Microsoft, Intel, AMD, and just about every other major player in the home computer market have at one point or another talked about convergence. The goal is to have the "computer in the living room" rather than in a back office - or more likely, a computer in both the office and the living room, and perhaps a couple more scattered throughout the house for good measure! Those of us without unlimited budgets would probably be content with one or two computers, of course. In order to get the PC into the living room, several things need to happen, and the good news is that these prerequisites have now been met - mostly.

Shuttle's XPC M1000 is a system that looks to combine all of the technologies that have been developing over the past several years and finally make the PC a part of your entertainment center. The question of whether or not it succeeds is going to depend on many factors as well as the desires of the individual, and we will cover the capabilities and shortcomings of the M1000 in this review in an attempt to come up with an answer. Before we get into the specifics of the M1000, here's a quick overview of what we think that a good HTPC needs to succeed.

First, the unit has to work well for the intended task; in this case, it needs the ability to play and record TV. That's pretty straightforward, though the quality of the playback and recording is also important. Recording multiple channels at lower than VCR quality would defeat the purpose of upgrading, for example. Simply being able to record and play content from TV, DVD, etc. isn't enough, however; the ease of use needs to be there as well. We've all seen the VCR decks flashing "12:00" because no one could figure out how to set the time, and a poor user interface is partly to blame. Ideally, you would be able to connect an HTPC and simply have it work with little to no configuration effort on the part of the user. If a system were so easy to use that the manual didn't even need to be consulted, then that would be a definite win for the consumer.

Besides the features, quality, and ease of use, there is still one major ingredient that is often overlooked: appearance. While many people out there have a hodge-podge of electronics devices connected to their TV and stereo, the higher up the quality scale you go, the more important aesthetics become. There are individuals who will go so far as to purchase all of their equipment from one manufacturer, in order to get a homogeneous look. That's probably the extreme, but few people who spend thousands of dollars on equipment are going to want something so crude as a large PC tower case stuffed into their entertainment center.

The importance of outward appearance extends to other areas as well. High-end amplifiers, tuners, receivers, etc. have a couple of other performance aspects that are critical, and they're related to each other. First, how hot do the devices get? As features, quality, and performance all increase, often the heat output will become higher. Most home theater equipment becomes warm at the very least, and warnings such as "do not obstruct the top vents" need to be observed. There are ways to deal with heat, naturally, and the most simple is often to add a fan. Simple in this instance is generally a bad idea, however, as the last thing that anyone wants from their high-quality stereo and speakers is a constant whir of a fan keeping them cool. That's the second item that needs to be dealt with, noise output. Most manufacturers design their equipment to run without any fans, using heat sinks to help dissipate heat better. As before, a standard PC case with a couple of fans emitting a constant 45+ dB of noise is not going to please a lot of people.

That covers the basics of what we want from a HTPC device, although there are plenty of other areas that we haven't mentioned, which we will touch on as well. How does Shuttle attempt to meet these design considerations with the M1000, and do they succeed? We've been putting the system through its paces over the past several days, so let's get into the details.

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  • glennpratt - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    Coming back from S3 on a modern computer is very fast. Plenty fast for most people on XP (I'll have to time my MCE machine which is an old AXP 1700+) and the Media Center remote will wake the computer from S3 (along with the keyboard I presume). It can also wake from S3 to record and Wake On LAN for the MCE Extenders.
  • anandtechrocks - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    Thanks for the great read. I've been interested in building my own HTPC and this article was exactly what I needed. I have an old P4 2.26 (Northwood) I want to use, but maybe I'll hold off until this area becomes more mature.

    Thanks Anand.
  • anandtechrocks - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    Well... actually, thanks Jarred Walton. My bad, it's really early here.
  • JarredWalton - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    You should be in bed (as should I!). 5:30 AM PST is far too late... or early, depending on whether you've been to sleep or not. Anyway, thanks. I can't begin to convey how frustrated I am with the lack of HDTV tuners for PCs. This article allowed me to sort of discuss the topic, but I've been wanting to build a nice HDTV capable PC for a while now - that's HDTV with cablecard or something similar, as terretrial HDTV doesn't work for me.
  • JarredWalton - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    FWIW, I *love* hooking up a PC to my HDTV. TV-Out from PCs is just aweful in comparison, and suddenly HDTV makes it not just feasible but enjoyable to use a PC to play games, DVDs, movies, etc. from your couch on a large display. That's a topic for another article, though.

    It's bed time now. We'll see what people have to say once more people are awake and have time to digest this piece. Opinions expressed in the article may not reflect the opinions of other AnandTech members. :)

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