It's safe to say that early experiments in media centre PCs weren't entirely successful. Large, hideous, beige machines with loud fans and an annoying tendency to cut out 10 minutes before the end of your favourite film – few of these systems seemed likely to receive an ecstatic reception in the typical living room. Acer has come to the rescue, showing us how a PC with Windows XP Media Center Edition should look and act.
The iDea 500's clean but functional design, which makes it resemble a DVD player rather than a PC, will fit in perfectly with the rest of your audiovisual equipment. Acer has got around the noise issue, creating a system that runs at just 23dB (decibels) – virtually inaudible to the human ear. And the keyboard's built-in radio frequency receiver means it can work from almost anywhere in the room, without needing an external box connected to the Aspire.
And beneath the slick exterior, this machine has a vast hidden array of ports and connectors. The four USB and pair of FireWire ports are standard-issue. The sophisticated HDMI (high definition multimedia interface) connector, though, is far from ordinary. DVI (digital visual interface) is included. The range of sockets includes coaxial and optical audio ports, and a brace of Scart connectors.
The dual TV tuners ensure you can record and watch programmes on different channels, while Wi-Fi is supported. Ethernet support is built-in and the iDea is Viiv-compliant. As a straight PC, it's solid – 91 WorldBench points suggest it will perform most tasks satisfactorily, while a 250GB hard drive is plenty for recording. But we're not totally happy with the onboard graphics.