HP Pavilion Media Center TV m7780n - Core 2 Duo E6400 2.13 GHz review: HP Pavilion Media Center TV m7780n - Core 2 Duo E6400 2.13 GHz

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The Good Strong performance compared to other Vista-based midrange PCs; HD DVD drive lets you watch HD movies.

The Bad Pairing the system with an HD DVD-friendly display requires research, and HP's Web site doesn't help; midtower desktop not ideal for PC with living room-friendly technology.

The Bottom Line HP's Pavilion m7780n desktop brings strong performance for its price. We wish HP helped you better navigate the tricky ins and outs of getting the most out of this system's HD DVD drive. Assuming you get it working, this PC delivers a wide variety of desk-bound entertainment and utility.

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6.6 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7
  • Support 5

HP Pavilion Media Center m7780n TV PC

Like other systems we've reviewed lately, the only feature that distinguishes HP's new $1,599 Pavilion Media Center m7780n TV PC from its older model is that this newer PC comes with Windows Vista. That's fine, as few developments in PC hardware since we reviewed the last model warrant any dramatic changes. This system remains a decent bargain if you're looking for a powerful day-to-day computer with the added benefit of HD DVD viewing, just be sure your display is HDCP compliant at 1080p, an issue we got burned on during testing. We're also still ambivalent about an HD DVD drive in a standard desktop tower case. Among other reasons, it's still just a reader--you can't burn HD DVD discs on this model. If you can get over the design, you'll find that HP's new workhorse is just as capable as its XP-based predecessor. For living room purposes, we'd rather see HP bring HD DVD to one of its Digital Entertainment Centers.

With no new hardware to speak of, there's not a whole lot to say about the Pavilion m7780n that we didn't say already about the near-identical m7690n. To review: core specs include a 2.14GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6400, 2GB of 500MHz DDR SDRAM, a 256MB GeForce 7600 GT graphics card, and a 500GB hard drive. The hard drive setup is actually the only major difference between this model and the original. The Pavilion m7690n came with two 250GB hard drives in a RAID 0 array. Intel's RAID drivers for Vista don't work correctly at the moment, so HP circumvented the problem by including a single 500GB drive. For storage space it's pretty much a wash, but we do like that you now have another free drive bay to play with.

Like the original model, we think this system features a solid combination of hardware for Web browsing, e-mail, photo editing, and playing most current-generation games. You shouldn't have any trouble playing movies and music, either. As you'll see from our charts, you will pay a price for running Windows Vista on this PC.

On every single test, the Pavilion m7780n running Windows Vista Home Premium was slower than its m7690n, XP-based counterpart. The Vista system numbers were still reasonable, and it outpaced Dell's Vista-based Dimension E521 on a few tests, most notably our Quake 4 gaming benchmark where the HP emerged as a much more competent gaming PC. But it's also clear that Vista will cost you some processing power, at least today. We expect that as driver software improves, you might gain some more performance on this system if you gave it a few updates, but we don't think you'll ever catch up to the older model entirely.

Adobe Photoshop CS2 image-processing test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
In seconds  

Apple iTunes encoding test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
In seconds  

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering a single CPU  

'Quake 4' performance (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,024x768 (4xAA, 8xAF)  
1,280x1,024 (4xAA, 8xAF)  

Since we expected Vista would demand more from PC hardware, we're not too disappointed in the HP's application performance. We were more surprised by the HP's HD DVD limitations. Welcome to the future of digital entertainment, folks. You can start by opening your compatibility reference sheet to page seven.

The short explanation is that you would be wise to do some research before pairing this or any other system with a display for playing HD DVD or Blu-ray movies, because all of that stuff you may have heard about HDCP compliance is for real. None of Apple's LCD displays, for example, are HDCP-compliant. Those fancy 30-inch displays such as the Dell 3007WFP and HP's own LP3065 model are technically HDCP-compliant, but no graphics card on the market currently supports HDCP recognition over the DualLink DVI connections required to run the 30-inch models at their native 2,560x1,600 resolution. We tried to watch an HD DVD movie on the Dell 30-inch screen and received a content protection error at every resolution until 1,280x800 (aka 720p), which is the highest resolution at which that monitor will complete the HDCP chain over a single-link connection.

While none of those copy protection issues are inherent to the Pavilion m7780n itself, we were disappointed that HP doesn't provide any guidance for its customers beyond a support page that outlines only the most basic information. Tech enthusiasts have known about the lack of HDCP compliance with DualLink connections since at least November of last year. Nvidia also has a support thread about it on its own Web site.

In fairness, the limitations of HDCP over DualLink only affect 30-inch LCDs, which remain a fairly specialized display category. And this issue doesn't apply to HP alone. The Velocity Micro CineMagix Grand Theater we reviewed two weeks ago demonstrated the same problems (once we tested this issue after the review posted), as would any other PC with an HD DVD or Blu-ray drive. But HP's Pavilion m7780n is the first Vista-based midtower desktop we've reviewed with an HD optical drive in it. As an upright, more likely desk-bound PC, we're more concerned with its performance paired with traditional LCDs. Home-theater PCs have more flexibility because their design invites you to connect them to more traditional (and less problematic) HD televisions.

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