Already have an HDTV display and surround sound? Now all your living room needs is a home-theater PC--a system that combines DVR capabilities, DVD playback, and media library management into a single, living-room-friendly box. That's the S1Digital Media Center Platinum HDTV Edition (MCP for short) in a nutshell. Designed to fit right into your entertainment center, the MCP uses Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 to deliver multituner TV recording, including over-the-air HDTV. It also comes with a multimedia keyboard for couch potatoes, a graphics card that can handle moderate gaming chores, and several handy Media Center extras. At $2,499, the MCP costs $500 more than the similarly configured HP z555, but it doesn't come close to the $5,000-plus price tags of other high-end Media Center PCs we've tested.
The S1Digital Media Center Platinum comes in black or a silver metallic finish. It's a big box, about the size of a 200-disc CD changer, but it's no wider than a standard stereo component, so it should fit into your A/V setup without a problem. However, you may have trouble seeing the front-face LED status screen from your couch; it's mounted so far behind the bezel, the screen is impossible to read unless you have a straight-on view.
A spring-loaded metal door on the case front hides a media card reader, two USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, and headphone and microphone jacks. Unfortunately, the latter aren't labeled, nor are the myriad of ports on the rear of the system, though S1Digital does supply a handy diagram that identifies everything. Another page illustrates various speaker hookup configurations. The company doesn't supply speakers or monitors--the idea being that you'll integrate the system with your existing display and sound setup.
Most users should find the core specs--a Pentium 4 640 CPU, 1GB of RAM, and a 320GB hard drive--more than sufficient. The Media Center Platinum also includes a middle-of-the-road Nvidia GeForce 6600 GT graphics card and the obligatory dual-layer DVD burner. The only upgrade options when ordering the system directly from the vendor's Web site are the choice of a silver or black case and an optional second 360GB hard drive. S1Digital will, however, customize a system for you on request.
The Media Center Platinum's performance matched that of our other high-end Media Centers: the Creature Scylla S301, which has a 2.4GHz Athlon 64 3800+, and the Niveus Denali, powered by a 3.2GHz Pentium 4 540. All three systems scored virtually identically on CNET Labs' SysMark 2004 benchmarks. On 3D gaming tests, the Media Center Platinum's GeForce 6600 GT card turned in a very playable 59.1 frames per second in our 1,024x768 Half-Life 2 tests, 5 percent faster than the ultraexpensive Niveus Denali, which uses the same graphics card, but 10 percent slower than the Creature Scylla S301 and the gaming-oriented Dell XPS 600, both of which have a Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX card for added graphics muscle.
In our less formal DVR tests, we found we could record one TV channel and watch another without so much as a hiccup in service. And TV quality was definitely above average, thanks to the high-quality Hauppauge PVR-500MCE tuner card. A TV signal can be input via S-Video, coaxial, or composite RCA cables from your set-top box. Video outputs are standard--DVI, VGA, component, and S-Video. We would have liked to have seen a set of standard component outputs; instead, a proprietary component dongle is supplied. The single HDTV tuner is a DVICO Fusion 5, but you'll have to supply your own HD antenna to pull in a signal. Audio options include S/PDIF and 7.1 analog outputs, FM coax line in, and two sets of stereo RCA inputs.
To enhance the coach-potato experience, S1Digital supplies Microsoft's new lap-friendly Remote Keyboard, which includes all manner of playback and Media Center controls and a notebooklike control stick. In truth, the latter is no substitute for a mouse; so for those occasions when you need the PC functions of the Media Center Platinum, you'll want a traditional wireless mouse. Media Center functions can also be controlled through the included MCE remote control and IR blaster.
The Media Center Platinum comes with full versions of some older games, such as Prince of Persia: Sands of Time and XIII, but the company says that the bundled games can change fairly frequently. In addition to some multimedia apps, such as NTI CD & DVD Maker, S1Digital preloads a handful of useful extras, including the Hauppauge Tweak Tool, which lets you fine-tune a wealth of TV tuner settings; MCEWeather, a slick MCE plug-in that displays forecasts and satellite images; and TweakMCE, a Media Center-specific version of Microsoft's coveted TweakUI utility. All these tools are also freely available online.
S1Digital has just upgraded its warranty from 180 days to a full 12 months. There are no extended-warranty options, and onsite service, which costs extra, is available for residents of New York and New Jersey only. Tech support calls are on your dime, although S1Digital does promise 24/7 assistance. On the positive side, the included documentation is comprehensive, and the labeled photos of the system are a nice touch.
|BAPCo SysMark 2004 rating||SysMark 2004 Internet-content-creation rating||SysMark 2004 office-productivity rating|
|Doom 3 1,600x1,200 4xAA 8xAF||Doom 3 1,024x768, 4xAA 8xAF||Half-Life 2 1,600x1,200 4xAA 8xAF||Half-Life 2 1,024x768 4xAA 8xAF|
Find out more about how we test desktop computers.
Creature Scylla S301
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005; 2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 3800+; Nvidia Nforce 4 Ultra SLI chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX (PCIe); four WDC WD2500JD-00HBB0, 250GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; Hitachi HDS728080PLA380 80GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Silicon SiI 3114 SoftRAID 5 controller (RAID 0)
Dell Dimension XPS 600
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 SP2; 3.8GHz Intel Pentium 4 670; Nvidia Nforce 4 SLI Intel Edition chip set; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX (PCIe SLI); two Hitachi HDS725050KLA360 500GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Nvidia Nforce 4 Intel Edition SATA RAID Controller (RAID 0)
HP Digital Entertainment Center Z555
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005; 3.0GHz Intel P4 530; Intel 915G chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 128MB Nvidia GeForce 6600 (PCIe); Maxtor 6B250S0 250GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA
Niveus Media Center Denali Edition
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005; 3.2GHz Intel P4 540; Intel 945G chipset; 4,096MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 128MB Nvidia GeForce 6600 GT (PCIe); two Seagate ST3400832AS 400GB 7200rpm Serial ATA
S1Digital Media Center Platinum HDTV Edition
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005; 3.2GHz Intel P4 640; Intel 915P chipset; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 128MB Nvidia GeForce 6600 GT (PCIe); WDC WD3200JD-00KLB0 320GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA