One of the reasons we are regularly reviewing HTPC system cases on our site is because this is one of the few areas remaining in which user-assembled systems still account for a large share of the total. Why? First, the HTPC is in fact a “refined” version of the ordinary PC, differing from it mainly in the external stylization to match the appearance of hi-fi equipment. Second, this is a rather complicated area. Like with a PC, you have to be an advanced user to utilize all the features offered by a HTPC. It is this factor that has hindered the advancement of the HTPC into the market. Most people who buy hi-fi equipment (DVD-players, receivers, CD-players) do not expect it to have sophisticated controls. And they are quite right from their point of view. Why do you have to learn the way the HTPC is controlled if you can just insert the disc and press the Play button? It is simple, but not for computer geeks.
If you are one, you don’t want to multiply entities needlessly. You don’t need a separate DVD or CD player when your PC can be the all-purpose audio/video source. It is this desire to have everything in a single box that stood behind the creation of the HTPC while the arrival of digital audio/video interfaces reduced the difference in signal quality between ordinary electronic devices and the PC to zero (I don’t count in the isolated cases of poor implementation of S/PDIF on some mainboards, for example, because such are discarded at the step of choosing your components). And the problem of aesthetical compatibility between the PC and other home theater elements vanished when there appeared system cases designed like audio/video equipment.
However, these are only half-measures when it comes to entering the wide market. A simple control shell for playing, storing and managing media content is needed, but none exists and none is likely to appear in near future. The PC is a too multifunctional device to be controlled by a shell that would combine an intuitive interface, comprehensible for a non-computer person, with functionality for using all of the system features. Today, using a wireless keyboard and mouse is the best solution, the remote control being just an additional accessory. Advanced multimedia shells like IMEDIAN from Soundgraph are meant for playing content but you have to switch to the ordinary PC mode for playing games, surfing the Web, managing files, etc. As a result, the user doesn’t use special-purpose playback shells because he has his favorite player, his favorite image viewer, and his other favorite software that can be configured to work with the remote control. Thus, the most widespread modern HTPC that is fully utilized by its owner is nothing else but a PC assembled in an appropriate case and installed into a hi-fi equipment rack.
What am I driving at? I just do not agree that the PC should be considered a piece of consumer electronics because it is sold in electronic supermarkets. To buy it and to use at least 50% of its capabilities are two different things. As for HTPCs, you can’t buy a ready-made one in the exact way you need it (of course if you realize clearly what you want exactly). So, there is only one way left. You have to assemble your HTPC with your own hands. And today I’m going to review a system case that can be used to build an all-purpose HTPC system for a wide range of applications.