A new generation of Media Center’s is set to hit the market with major Hi Fi Companies now getting into the market. More media management systems than application PC’s these devices are designed to deliver great sound and vision.

Most Media Center PCs have been designed as all-around entertainment devices for storing and viewing video, pictures and music files. Audio and video capabilities in these systems are good, but are they enough to please the most particular buyers? Some system builders think there is room for improvement and have started to specialise by tricking out the audio capabilities of their PCs in an effort to please the most discerning of ears.

These builders have come up with a variety of options, from the K2 system from Niveus Media which is distributed in Australia by Pioneer Electronics. The K2 Media Centre is a model the company believes will go up against $20,000 stereo component systems. 

Focusing on audio is a good bet. System builders say a general dearth of high-definition TV options at the moment puts the Media Center’s audio capabilities front and center. And they note that customers using Media Center (MCE) PCs in home theater setups want the best-quality audio to match their investments in video. Many system builders say a typical entertainment PC audio solution has a signal to noise ratio (SNR) of 80 to 90 decibels (dB), while the new systems seek to raise that to well above 100 dB.

“We want to bring the Media Center up to the level of dedicated audio products,” says Marty Kashiwai, a product planner at Integra,a manufacturer of high-end audio products that will release its first Intel Viiv-based product soon. The device will be distributed in Australia by AudioWorks.

Integra’s model will include a sound card the company markets in Japan that Kashiwai says boosts SNR to more than 100 dB, though at press time he did not have specific figures or model pricing. It also supports Dolby 7.1 surround sound and optical digital outputs. “We feel audio has the most potential in the Media Center right now,” Kashiwai says. “There is not much high-definition content and the systems are not high-definition cable-ready yet.”

Jeffrey Lloyd, president and CEO of system builder Inteset, which is not yet sold in Australia is loading Creative Labs Sound Blaster X-Fi sound cards on its Denzel Media Server to deliver the quality audio that customers with home theaters demand. The card delivers SNR of 109 dB and supports Dolby Digital EX, DTS ES, two 7.1 surround sound formats and is THX-certified. “In a standard Media Center system, it is recommended that customers use an SPDIF out from the box and plug into a receiver. We don’t recommend that,” he says. “We recommend you use our audio capabilities and go directly to an amplifier.”

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