HTPC cases are usually designed as neat flat boxes resembling hi-fi equipment. And it is indeed a HTPC’s job to stand next to hi-fi appliances and serve as a universal advanced audio/video center and storage of multimedia data. GMC also offers such models, but the AVC-K2, being the acme of the company’s HTPC range, is not meant for a stand. Its place is near the user, within the hand’s reach. A common objection to HTPC cases is that it is hard to assemble an advanced gaming computer in them but the AVC-K2 is free from this problem because it has the full-size Tower format.
The front panel of this case, all studded with displays and buttons, raises associations with music centers. There is an original mix of materials here: the matte side panels are made from thick steel, the two decorative faceplates of optical drives are translucent plastic, and the main part of the front panel is soft-touch plastic. Having started its way in the world of computer components from mice, this nice and soft-to-touch material is now used in system cases, too. And it is indeed a pleasure to press the buttons while the overall appearance of the product is surely good.
We will describe the buttons and displays of the front panel in turned-on state because they look all the same without highlighting. By the way, the case begins to shine right after you plug it into the wall outlet (thanks to a special insert into the 24-pin power connector that allows getting some power from the PSU even when the system is shut down).
First we must say a few words about the software and hardware that stands behind the buttons and displays. The system case uses a solution developed by SoundGraph. It is a combination of a controller connected to the mainboard via USB, two displays, a remote control and appropriate software. The latter comes in two applications: iMon Manager is responsible for the display and the interaction with the buttons of the case and remote control. The iMedian HD shell is a kind of Microsoft’s MediaCenter (you may also be familiar with MediaPortal, which is yet another popular multimedia shell). It is a specialized interface that facilitates the user’s interaction with a multimedia computer (the OS’s standard interface is not quite handy when you work with your computer from a distance using a remote control).
SoundGraph’s solution sells separately as a kit consisting of a display, remote control and software or can be integrated into a system case. The advantage of the GMC AVC-K2 is that it is equipped with a specially tailored version of the solution, with additional control buttons and two displays.
The first display is located next to the optical drive. It shows two lines of information such as date and time, equalizer, song info, weather forecast or news from the channels the user has specified in the iMon Manager settings.
Below is the first block of buttons: 15 small buttons encircle a huge Power button. Here you have all the options usually found in consumer electronics: playback controls, volume control, and operation mode selection. There is also a Reset button and a button to turn on/off the highlighting of all the buttons on the front panel. It is somewhat odd to have the Reset button here because it only takes a slip of your finger – and you are resetting your computer instead of watching a movie. This button should be smaller and hidden away to avoid accidental presses.
Below is a multi-format card-reader neatly fitted into the case and covered with a decorative faceplate. A scheme of the card slots is marked on its flip-down cover.
A second display and a second block of buttons are below the card-reader. The display shows information about temperature and current speeds from the integrated controller that manages the case’s fans. The block of buttons nearby is for controlling the fans and interacting with the OS: the 4-position joystick with a central button emulates a mouse. The Cancel button is self-explanatory while the Prog button evokes a special menu with a predefined list of frequently used programs.
The speed of the fans can be varied from 50% to 100%. Unfortunately, the fan control system supports only the two fans installed in the case by default. You will have to tweak the case with your own hands to extend this support to more fans.
And finally, there is a block of interface connectors at the bottom of the front panel, behind a flip-down cover. The developer provided not two but four USB ports next to two audio connectors and a FireWire interface.
Just as you can expect from a multimedia center, this system case comes with a remote control. Its functionality is standard enough. It offers full control over the multimedia aspect of the computer and can even be used to perform simple actions in the OS – the mouse pointer can be controlled with the joystick in the middle of the remote control. The device is fully compatible with standard MediaCenter-compliant remote controls from Microsoft, so you can easily use it with a large number of programs including Windows MediaCenter itself. It is also ergonomic, lying snugly in the hand and reacting eagerly to presses of its buttons.