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Media PCs: put a PC at the heart of your digital home

Why the time has come for media centre PCs

Media Centre PCs reviews

A media centre PC is a great way to enjoy TV, movies, music, games and the web all around your home. Has the media PC's time finally come? (See all Digital Home reviews.)

It's a rule of Sillicon Valley that the exact moment at which tech companies are at their most brilliant is the start of their decline. For every IBM that manages to parley early success into long-term Blue Chip status, there's a Sillicon Graphics: one day riding high at the cutting edge, the next just another tech company churning out products the public no longer wants. 

In technology, change is constant. So are the wants and needs of consumers: it's the means of delivering them that changes. The PC on which you spent £5,000 in 1995 is a thousand times less useful than the £450 box you picked up last week - but you still want it to do similar things, in better and faster ways.

We want computers to help us work more efficiently, communicate more easily, and entertain ourselves more thoroughly. Tablets, laptops and smartphones now offer us these things on the move, but the position of the PC in the home is due an upgrade.

There's a battle going on for the main screen in your house. Set-top boxes and games consoles vie to be your home's main entertainment feed, while smart TVs seek to challenge the hegemony of the PC as your chief internet portal. It's an idea first espoused in the late 1980s by the founder of the aforementioned Sillicon Graphics, (and then Netscape) James H Clark, who predicted the internet boom with eery precison. In those largely pre-PC days Clark suggested that we would all access entertainment and communications via our TVs - at the time the only viable electronics device in most people's homes.

These days, of course, many people have multiple computers of various shape and sizes, capable of accessing on-demand entertainment wherever they are. But relatively few houses take advantage of their PC through the TV screen - something that may be due to change soon.

Microsoft would love for Windows 8 to form the cornerstone of your home entertainment experience: that's why it has grafted the interface on the Xbox, now sells music and movies, and is pushing Windows Phone 8 and Windows RT as connected entertainment platforms.

Meanwhile Apple has Apple TV, iTunes and iPad, and Google has its own take on the connected TV concept, as well as its own media stores. They all want to provide the content for your TV screen. (Read our Apple Mac mini (Late 2012) review.)

I can well remember PC Advisor reviewing what we then called ‘Media Centre PCs' as long as 10 years ago (as I say, change is constant). Then they were buggy, loud and expensive. More importantly the amount of content available over the - mostly dialup - net was minimal.

Now TV publishers such as Sky and the BBC deliver all of their standard broadcasts and more over the web, and more content is uploaded to YouTube every day than has ever been broadcast. You can access music online from myriad sources, and the gaming capabilities of a PC should never be in doubt.

The web is ubiquitous, constant and fast, and you don't need a separate device to record your favourite programs and songs when you are playing them from a PC with its own storage and a connection to the web.

A media PC could replace all of the boxes that live under your TV, offering acceses to further features and content, and connecting to every screen in the house. And although the £700+ costs of a decent media PC may seem high, consider this: it could replace your smart TV, games console, PVR, set-top box and - well - PC, making it a much better deal. Check out our latest media centre PC reviews for more.

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