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Niveus Media Center PCs offer big bang for big bucks

Niveus Media Center PCs offer big bang for big bucks

Niveus has been producing high-end Media Center machines for several years, and they're almost as well known for their steep price tags as their inventive designs. The nearly $6,000 Niveus Denali, for example, is designed to be a totally silent PC, housed in a fanless case that acts as a giant 78-pound heat sink.

The newest Denali system has Intel's Viiv tag, marking it as one of the new breed of entertainment PCs to finally make good on the promise of home-theater/PC convergence.

Always on the cutting edge of home-theater PC innovation, the company now offers a Media Center-compatible, 200-disc DVD changer--the only one outside of the Sony VAIO XL1/XL2 that we've seen. One difference is that the Niveus setup, dubbed the Ice Vault 200, allows you to daisy-chain several changers together, for up to a 1,000-DVD capacity.

At CES, Niveus is showing off a new way to use the multidisc changers: streaming DVD content between the changers and a remote home-theater setup, via a small network extender box. The network component is still a little ways out, but it means users will eventually be able to stick their bulky multidisc changers in the closet, while keeping their Niveus systems in the home-theater rack.

A separate, but even more exciting development is a new PC CableCard standard for connecting a cable television signal to a DVR-enabled PC, without going through an analog TV tuner. CableCards, slim PCMCIA-style cards that were intended to replace bulky cable TV boxes, have never really caught on in televisions (or with cable companies, for that matter), but they're a natural match for home-theater computers.

CableCard-compatible PCs, like the preproduction system Niveus showed us, should start showing up in fall 2006, but many questions remain about digital rights management and the availability of standard cable services, such as on-demand content. When these issues get ironed out, CableCard should be a huge boost for the PC-based DVR.