The arrival of Microsoft's new operating system Windows Vista heralds the marriage of the PC and TV - well, almost.
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But the integrated Microsoft Media Center functionality in Vista Home Premium Edition and Vista Ultimate (combined with powerful processors from the likes of Intel) does mean that we have a high-performance platform that is capable of supporting high-definition TV (HD TV) or movie downloads and recording.
With a compatible PC with a TV tuner, you can use Vista to start watching, recording and pausing live TV, for example.
So what sorts of options are available in terms of Vista-ready media centre PCs and notebooks? Read on to find out â€¦
RRP From $2499 See it: www.acer.com.au
Acer claims this machine is designed to be the ultimate digital home hub - it's a quiet, yet powerful media centre for the living room. You can access your own movie, music and photo collections, not to mention exclusive Intel Viiv online content.
Intel Viiv also means you can turn your PC on and off like your TV without having to wait - and you can easily sync a number of portable media players as well.
The e700 can also support two digital TV tuner cards for simultaneous TV viewing and recording. The Sony Philips Digital Interface (SPDIF) is also in place to make integration into home theatre systems (including 7.1 surround sound) easy. The e700 comes with a remote and receiver as well as a six-month free subscription to Ice TV's electronic program guide, Iceguide.
There is, of course, a 320GB hard drive to store all your media and a DVD-dual drive to burn DVDs. A wireless keyboard, optical mouse and 22-inch LCD monitor are included, too.
The central processing unit is the Intel Core 2 Duo Processor E6300 and it comes bundled with Vista Home Premium Edition.
RRP From $3699 See it: www.hp.com.au
We were impressed with this PC when we had a squiz at the recent Consumer Electronics Show - though the price may be an issue for some. It's basically an all-in-one media centre PC complete with a 19-inch touchscreen LCD monitor, running Windows Vista Home Premium.
This PC is not meant for the study or home office. It's meant for the kitchen or living room, as it gives you instant access to family schedules (via the HP SmartCalendar), TV, music, movies, photos, email, and of course, the Internet.
With a built in PVR (personal video recorder), you can play, pause and rewind live digital TV - perfect for when you can't quite keep up with a cooking show you're trying to follow!
Plus, you can keep in touch with the whole family by creating notes using the PC's handwriting recognition and voice
recording technology. There is also a built-in webcam, integrated audio (six speaker configurable) and built-in 12W 2.0 speakers.
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The PC comes with HP's low-profile wireless keyboard with hide-away bay and numeric keypad and a wireless laser mouse. A remote control with an infrared receiver is also included in the package.
Powered by the AMD Turion 64 X2 Dual-Core TL-52 processor and featuring a NVIDIA GeForce Go 7600 graphics card with 256MB dedicated video memory as well as a 320GB hard drive, not to mention a slot-loading SuperMulti DVD burner, this PC is more than equipped to handle your entertainment needs.
LV190 Viiv 19-inch LCD TV PC
From $2499 See it: www.pioneercomputers.com.au
Also running Vista Home Premium Edition is this LCD TV media centre PC from Pioneer Computers. With a 17-inch LCD screen, wireless keyboard and mouse, the LCD TV PC features Intel Viiv technology for easy integration into your lounge room - not to mention your dÃ©cor.
In terms of sound, the PC supports 7.1-channel audio via the SPDIF port, and comes with a built-in mic, subwoofer and two 3W speakers. Digital TV is supported as well, of course, with a DVB-T Hybrid tuner card. For storage there is 2nd RAID SATA2 support. There is also a 7-in-1 card reader and one New Card slot for ExpressCard/54 and ExpressCard/34.
Powered by Intel Core 2 Duo processors, this PC comes with a handy wall-mounted handle design so you can mount it on the wall or prop it up on a table.
Claritas CTM 101
RRP $2099 See it: www.claritas.com.au
Claritas boasts this is Australia's slimmest media centre, measuring in at only 53mm tall and looking pretty much like a normal DVD player. But never fear - the basic media centre functionality is all included. You can watch and record high-definition TV simultaneously with the built-in dual HD TV tuners. The PC also comes with a 12-month subscription to the IceTV EPG - making the whole recording process that much easier.
The CTM-101 also upscales DVDs to high definition, and you can use it to watch movies you've downloaded from the Internet as well.
The 200GB SATA hard disk drive lets you load your favourite CDs onto the machine for playback or to burn your favourite playlists using the dual layer (Sony) DVD burner. The Intel Viiv technology brings you exclusive online content.
Also featuring Intel High Definition Audio with SPDIF optical digital audio output and up to 7.1 analogue audio outputs, the CTM-101 comes with Nvidia graphics, 10/100/Gb Ethernet network interface and is powered by an Intel Core Duo processor and Vista Home Premium. Also included is a remote control and a 12-month on-site next business day warranty.
This is Claritas' 'entry-level' media centre, but if you are setting up a whole home entertainment system with distributed audio and video, then you might want to have a look at Claritas' high-end CTV media centre range.
Enspire Digital AVX-750
RRP $2499 See it: www.enspiredigital.com.au
This machine is an AMD Live based unit - meaning it is designed to make living in the digital home a lot simpler. AMD says its Live Entertainment Suite is an open platform capable of working with as many existing consumer electronics devices as possible.
This particular media centre PC is powered by the AMD Athlon X2 4600+ processor and runs Vista Home Premium Edition. It features two 400GB 7200rpm hard drives for all your storage needs (though you can add up to five hard drives onto this unit) as well as a dual-layer DVD burner, Ethernet and wireless networking capabilities and dual HD digital TV tuners. Additionally, the AVX-750 offers 7.1-channel surround sound, a host of video and audio outputs as well as a Microsoft Media Center remote control. It is available in black or silver to match your dÃ©cor.
Fujitsu LIfeBook N6420
This new LifeBook is designed to be a desktop replacement media centre unit, according to Fujitsu. It comes bundled with Vista Home Premium Edition and features a whopping 400GB storage capacity to cram in all the multimedia content you can.
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With dual hard disk drives, Intel Core 2 Duo processor, Fujitsu's Visual Optimiser (to amplify video from any source enhance image quality) and an HD DVD drive, the LifeBook is seriously entertainment-focused. It also features a built-in subwoofer and internal speakers and the monitor is a 17-inch Colour Enhanced Crystal View Display.
TV recording functions are available via the analogue (unfortunately not digital) tuner.
You can also choose to bundle the new LifeBook with an infrared remote (or look at our line up of universal remotes on the following pages).
For peace of mind, the notebook comes standard with a two-year pick-up and return courier service and first-year international warranty, with parts and labour inclusive.
Toshiba Qosmio G30
RRP $5499 See it: www.toshiba.com.au
Toshiba makes the impressive claims that the G30 was the world's first PC to support broadband, digital broadcasting media, and HD DVD-ROM.
The Qosmio G30 is the latest in Toshiba's line-up of A/V notebooks. It features a 17-inch diagonal widescreen, full-HD
liquid crystal display supporting 1920x1200 resolution and comes complete with an HDMI output in addition to a host of other interfaces.
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High-definition TV is also available on this notebook thanks to the integrated Digital Video Broadcasting TV tuner (DVB-T). A standard analogue tuner is also integrated for users not in areas with digital coverage.
Powered by the Intel Centrino Duo mobile technology Intel Core Duo processor, the notebook also comes with a one-bit digital amplifier and large diameter Harman/Kardon bass-reflection stereo speakers with Dolby Home Theatre technology included.
We must mention, however, that this notebook still comes with Windows Media Center Edition, however we've included it in the line up because it is upgradable to Vista and it is such an impressive notebook.
RRP $3699 See it: www.toshiba.com.au
Since we cheated slightly by including the full-featured Qosmio on the previous page, we thought we should add the P100 media centre notebook, which does come with Vista - Windows Vista Home Premium, to be precise.
The P100 features a 17-inch high definition screen, Intel Core 2 Duo processor, a top-end Nvidia graphics card and 512Mb of video RAM.
Acer Aspire 9425WSMi
RRP $2600 See it: www.acer.com.au
This is Acer's flagship entertainment notebook; it comes with a 17-inch widescreen, complete with full-size keyboard and numeric keypad designed to be a desktop replacement.
The notebook is powered by the Intel Core 2 Duo processor and Windows Vista Home Premium. It features a native resolution of 1440x900 and uses Acer's CrystalBrite technology in combination with the nVidia GeForce GO 7300 processor for image reproduction - or what Acer calls an 'intense viewing experience'.
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Integrating a 1.3-megapixel, 225 degree adjustable webcam and microphone, as well as 2.1 channel speakers with built-in subwoofer and S/PDIF support, the notebook is also equipped with a DVD-Super Multi Dual Layer drive.
Featuring a160GB hard drive, four USB ports, 5-in-1 card reader and Bluetooth support, the Aspire may be the lower-end mobile-entertainment solution you're looking.
RRP $2799 See it: www.asus.com.au
The A7CC is Asus' feature-packed media centre notebook, which now comes with Vista Home Premium. Complete with a 17.1-inch LCD screen with a resolution of 1440x990, the notebook is powered by Intel Core 2 Duo processing.
The built-in Intel high-definition audio-compliant audio chip takes care of sound, with 3D effect and duplex as well as the built in four-way stereo speakers.
A webcam is also built in, as is a hybrid TV tuner and DVD-Super Multi Double layer drive. The notebook features a 100GB hard drive.
The A7CC comes with a two-year national pickup and return global warranty.
What about Apple TV?
Yes, we know we're talking about Microsoft's Vista here, but Apple's recent entrance into the media centre space was hard to ignore.
Basically, Apple TV is a box that wirelessly syncs with whatever content you have in your iTunes library using 802.11 technology. You keep the Apple TV box connected to your widescreen TV of choice via HDMI or component cables and watch your iTunes content on the big screen.
Apple TV has a 40GB hard drive and, cleverly, is able to synchronise with your iTunes library automatically, so whenever you download a new movie or podcast from the iTunes store, Apple TV can synchronise it straight away so you can use your (included) remote to quickly browse through your collection and select what you want to watch on your TV.
You will require an 802.11b/g/n wireless network using AirPort, AirPort Extreme or 10/100 Base-T Ethernet networking to be able to stream and sync your content. Of course Internet access is required and a broadband connection is recommended. Apple TV also requires an enhanced-definition or high-definition widescreen TV.
Australian pricing is $449.
Intel and Vista
You may have noticed that many models included here use an Intel processor. What exactly do Intel and Vista have to offer in terms of performance?
According to Intel's Anna Torres, you can get up to 40 percent better performance with Intel Core 2 Duo desktop processors while running Windows Vista compared to previous generation Intel processors. So for example, creating high-def slideshow movies with your photos or making home movies will be significantly faster.
And specifically for media centre PCs with Vista running on Intel Viiv technology, you can "experience high-definition entertainment, get smooth high-definition video playback and theatre quality surround sound, access a wide variety of verified digital content services such as BigPond Movies, Reuters,
mp3.com.au and many more. Intel Viiv Technology and the power of Core 2 Duo allows multiple users to access the content on the Media Centre PC at the same time," Torres says.
Read on - for our pick of some universal remotes...
Some of these PCs come with their own remote, but for those that don't (or if you are simply looking for a top-quality universal remote), here are some options to consider.
Logitech Harmony 1000i
RRP $699 See it: www.logitech.com
Logitech has unveiled its newest flagship universal remote control in the Harmony range. The 1000i uses infrared to control devices such as VCRs, DVRs and TVs.
Featuring a brushed chrome, piano-black finish and 3.5-inch touchscreen, this new remote is designed to look as sleek as high-end custom remotes, without the associated price tag.
Setup is via Logitech's online wizard, where you enter the model number of the device you wish to control, then the wizard will match the relevant codes and commands for the remote.
The Harmony 1000i has only nine fixed buttons to make the whole controlling process a lot easier. You simply choose if you want to watch TV, watch a movie, listen to music or play games and from there the remote reveals controls specific for the activity.
NevoSL Universal Controller
RRP $1699 See it: www.ambertech.com.au
According to Australian distributor Amber Technology, the NevoSL from Universal Electronics is built to evolve with the digital era, never outdates and is always ready to adapt to tomorrow's demands.
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The NevoStudio software boasts the world's largest IR code library of brand device compatibility. The NevoSL also features built-in Wi-Fi, alllowing communication via the optional NevoLink (RRP $499) so you can enjoy wireless multi-room control.
NevoSL Universal Plug-n-Play allows you to browse available digital content to stream music, share photos and play movies from just about any networked devices and media servers.
With the bundled PC editing tools, your qualified NevoSL installer can fully customise any design and format for your remote, with your complete choice of images and backgrounds.
Philips Pronto TSU9600
RRP $2399 See it: www.qualifi.com.au
This is the latest Pronto to appear and it is designed to take care of an entire household of digital devices, from high-end home theatre equipment and custom lighting to multi-room media solutions. The new remote can be used with optional extenders to allow you to control pretty much anything that opens or closes.
Featuring a compact profile and flush-mounted, 3.7-inch VGA touch screen, the remote claims best-in-class Wi-Fi wireless link for complete home control, increased IR learning and reliability, access to one of the largest IR databases - and it looks pretty stylish, too.
However, this remote is available through accredited systems integrators only (which takes the headache out of programming for you).
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RRP On application See it: www.rticontrols.com.au
The T2C handheld controller fits on the lower-end of RTI's product line up. It is a compact colour LCD touchscreen controller that also incorporates a selection of fully programmable hard buttons.
Designed to be operated one-handed, RTI says the remote is thin, light and ergonomic and can even be used by small hands.
Featuring a 2.8-inch colour TFT LCD display with VGA resolution, the remote is equipped to handle text, graphics and animation.
It is also fully programmable, with the Windows-based application allowing simple drag-and-drop programming. This is vastly helpful when you're customising and upgrading the remote.