Articles: Multimedia

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In our recent tests of six PC system cases from Thermaltake we touched upon the topic of HTPC systems using the Tenor model as an example. We didn’t delve too deep into the matter then as besides the form-factor and the characteristic exterior the Tenor was just an ordinary “recumbent” ATX case with all the typical highs and lows of such cases.

The cute looks and the appealing price have made the Tenor quite popular, so without much hesitation Thermaltake have introduced two new models of the same form-factor and named them Bach and Mozart. These two system cases do not differ much from the Tenor as concerns the chassis design, yet they are much closer to a “correct” implementation of the HTPC concept and we just can’t help paying them more of our attention. We haven’t specifically reviewed HTPCs on our site, so here’s a brief historical summary if you are not in the know (if you do, then feel free to skip over a couple of paragraphs).

The term Home Theater PC first appeared when it was suggested that the PC be used as a universal device for reproducing multimedia content and as such it was supposed to comply with specific size, exterior, functionality requirements. Size and exterior are quite important here as a HTPC system is not to be placed on a PC desk, but rather on the same stand with home hi-fi audio/video equipment. However, these two are the simplest requirements for the manufacturer to meet because there are a number of compact system cases on the market, and it doesn’t take a genius to create an aluminum front panel in the hi-fi style.

It’s more difficult with functionality. Ideally, you should be able to control a HTPC system without taking your butt off your easy chair, but a wireless keyboard & mouse are not appropriate as they would be too cumbersome as remote controls. So while much effort was put into developing a PC management system with a small remote control, there have been few really interesting products introduced. Two solutions have survived in the competition and both are software/hardware packages with a small difference: one includes a multimedia shell the remote control is sharpened for and the other is just some kind of a small wireless mouse with a set of buttons to control media players.

The first solution is now being actively promoted under the aegis of Digital Home (which is currently more of a Digital Chaos as only some custom-developed “intelligent home” systems costing astronomic sums are really interesting, while all the rest are only attempts to roll out a hardly usable trial product some people may fall for). It is a device that is based on typical PC hardware parts and is capable of reproducing all multimedia formats, but lacking an ordinary OS at the same time. The main drawback of such systems is that some very simple actions like playing a movie with attached external subtitles may be impossible because not supported explicitly. Each media center of this kind comes with a long list of unsupported functions and we won’t voice them all. Suffice it to say that such systems can only meet the requirements of a very undemanding user who has not tasted the flexible setup and configuration opportunities the classic PC offers.

The optimal solution had been hanging in the air for quite long until it got recognized and implemented as a more or less consumable end-product. It’s simple: leave the regular computer functions intact, but add a multimedia shell that would have everything necessary for comfortable reproduction of diverse multimedia content. And now we’ve been given such a system, not quite perfect but usable.

The developer and the product are to be discussed throughout this entire review, while winding up this introductive section we want to state the fact that there are no ready-made HTPC systems on the market yet. What is offered as media centers, media PCs and other media-something is nothing else but functionally average variations of the entertainment PC and such products usually look absolutely alien to any hi-fi equipment. Opposed to this are special solutions with individual approach, original design and customizable functionality.

The “composers” to be reviewed now are meant exactly for the category of users who prefer to build customized systems out of smaller bricks and have no use for underdeveloped, average-user-oriented products. So, meet Mozart and Bach in person.

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