had to build it into a standard desktop, at least the Pavilion m7690n Media Center TV PC is powerful, and it's also affordable. It will play both high-def movies and 3D games, and it's also ready for Windows Vista, for less than $2,000. No other PC we know of can make that claim. If you're in the market for such a system, this is a steal.

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7.3 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7
  • Support 8

If you're anxious to step into the high-definition future, HP's Pavilion m7690n Media Center TV PC makes it relatively easy. HP's first HD desktop adds HD-DVD movie-watching to the long list of its home theater PC capabilities. For $1,649, this fixed-configuration, retail-only PC is more expensive than stand-alone HD-DVD or Blu-ray players, and its midtower desktop form factor is not exactly living room friendly. But it can also do a lot more than a plain old disc player, and there are few desktops or laptops below $2,500 that will play HD discs of either format. Between now and the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show in early January, we expect to hear about lots of new desktops with one HD drive or another. It might be smart for you to wait and see what we learn. But if you're in the market for an HD-DVD-based PC now and you don't mind the midtower design, the Pavilion m7960n Media Center TV PC is the most reasonable game in town.

We're glad to see that HP has made this system powerful enough to play HD movies at resolutions up to 1080p. Its core configuration includes an Intel Core 2 Duo E6400 processor, a 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7600 GT, and 2GB of 533MHz DDR2 SDRAM. The added benefit of those specs is that the Pavilion m7690n is not only fine for watching high-def content, it's also a solid, all-around desktop. It's fully Windows Vista Premium-ready, and you can expect decent 3D gaming performance from it as well. We'd rather have seen HP release the more living room-oriented Digital Entertainment Center z560 with an HD-DVD drive--especially considering the two were announced on the same day--but if HP had to debut a high-def player in a desktop, at least it's a respectable system.

With Windows Media Center 2005 and a TV tuner, the Pavilion m7690n has the foundation for what most people expect from a home theater PC. It will record standard-def television, and it even has 500GB of hard drive space (via two 250GB drives) for keeping a decently sized video library. Windows Media Center doesn't support HD playback itself yet; instead, when you click the "HD-DVD" menu item, it kicks you out to a custom application called DVD Play. It's a seamless process, and DVD Play has a number of settings available to play with for maximizing image quality. We connected the Pavilion m7690n to Gateway's new 24-inch FPD2485W LCD and had outstanding HD-DVD playback at 1,920x1,200.

We were a bit disappointed to find that the GeForce 7600 GT graphics card in the m7960n has two DVI outputs but no HDMI out. HP probably made the right choice, since with this system's desktop form factor, it probably makes more sense to let people connect it to a 30-inch desktop LCD, such as the Apple Cinema HD Display, which would require two DVI ports (a.k.a. DualLink DVI). Still, because HD players remain expensive, it's conceivable that you might be willing to connect this PC directly to an HD-capable TV, which in some cases might require an HDMI connection. There's no such thing as an Nvidia card with both dual DVI and an HDMI out (yet), but fortunately, you can purchase a DVI-to-HDMI adapter to make the appropriate connection.

Like many HP Media Center PCs, the Pavilion m7690n comes with a wireless mouse and keyboard, as well as a Windows Media Center remote control. That means you have two different receivers hanging from your system, though, since the mouse and keyboard are RF and the remote control is IR. We wonder how hard it would be to combine the two in one receiver or to move all of the input devices onto one wireless standard.

The Pavilion m7690n actually has a third wireless technology built-in, by way of an 802.11b/g wireless networking card. It's usually the component-style PCs, such as HP's Digital Entertainment Centers, where we really like to see wireless networking, but even on a desktop system, it's not unreasonable to think that you might want to minimize its cables.

Compared to other Core 2 Duo-based PCs, the Pavilion m7690n fell right where it should, coming in just behind a Shuttle system with a faster chip and just ahead of a Systemax PC with a slower one. You probably wouldn't want to use this system for multimedia editing on a professional level, but it's fast enough to get you through any home project in a reasonable amount of time. If you have any intention to use it for PC gaming, its graphics card was powerful enough to turn in strong performance on our traditional 1,024x768 test. We also ran it through at a higher 1,280x1,024 resolution and 67.2 frames per second, which is more than fast enough for smooth play.

Multitasking test
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Adobe Photoshop CS2 image-processing test
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Apple iTunes encoding test
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Rendering Single CPU  

Quake 4 performance (in fps)
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1,024x768, 4xAA 8xAF  

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