ViewSonic's second go at PC building is less successful than its first. Although the NextVision M2100 Digital Media Center uses Microsoft's new and improved Media Center Edition (MCE) 2004 OS, the system itself shows no improvement from the lackluster M2000 model released last spring. From the outside, it still looks good, with an attractive, versatile case and a beautiful, 19-inch ViewSonic LCD. But inside, excluding a new graphics card, the core specs remain the same. (And they weren't all that impressive the first time.) The system froze occasionally while engaged with Media Center tasks, such as burning recorded TV shows to DVD. MCE 2004 is a step up from the first version of the OS, but we'd like to see it paired with more up-to-date hardware.
The NextVision M2100 Digital Media Center's design is identical to that of its predecessor, the M2000. The attractive silver case still looks more like a PC than a home-theater component, but its ability to rest either horizontally or vertically (using the included stand) makes it easier to incorporate the system into your entertainment center. Getting inside the case, however, requires an Allen wrench and is less than convenient. The system ships without speakers, giving you more reason to integrate it into your home theater (or buy a set of PC speakers).
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A plastic back cover helps hide all the cables.
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The M2100 has inputs for audio, video, cable TV, FM radio, and more.
The NextVision M2100 is awash with audio, video, and computing connections. You'll find analog audio, digital-audio-coaxial, and digital-audio-optical ports for all types of A/V receivers. Composite video, S-Video, VGA, and DVI-I ports let you connect the M2100 to an analog or digital PC monitor and a TV or a plasma display. All of the requisite audio and video cables are included in the box. A plastic cover snaps onto the back to help hide the cables, routing them out the bottom and behind your entertainment unit or desk. We were disappointed to find only three USB 2.0 ports; one is located up front along with a FireWire port and a microphone jack.
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For all your photos, MP3s, and data stored on flash memory cards: a six-in-one media-card reader.
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USB 2.0, FireWire, audio, and video ports are located up front for your convenience.
The front panel boasts a convenient six-in-one media-card reader, which lets you view the photos stored on your digital camera's media. It accepts CompactFlash (Type I and II), IBM Microdrive, SmartMedia, SD (Secure Digital), MMC (MultiMediaCard), and Sony Memory Stick formats. Below the card reader is the lone optical drive, a combo DVD-RW/CD-RW model.
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Unless you have a gigantic room worthy of MTV Cribs, the VX900 flat-panel display is the right size for a Media Center PC.
ViewSonic's first desktop PC, the NextVision M2000 Digital Media Center, offered sluggish performance, which is why we were disappointed to find that its successor, the M2100, offered nearly identical configuration and performance. The core specs haven't changed: 2.8GHz Pentium 4 on Intel's aging 845 chipset, 512MB of slow 266MHz memory, and a large (160GB) yet slow (5,400rpm) hard drive. Only the graphics card improved, going from the old 64MB GeForce4 MX 440 card to the 128MB GeForce FX 5600. Unfortunately, ViewSonic doesn't offer any customizable configurations.
The story is the same with the peripherals: our test system came bundled with the same 19-inch LCD, the VX900, and infrared keyboard. The VX900 is larger than the 17-inch displays offered with many other Media Center PCs, but both sizes are better suited for smaller rooms where you're only a few feet from the screen. If you plan to use the system more as a DVR than a PC, we suggest you either connect it to your TV or choose a larger display. ViewSonic offers optional monitor upgrades, including a 42-inch plasma display, a 27-inch LCD TV, and even a home-theater projector.
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If the keyboard were RF, we'd say it was the perfect match for navigating the Media Center OS.
We'd appreciate the wireless keyboard more if it were radio-controlled instead of infrared, which requires a direct line of sight to its receiver. Otherwise, it's a smart choice for a Media Center PC because it integrates the mouse control via a knob on the upper-right corner of the keyboard. It takes a little getting used to and works much better with Media Center's oversize menu buttons than with the small icons in regular Windows.
The M2100's outdated specs mattered most when we tried to use the bundled Sonic PrimeTime app, which is integrated into MCE 2004. Select it from the main menu, and the system starts PrimeTime in the background. You leave the Media Center briefly before returning to a Media Center screen in which you can select from a list of recorded TV shows to burn to a DVD. The system froze occasionally when we tried to burn to disc (although ViewSonic tells us that it was a beta version of the software, and the shipping version will work without incident).
Sonic PrimeTime lets you select recorded TV shows to burn to disc from within the Media Center interface.
Given the unimpressive performance of ViewSonic's first Media Center PC last spring, we had low expectations for the nearly identical M2100 that arrived in our labs. Lacking natural updates such as a new chipset, faster memory, or a speedier hard drive, the M2100 performed poorly on our benchmarks. It trailed Dell's Media Center PC, which also uses a 2.8GHz P4 processor (but has a newer chipset, faster memory, and a faster hard drive), by 19 percent on SysMark2002. The M2100 has enough power for basic office apps, but that's not why you're buying a Media Center PC. We have serious reservations about the M2100's ability to handle Media Center functions, not to mention future applications.
Application performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)
To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark2002, an industry-standard benchmark. Using off-the-shelf applications, SysMark measures a desktop's performance using office-productivity applications (such as Microsoft Office and McAfee VirusScan) and Internet-content-creation applications (such as Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Dreamweaver).
3D graphics and gaming performance
ViewSonic's only significant change from the M2000 to the M2100 was to the graphics card. By upgrading from the GeForce4 MX 440 to the GeForce FX 5600, the M2100 has the ability to run most of today's games, which is about the only positive statement we can make about its performance. The FX 5600 will let you play games at high resolutions, and it should supply enough power for most future games.
3D graphics performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)
To measure 3D graphics performance, CNET Labs uses Futuremark's 3DMark2001 Pro Second Edition, Build 330. We use 3DMark to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 8.0 (DX8) interface at both 16- and 32-bit color settings at a resolution of 1,024x768. A system that does not have DX8 hardware support will typically generate a lower score than one that has such support.