The birth of the living-room PC has been years in the making. But with Intel Viiv – and shortly AMD Live – roaring into the shops, it looks as though the future may have become the present. This ViVa system from Mesh closely follows the Viiv requirements laid down by Intel. It gives us a good glimpse of what you might expect to see coming soon to a front room near you.
The way a PC blends into your sitting room is an important aspect of the Viiv experience. Smaller form factors are encouraged. The ViVa might not set new standards in living-room chic, but it's a fairly compact and sleek PC unit.
It looks like a tall DVD player, so the ViVa should blend in nicely with your electronics equipment. It's quiet enough, but far from noiseless. If you're sensitive to such things, you may find the low hum irritating.
Using the ViVa is simplicity itself. The remote control combines with Windows XP Media Center 2005 Edition so you can operate the Mesh from your armchair.
The ViVa comes with a fairly low price tag, but some of the hardware is excellent. The 300GB hard drive ensures you'll have more than enough room to record reams of video and audio. The TV card is dual-tuner, so you can record and watch two different channels at the same time.
Wi-Fi isn't included as standard, although the range of ports and connectors is decent. You get three USB ports and one for FireWire. It's easy to remove the case cover, too, but there's little room for expansion.
If you're offered excellent specs at a low price, there's usually a catch. In this case it's the monitor: there isn't one. Making this an optional extra is a smart move, though, as most people will have one already. If you don't, set aside £250 to £350 for a good 19in or 20.1in model.
Perhaps more questionable is the decision to saddle this PC with a lacklustre onboard graphics controller. The ViVa struggled to produce much above 25fps (frames per second). As the ViVa is intended to be a complete home-entertainment hub, this is surprising. In fact, a little bit more all-round power wouldn't have gone amiss.
The 3GHz Intel Pentium D 930 CPU is decent rather than outstanding. And a WorldBench 5 processing-speed score of 86 suggests that the ViVa is competent rather than powerful. The onboard audio setup is far from the best solution – another concession to the low price.
Will Viiv thrive?
Intel hopes its Viiv technology will be at the forefront of the next revolution in computing, placing a PC at the heart of every home. The typical Viiv system will be able to communicate with other electronic equipment, such as portable media players, and seamlessly link them together into one user-friendly hub. Listening to music, viewing photos, recording TV and transferring everything on to a media player or laptop will become simple. There'll be no file-format or network issues.
The means of delivering all this is a surprisingly modest set of requirements that PC manufacturers have to meet to get the stamp of full Viiv compliance. A dual-core processor is a must, because Viiv PCs need strong multitasking capabilities.
Other prerequisites include a motherboard with the 945GM, 945PM, 955X or 975X chipsets, which will guarantee a host of relevant specifications: DDR2 memory support and Intel HD audio with 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound. With these chipsets Viiv PCs will be able to support Quick Resume – where everything boots instantly – and Visual Off, where the PC can in effect turn itself off, but remain working away in the background.
It's strange that Viiv doesn't require Wi-Fi support, because this seems crucial to the media-hub concept. Viiv PCs will be able to take advantage of Hub Connect Technology, however, which will simplify the process of setting up a Wi-Fi network.
Perhaps more importantly, the Intel Media Server will allow the Viiv PC to connect up with all of the other media devices in the home. If one device uses a file format that's incompatible with another, the Viiv PC will do the necessary translation.
Both of these services will become available later in the year, at which point Viiv should really begin to come into its own. The concept is rather vague and manufacturers haven't done much more than brush the surface with their existing PCs. However, it is a very interesting idea. And if all Viiv does is make it easier to set up networks and transfer data from one device to another, that alone would make it welcome.