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Packard Bell Smart TV S320 review: Packard Bell Smart TV 320

The Good Dual TV tuners; gyroscopic remote; PC functionality on a big screen.

The Bad Slightly noisy in operation; no standalone TV operation.

The Bottom Line The SmartTV S320 is a very good Media Center PC. It has plenty of storage, good performance and it will happily show high-definition content. Where it falls down slightly, however, is its inability to work as a standalone television and its questionable image quality

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6.5 Overall

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Packard Bell has extensive experience in the computer market, but is perhaps less well-known for its LCD TVs. The Smart TV S320 is an attempt to bridge this gap. It's a hybrid of television and PC designed for those who want all the advantages of Windows Media Center or Intel Viiv without the hassle of having a separate PC and TV.

Design
Aesthetically, the Smart TV S320 is a mixed bag. From a distance it's a smart-looking 32-inch television, but up close it has a slightly budget look about it. It's not the sexiest telly we've seen but we'll give it the benefit of the doubt, as its glossy black inner bezel and grey (not silver) outer trim give it an eye-catching, if ultimately unremarkable look.

Like many widescreen televisions, the Smart TV S320 has a pair of integrated speakers on either side of the screen. The right-side speaker sports a Packard Bell logo, which is the most obvious sign that the device has a PC heritage. The lower section is home to three flip-down panels under which you can find a variety of the most commonly accessed ports. Beneath the leftmost panel you'll find a slot-loading DVD rewriter drive, a six-pin FireWire port and a 15-in-1 memory card reader supporting pretty much every popular format. The middle panel is home to on-screen display controls, and the far-right panel is home to Component and S-Video inputs, headphone and mic ports, and a couple of USB ports.

Standard TV-style connectors can be found at the left side of the unit, and as a result they're easy to access than rear-facing connectors seen on many TVs. Connectors include composite video, Scart, a single HDMI port and an infrared blaster port so you can control your existing set-top box with the Smart TV S320's own remote control.

The bottom portion of the device is home to the more traditional PC input and output ports, which include serial, parallel and four more USB ports. Unfortunately it's nigh-on impossible to access these ports as the TV stand gets in the way. It's a quite ridiculous design that will infuriate users who want to get at anything other than the two USB ports at the front.

Features
The Smart TV S320 uses an Intel Pentium D 820 CPU running at 2.8GHz, which is neither part of the latest Core 2 Duo family, or the preceding Core Duo range -- it's a first-generation dual-core chip. Despite this, it performs perfectly well in this implementation -- playing and recording video, Web browsing and even everyday video-editing tasks are handled with aplomb.

Gaming isn't normally a requirement for Media Center PCs, but the Smart TV S320 won't shy away from a casual bout of Quake. It uses an ATI Mobility Radeon X1300 -- an entry-level card that can just about cope with most 3D tasks. So long as you don't crank the resolution up too high or apply image-quality enhancements like anisotropic filtering or anti-aliasing you should be fine running all but the most modern games.

The Smart TV S320 features twin hybrid TV tuners -- two separate TV tuners that can receive two distinct analogue signals or two distinct digital (Freeview) signals. It'll let you record one channel while you record another, or record two channels simultaneously. Impressively, the device comes with a 400GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 hard drive, which provides approximately enough room to record around 120 hours of video at the highest quality setting, or around 530 hours at the lowest quality setting. As it's a Media Center PC, you get access to a free two-week electronic programme guide so you'll know exactly what's going to be on television at any given time.



The device comes with a Packard Bell WiPen -- a USB dongle that gives it Wi-Fi capability. This should most likely be installed in one of the awkwardly positioned USB ports beneath the unit, or you can struggle connecting a LAN network cable for Internet access -- they are equally frustrating.

Controlling the Smart TV S320 is fairly easy. It comes with a wireless multimedia keyboard with dedicated buttons for controlling media playback and hotkeys for quick-launching applications. The keyboard has a slightly cheap feel to it, but it is comfortable to use. We really like the accompanying remote control. It doesn't have backlit keys (which would have aided night use) but it has an internal gyroscope, which lets you move the mouse cursor in any direction simply by waving the remote at the screen.

Packard Bell has included copies of Norton Antivirus 2006 plus six months of updates, alongside Cyberlink PowerDVD for DVD playback, Record Now 7 and Metaboli -- an online games download service.

Performance
It's fair to say the Smart TV 32 is more of a PC than a television -- mostly because it can't operate as a standalone television. If you want to catch an episode of Emmerdale you'll need to fire up Windows XP Media Center Edition. It's a bizarre and invariably infuriating decision on the part of Packard Bell.

When you do get into Windows, setup, playback and control of the PC is exceptionally easy. Our only gripe is that users in the know will almost certainly spot the sub-par image quality of the display -- most scenes appear slightly saturated, or washed out.

Quantative testing revealed more flaws. The panel has some difficulty recreating hues at extreme ends of the colour spectrum. Very dark colours were simply shown as black, and very light colours simply appeared as white. This means you might not be able to see what's going on in very dark or very light scenes. The accuracy of its pixel mapping is also questionable, as the level of noise in images can plainly be seen.

As a PC, it's a fair all-rounder. It returned a solid PCMark 2005 score of 3,528, and racked up a 3DMark 2006 score of 879. In real-world terms this equated to 16 frames per second (fps) in F.E.A.R. at a resolution of 1,024x768 pixels, and 38fps in Doom 3, also at 1,024x768 pixels.

Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide

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