This review appears in the December 06 issue of PC Advisor, available now in all good newsagents.

The Media Center PC revolution continues to gather pace, as more and more manufacturers look to encourage consumers to welcome the PC into their living rooms.

In truth, most of the Media Center PCs we've seen have been deficient in one or more areas. Then the Acer Aspire iDea 500 lit the path to salvation, and this new Viiv-compliant Hi-Grade offering earns praise by treading a similar route – and for considerably less money.

The PC itself isn't quite as sleek as the Acer model, although it's sufficiently compact to fit nicely into a home cinema setup. It's also reassuringly quiet in operation – a very important point, given that it'll probably be based in your living room. The keyboard has a radio frequency receiver built in, so it can work from almost anywhere in the room, and the trackerball and remote control make it easy for you to navigate Windows from the comfort of your own armchair.

The Hi-Grade is kitted out with a large selection of ports and connectors, although there are some omissions. You don't get a full Scart port – although an adapter is included – and there isn't an HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface).

Other than that, the selection of audio and video ports is ample. Four USB 2.0 ports are included, half of these easily accessed from a front panel. Both of the standard FireWire docks are at the rear, although a mini-FireWire port resides at the front.

The AverMedia A169 dual TV tuners make it easy to watch and record different channels at the same time, and the 250GB hard drive is capacious enough to let you record large amounts of video. Should you wish to improve your television facilities still further, you can upgrade to a Hauppauge Nova-T Digital TV tuner for an extra £42.

And the Hi-Grade really shows its mettle when it comes to graphics. Sure, the 128MB GeForce 6600 card isn't exactly astounding, but it’s still a significant improvement on the onboard controller that comes with the Acer.

Hi-Grade DMS II 3200: Specs

  • 3GHz Intel Pentium 4 530 processor
  • Windows XP Media Center 2005 Edition
  • 512MB DDR RAM
  • 250GB hard drive
  • 128MB nVidia GeForce 6600
  • 16x/16x/16x/4x/6x/8x (DVD-ROM/-R/+R/+R DL/-RW/+RW) drive
  • dual PCI TV tuner cards
  • memory card drive
  • 802.11a/b/g
  • DVI
  • Viiv compliance
  • Bullguard 5.0
  • OpenOffice
  • CyberLink Suite
  • 1-year collect-and-return warranty
  • 3GHz Intel Pentium 4 530 processor
  • Windows XP Media Center 2005 Edition
  • 512MB DDR RAM
  • 250GB hard drive
  • 128MB nVidia GeForce 6600
  • 16x/16x/16x/4x/6x/8x (DVD-ROM/-R/+R/+R DL/-RW/+RW) drive
  • dual PCI TV tuner cards
  • memory card drive
  • 802.11a/b/g
  • DVI
  • Viiv compliance
  • Bullguard 5.0
  • OpenOffice
  • CyberLink Suite
  • 1-year collect-and-return warranty

OUR VERDICT

The 512MB of RAM is perhaps a little skimpy, and a WorldBench score of 87 is merely so-so. But the Hi-Grade DMS II is designed for its Media Center functionality rather than its general capabilities – and for that purpose, it's very effective and fantastically well priced.

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