by Vasily Melnik
01/28/2006 | 06:17 PM
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.
Like other system cases from Thermaltake, these come packaged in colorful boxes that give you some detailed info about the contained products:
The contents of these two boxes are absolutely identical: a system case, a user guide, and a cleaning micro-fiber napkin. What sets these models apart from the Tenor is the front panel design:
Well, it is certainly far from the traditional PC case design. These system cases look more like some hi-fi electronics and wouldn’t be out of place if put down on the same stand. The single thing you may want to make a mental note of is the coloring. The light-colored Bach will not match well your dark-colored home audio/video devices, while the two-tone Mozart will. One of the questions often asked by people who choose such system cases remotely is if its dimensions are like those of typical hi-fi components? The dull width/height/depth numbers may don’t mean much for some user who wants to know exactly how the system is going to look in his/her home. It’s for such users that we made a snapshot of the Bach next to a popular low-end receiver Yamaha RX-V375:
The Bach seems to be bulkier, but this is only true for some views. For example, the case and the receiver look almost the same size when viewed from the front:
The side view, however, may frighten a hi-fi user who has got interested in HTPC systems:
The Bach has almost two times the depth of the Yamaha, yet this is just a specific comparison. The Yamaha RX-V375 is not the biggest device of its class and if you consider the dimensions of a normal hi-fi equipment stand, you will understand that there will be no problems with settling the new case from Thermaltake on it.
The new models have the same chassis type as the recently reviewed Tenor. There are in fact no changes apart from the front panel and the color. The rear panel still looks like a reduced version of the typical ATX system case.
The top panel is designed in the same way, with air inlets opposite to the CPU and graphics card.
The internal layout of the case hasn’t changed, either:
We’ve got the same stiffness ribs here and the drives cages are placed in the same way. As we noted in our review of the Tenor, Thermaltake did not took the easier way and did not limit the user’s choice of the mainboard form-factor. They didn’t try any new ideas about the power supply, either. As a result, the new system cases support full-size ATX mainboards and classic power supplies, like the Tenor does. The user is not limited at all in choosing the configuration of the PC, yet these system cases are really small. You can refer to our Thermaltake Tenor review for details about the assembly and operation – we are not going to focus much on the hardware in this review actually.
Externally the two models differ in some details of the front panel, particularly in the way the front interface connectors are placed:
Compare also the LED indicators and Power/Reset buttons:
The shape of the 5.25” bay door is different, too:
This door is better designed on the Bach. The Mozart’s is bigger and the Bach’s is lighter, easier to open up and covers only the drives bay. Well, you won’t need to open the door up too often because both the cases come with special faceplates for optical drives. It is a classic flip-down spring-loaded panel on the Bach:
It has a metal prop to fix it in the closed position and you can also adjust the strength of the spring as necessary:
It’s simpler with the Mozart:
The plate which is secured with two metal brackets in the snapshot is simply glued to the drive tray with the included two-sided scotch tape and serves as a decorative faceplate as well as a kind of tray extension. We can’t unfortunately illustrate this as the mentioned two-sided scotch tape holds so strong that the drive you attach the faceplate to will become an integral part of the case, so you should choose one carefully.
The bay brackets are high quality, too:
These are not the traditional tin things that are to be wrenched out, but rather thick plates fastened with screws. To remove a bracket or install a drive, you must take out the internal case for 3.5” drives. Our advice to you is to think over the configuration of hard and optical drives beforehand to avoid doing more work in the future. The good news is that, unlike with the Tenor, you don’t have to remove the front panel to put an optical drive in.
These are about all the external differences here. As for internal ones, the Bach and Mozart are both equipped with VFD displays and come with a remote control. As a result, there are more wires inside. First, it is an interface cable for the display and IR sensor. It uses one USB connector:
The cable is universal: you can plug it into any free USB port on the rear panel or you can use a mainboard’s header:
And here’s also a masterpiece of engineering thought, a super adapter of a unique design:
This monstrous thing is only meant to give you three wires to power up the display!
As you see, there’s nothing unusual here: one “ground”, one +5V and one +5V standby voltage to power the display when the system is shut down. So the question is why did they create such a huge adapter? There’s not so many space inside the system case and you wouldn’t want to clatter it with such a gift. You can correct the issue in about 10 minutes if you’ve got a soldering iron: the adapter is to be removed and the wires are to be put directly on a power supply cable. The result is some more free space inside the system case.
The panel with the display and the IR sensor is rather small:
The standby power is necessary for the system to be conveniently turned on and off with the remote control. There are also two highlighting LEDs here and very cute Power and Reset buttons:
The buttons move softly, yet with distinct response, just like buttons on expensive hi-fi devices.
Now we have to give you some bad news, too. When describing the Tenor, we pointed out that the intake fan wasn’t feeling quite well, and the two composers haven’t got rid of this problem:
This is not the best place for a fan and the vent opening is much too small, too. There is actually not much help from this fan and you’d better turn it off right away to reduce noise. For the fan to make some sense, you can try to cut a bigger opening in the front panel.
Everything you receive along with the system case is packaged into a small cardboard box you will find fastened under the case’s bottom stiffness rib:
The accessories are not very numerous:
This is a remote control with batteries, some fasteners, a disc with software for the remote control and the VFD-display, and a small software manual. No extras here.
We’ll talk about the software later on; right now let’s have a closer look at the included remote control:
The two large buttons at the top turn the system on and close the active application. Media player controls are right below them:
Lower still, there is a universal joystick for menu navigation and cursor positioning; frequently used keyboard and mouse actions are duplicated around it:
The top button in the circle switches the joystick between menu navigation and cursor control. Below the joystick there are buttons to eject the optical drive’s tray, to switch between the running tasks (our thanks to the developers for this very useful button!), to cancel an action, and to launch applications from the remote control. The blue button launches a software multimedia shell called iMEDIAN.
Next go volume and channel selection buttons as well as numeric buttons to enter the channel number directly.
A sound mute button is on the left of the volume control. On the right of the channel selection button is a Timer button. Tab and Shift+Tab keys are also available among the numeric buttons.
Three groups of iMEDIAN-related keys are below the numeric pad:
The colored buttons choose the reproduction mode according to their labels, but there are some additional buttons for DVD and Movie modes. In DVD mode you can use the buttons to enter the menu and to change the audio and subtitles language; in Movie mode you can set a bookmark, assign a video frame as an icon for the file, change the screen format (the available formats will be described in the Media Center section of the review), and enter the full-screen playback mode.
That’s all about the hardware, now we must try to start it up.
Since we had already tested the same system case, there was no sense in assembling a PC system in it and redoing our earlier work. We took it easier. All the interesting features of Thermaltake’s new system cases are located on the front panel and nothing prevents us from attaching it to any PC and checking out the system capabilities. This approach seemed the more justifiable as Thermaltake supplies a kit consisting of a similar remote control, a VFD display designed as a faceplate for a 5.25” drive bay and a software CD. We ended up with a funny testbed, to be sure, as we connected the front panel of the Bach to a Tai-Chi system case:
The computer started up without a hitch. Just a push on a remote control button and the system wakes up to life:
Well, our first impulse was to find the designer of this LED-based highlighting and get him watch this system case in a dark room for the rest of his life – for the others not to make the same mistake. But if you don’t want to have two small floodlights in your living room, you have to solder a resistor into the power wire. The blue decorative highlighting can also be disabled altogether, if you want.
So the system is up and running. Let’s see what we can do with it.
So, we’re dealing with a hardware & software package that includes a VFD display and a remote control with their software and the multimedia shell iMEDIAN. We’ve already discussed the hardware section of the package, so now let’s get closer to the main constituent of any HTPC, its software.
The remote control has been described above, and this section is about its functionality and software settings. The remote control is set up through the iMON Manager which you’ll find in the system tray after the OS has booted up. The Manager’s main window offers four buttons:
The Go to tray and Help buttons are self-explanatory, so we’ll focus on the remaining two. The dialog window that opens up after you click the Setup button consists of five tabs tat contain keyboard and remote control settings. On the first tab you will set up keyboard shortcuts and assign actions to the remote control buttons in a particular application.
The number of applications is indefinite – the user can add more programs or remove them from the list as necessary. There are initially presets for three programs: Windows Media Player, Explorer and Windows Messenger. Adding an application is as simple as two mouse clicks – just create one more profile and specify the parameters. The second tab contains OS commands.
The remote control can be used to issue keyboard and mouse commands as well as for power management. You can’t add more commands, but you can change the keyboard shortcuts and the assignment of the remote control buttons for the commands already in the list. Moreover, we could only change the function of the middle mouse button in our case, but this is in fact reasonable as the other buttons are duplicated on the remote control.
Additional Windows commands can be set up in the separate Customized Windows CMD tab:
Adding a command (like in the other cases) is done in a couple of mouse clicks. Click the Add button and you’ll be asked to enter the command name:
The keys of the keyboard shortcut are entered in the next window:
And then you assign a remote control button to this command, too:
The two red fields indicate that the remote control signal has been received. You are to press the RC button two times to avoid an erroneous press. You’ll see the newly created command in the list as a result:
The fourth tab is laconically called Macro:
No comments are necessary here, except that the macro-commands are entered in a rather curious fashion. An onscreen keyboard appears:
All the keys and shortcuts pressed on the keyboard are saved as one macro-command which can be assigned to a remote control button.
The last, Launcher tab is to set up the media application launch button.
This button can be made to launch any application from the default list or one that you select manually.
These are all the options you’ll find behind the Setup button of the iMON Manager. Let’s now try to click the Options one.
There are more items here, but they are mostly about system parameters. The Common section is where you set up the mouse or keyboard priority when using them with the remote control and choose the sound for identified and unidentified remote control signals.
The IR signal indication by the Desktop icon is set up in the Indicator section:
The mouse and keyboard setup is about the pointer movement speed and the key repeat parameters.
In the System Volume section you select the priority audio device, choose the exact parameter to be controlled from the RC unit and the volume adjustment step.
You can also set up the display mode parameters here:
There’s nothing extraordinary among the parameters: color depth, screen refresh rate, and some typical resolutions to be switched through.
The Virtual Keyboard can be set up, too:
You can also allow third-party programs to use the iMON driver:
So, the functionality of the remote control is extensive enough for 99%, if not all, users, and you’ve got an opportunity to fine-tune the remote control to your taste.
The VFD display will be the next item discussed in this review. The display is intended to output system information and a little more. It remains working even when the PC is shut down or is in the standby mode, although not doing anything more than showing a simple welcome message:
Like the remote control, the display is managed by means of a small program whose icon resides in the system tray:
The row of 8 square buttons is for choosing the display operation mode: Auto Mode, Graphics EQ, System Information, Media Information, E-Mail Check, Daily News, and City Information. When you place the mouse pointer over a button, its name is conveniently shown on the display.
The data output parameters are all set up on the seven tabs of the Options menu. Let’s browse through them one by one. The Auto Mode tab comes first:
You can select here what indication groups will be alternately shown on the display…
…set up the date and time formats…
…and choose the message to be displayed in the standby mode:
Moreover, the two lines of the display can be set up independently, so you can write there everything you want.
There are equalizer settings here: level and on/off duration.
And there is a separate tab for a thorough equalizer setup:
You select the main audio device here:
And the signal source, too:
And that’s exactly where we’ve got a problem. The equalizer refused to work when the audio signal was where it is normally supposed to be – on the line output. The microphone and line inputs work all right, but the most demanded mode – using the equalizer when playing music – is unavailable. There is just no such mode here. Of course, it’s not a problem to connect the line input and output, but we can’t understand the developer’s reasoning. Checking the option “Show Graphical EQ for all system sound” did not help, either:
We can think of only two explanations: this software either works wrongly with the integrated audio subsystem of our Intel D955XBK mainboard or the equalizer is only supposed to appear when the user tries to sing a tune into the microphone or record something from the line input. The following picture was the maximum we could see of the equalizer:
The next tab is about outputting multimedia content:
So you can specify the player from which the track info, time parameters, etc. are to be read. If a player is not installed in the system, it appears as inactive in the list. However, it is not as simple as it seems. For example, Winamp remained unrecognized even after we had installed it on the computer:
So the developers still have some work to do yet. Talking about software flaws, there is a funny thing in the media mode. If you’ve got a virtual CD/DVD drive in your system, you may forget about the Eject button on the remote control because when you press this button the system will be ejecting the virtual drive tray, totally ignoring the real drive (even though the files from the inserted disc are loaded into the player automatically).
The system works well with its included player, of course, and shows you something like that:
There are few settings on the System Information tab:
And these are all simple checkboxes. The user can choose to output only the parameters he/she wants to see (like the processor type – if you are really deeply fond of that little piece of silicon inside your PC) and disable all the rest. Here are some examples.
It’s type, frequency, usage. The latter is quite a useful parameter indeed. Then, you can see how much memory you have in total and how much of it is in use. The memory usage is also reported, in percent:
Not quite a useful piece of information is the type of the installed OS:
Next is the user name you’ve logged into the system under (in case you’ve forgot it):
The speed of the local network connection:
The amount of network data sent/received:
The used/free disk space:
And the IP address:
So there’s a lot of information and it’s up to you to decide if it is of any use. Some items can hardly be called useful, yet we just can’t regard the presence of some feature, even though worthless, as a drawback. Maybe someone will find it useful?
The E-Mail Check tab keeps track of your incoming mail:
You only have to type in your e-mail account settings to see the text “You get new mail” on the display:
If there are no new messages in your mailbox, you’ll see the following:
On the Daily News tab the news update rate is specified:
You’ll get it in a creeping line then:
It remains a mystery to us where the news comes from as we could not find any news server settings. The news messages must be somehow connected with the City Information:
There is a list of cities on this tab for which time and weather information are displayed:
You can add any city into the list:
The weather info update rate and the temperature format are selected lower on the same tab:
The result looks like that:
So, it’s Monday, 11:04 o’clock, in Paris. The temperature’s 16°C and the sky are mostly cloudy. You should definitely take an umbrella if you’re going out today. Again, the single mystery for us is where does all this information come from?
So it’s all generally clear with the functionality of the display and remote control. This part of the kit is quite good, if not absolutely perfect. Well, it is certainly going to be perfect soon as the developer is constantly improving the software. Just watch for updates on the company’s website.
All we have been talking about till now is just the beginning. The main component of the kit is the multimedia software shell called iMEDIAN which is in fact the very ingredient that transforms your PC into a multimedia center controlled remotely from your sofa.
Like with the software for the VFD screen and the remote control, we had no installation-related troubles with iMEDIAN. When you start up the setup application, you’ll get a welcome screen and are invited to continue:
Then you’ll be asked if you want to have your computer scanned for media files:
You’d better refuse as the process will take quite a lot of time, and it is useless to scan system folders, for example. If you’ve got a TV tuner installed in your PC, you can set it up right now:
You can use the tuner’s own software or the internal iMEDIAN viewer. That’s actually where the setup procedure ends:
The program installed, you can start it up from the remote control by pressing the big blue button or clicking the desktop icon.
Besides the icon, there will be a small indicator on the Desktop:
Carrying the program’s logotype, the indicator shows the volume bar. When the sound volume is being adjusted, the numerical value is shown on the indicator, too:
The program offers you its main menu right after the launch:
The Settings item is the most important when you are just trying to learn the capabilities of the media shell:
You are going to spend quite a while here, but you’d better get done with this once and for all and never return to this submenu anymore. So, there are six submenus here:
Let’s see what each of them means.
This submenu contains the basic preferences of which there are quite a number here:
There are a lot of subsections, but everything seems to be clear intuitively.
The basic parameters and the appearance of the shell itself are set up in this submenu:
In the Basic section you choose the sound effect accompanying the navigation through the menu (on/off and volume), display the shell on top of all other windows if necessary, and choose to start the shell automatically along with Windows if you are going to make iMEDIAN your default control center.
The parameters of scanning for media files and adding them into the library are located in the Rescan subsection.
The user can scan for all files or for new/updated ones. The second variant takes substantially less time.
The Background section allows you to choose the menu background:
In the Main Menu section you select the items to be displayed in the shell main window.
If you’ve got no files in some of the initially checked folders, you can remove the checkmarks, and put them next to unmarked folders that do contain files. The Scan Media and Settings items cannot be unchecked, and this is right.
In the Time Display Format you select… yes, you select this very format.
And lastly, you can choose the text color and font in the Font & Color section.
There are a mere two items here:
And few adjustable settings:
In fact, you are offered the same A/V and DVD codecs: System Default and iMEDIAN Default. The speaker system configuration is more flexible: Stereo (Default), Quadro, 4.1 Quadro, 5.1 Channel, S/PDIF pass through, Source. We guess only the last option needs explaining. When the Source mode is activated, the speaker configuration will change depending on the recording. If stereo, the Stereo (Default) mode will be turned on. And for example, if you’re listening to a 5.1-channel recording, the configuration will automatically change into the 5.1 Channel mode.
Like in the Codec submenu, there are only two sections here:
The picture parameters at video playback are configured in the Screen subsection:
The settings are quire sufficient for adjusting the image to your particular taste.
The Aspect Ratio subsection doesn’t need our comments:
The following aspect ratios are available: Source, TV (4:3), HDTV (16:9), Screen 1 (1.85:1). Screen 2 (2.35:1), Fit to screen.
Once again there are submenu items:
In the Render Device section the primary audio device is selected:
In our particular case the following options were available: Default Device, Sigma Tel Audio, Default Direct Sound Device, Default WaveOut Device, Direct Sound: Sigma Tel Audio.
In the Advanced section you can turn signal normalization on.
But we didn’t have to enable this setting as we were using the system.
The Schedule submenu offers two items: TV Record and Alarm.
So you can schedule TV recording or set an alarm-clock. To record a TV program, you first click the Add button:
Then select the channel to be recorded:
Choose the repeat type:
Then choose the date (for single-time recording) and time when to start recording and the recording length:
And finally you are asked if the PC must be turned off after the recording is complete.
The alarm-clock is set up in the same manner, except that you don’t have the option to select the channel and turn off the PC, but you must specify an alarm action:
Here you will be invited to perform once again the initial setup procedure you saw at the first launch of the system:
So if you haven’t done something then, you haven’t missed anything. :)
It’s all clear here without our comments:
You can reset the general settings or the database of media files.
Playback parameters for three groups of multimedia files can be set up here.
Here’s what each subsection offers to you.
There’s a minimum of settings: visualization, equalizer and playback options.
Visualization can either be set to On or Off. Nothing else can be done with it.
The equalizer setup options aren’t very numerous, either:
There are about a dozen presets but you can’t manually specify the frequencies line.
In the Playback subsection the Repeat parameters are indicated and the Shuffle mode is turned on or off.
There are three items here, like in the Music submenu:
The Subtitle subsection is the most settings-rich one.
The subtitle quality and draw method are selected in the Display screen:
The font settings are quite sufficient, allowing you to choose the font type, encoding and size…
…as well as color and transparency. You can also use the bold style of the font.
There’s a special screen in the menu to set up the outline effects:
Color and transparency settings are available here, too:
That’s quite a lot of settings for the software of this level but this all works only for DVD because subtitle files (.SRT, .SSA, and others) are not reproduced correctly for MPEG/AVI video files. This seems to be a series limitation, yet it’s not quite so as you’ll learn shortly.
Then you can also choose the subtitle position and synchronization.
But the main and most important setting looks like that:
It just allows the standard iMEDIAN player to use an external filter to display the subtitles. This simple option explains why the developer didn’t trouble about supporting all types of subtitles. No one has ever produced anything better than, say, DirectVobSub, so you are just given an opportunity to use that time-tested tool for displaying subtitles.
Next, you can edit movie bookmarks.
Similar to the audio files playback settings, you can define the repeat parameters:
Graphics files reproduction is the last item in the Media menu.
There are not so many options here. As usual, you can choose the repeat parameters and use the shuffle mode…
…and specify the desired effects and the slide-show interval:
That’s all and we wouldn’t say the setup options are scarce. You can set up every thing that needs setting up. Running a little ahead we want to say that the user won’t have any troubles reproducing videos if the codecs are chosen right.
There are even no subsections here. All you can do is indicate the folder for the news files and its maximum size.
Not many settings here, either: audio language and subtitle language.
You should first decide what software you are going to use with your TV-tuner: iMEDIAN or the tuner’s own program.
The developers’ recommendation to use the tuner’s own software should be listened to because it is virtually impossible to support correctly all the existing varieties of TV tuners. You find yourself in the settings menu after you’ve made your choice:
The first menu item offers you to choose the application to be launched for viewing TV programs.
Keyboard shortcuts for the basic commands are specified in the Keyboard Shortcut subsection:
In the last subsection, Record Folder, the folder is specified into which TV recordings will be saved.
There are only two subsections here:
Nine cities the weather report will be displayed for are selected in the first subsection:
In the second subsection the temperature format is specified:
The settings call for your attention only once – when you are tuning the system up to your own taste. And you will hardly ever need to return to this menu afterwards.
Now that everything has been set up, we can get to the main menu. It is very easy to use, by the way:
First you should tell iMEDIAN where media content is to be looked for. This is done by clicking the Scan Media item:
For each type of multimedia content you indicate folders that are to be scanned for files and file updates.
All you need to do is just check the necessary folders for iMEDIAN to search in. If you add new files into these folders, they are usually automatically added into the database. If this hasn’t happened for some reason, click Rescan:
After the scan settings have been made, you can go over to the other menu items. There are three sub-items under the Local Media item.
And they have almost the same content, by the way.
You can choose either Music Movie or Photo. The single exception is the Media Explorer submenu where there are two more sub-items: DVD File (vob) and HDTV file (ts, tp). Links to all the media files indexed in the program’s database are stored under My Media. If you select My Video, for example, you will see something like that:
These are the folders with video files that you’ve have specified in the Media Scan menu. Choose any of them:
And next choose the necessary file. The currently selected file is marked with blue; the last launched file from this folder is marked with red.
Launching a file is as easy as pressing the Play button on the remote control:
The player settings are quite extensive.
There’s a series of tab at the bottom of the window that contain the player settings:
By the way, if you return to file selection during playback, the current file will be still reproduced in a small window in the bottom left corner.
The same player processes audio files:
The last menu item, Media Explorer, looks like the Windows Explorer:
But it shows multimedia files only.
The last added files are displayed in the New Media section, so if you have no desire to search for the latest downloaded/recorded files, just let iMEDIAN do it.
These are the basic settings and capabilities of the system which will certainly be employed by the user. The rest of the shell’s functions are about various network services. We’ll give you a brief overview of them.
“Network Media” is almost identical to “Local Media” in functionality, except that it is a source of files. It is strange that you have to visit the developer’s website and download the iCASTER software to use this feature.
Why couldn’t they include it into the software pack from the beginning, we wonder?
In the CD/DVD Removable section you can manually start a disc (the purpose of this item isn’t quite clear as a dialog asking if you want the disc to be played pops up as soon as you insert one into the drive).
We won’t describe the TV menu since the user is unlikely to use the internal iMEDIAN viewer and the viewer has few settings actually: viewing and recording TV programs and a schedule.
A fastidious user may find these settings insufficient.
The Webcasting menu is interesting; it offers the following submenu:
Choose your favorite genre and examine the list of radio stations:
Select a station and enjoy the webcast.
Even though the bit-rate is low, you can hardly use this feature over a dial-up modem, while the remaining two features are for everyone to use.
The last menu item is rather informational than entertaining: News and Weather. If you choose News, then you will be asked to choose the news source…
…and the news section:
Lastly you select a news article proper:
The article is displayed as an ordinary web-page:
Controlling the mouse pointer from the remote control, you can easily click any hyperlink here.
When you select the Weather item, iMEDIAN will take a long pause:
And then will offer you to choose one city among the ones you have earlier specified in the settings.
The resulting picture will look as shown in the next figure:
It’s implemented well, but is this feature of any practical use? After all, the weather and news reports are just bonuses here that the multimedia shell acquired from the Digital Home concept.
That’s about all for today. We’ve given you a description of everything the iMEDIAN shell can currently do, except for the specifics of operation of its internal TV viewer. And in our view, this system is very, very close to perfect. It will suit well for building a PC-based multimedia center with excellent functionality. Thermaltake also separately sells a kit comprising the iMEDIAN software, a remote control, a 5.25” faceplate with an IR receiver and a VFD display, so such a system can be built on any PC, not necessarily in the Bach or Mozart system cases. And here’s a piece of advice to you: watch for updates on the manufacturer’s website because the previous version of the multimedia shell could do much fewer useful things!
So, who might want to have a HTPC system case from Thermaltake, why, and how much does it cost? As for the last question, the price of such system cases is about $210-230. If you want to buy only the above-described kit (iMEDIAN software, a remote control and a 5.25” faceplate with an IR sensor and a VFD display), it comes at about $100 cheaper under the name of Thermaltake Media Lab. The price is not high at all, but if you are going to buy such a kit to use it with an ordinary home PC with a small 17” display, you are absolutely wrong. There are three times cheaper kits for controlling the media player or the mouse pointer with a remote control.
System cases like Thermaltake’s Mozart and Bach and the accompanying software are not meant for use in ordinary PCs. HTPCs are to be connected to a monitor or an LCD or plasma panel with a diagonal of 32” and higher. That would be enough for a starter, even though you’ll soon realize that a larger screen might be more appropriate. And the system will only be busy reproducing various types of multimedia content – that’s its purpose exactly. Otherwise the remote control and the specialized shell are not only useless, but even cumbersome. Just try to do some simple operations in Windows with the remote control (drag and drop a file from one folder into another in the Explorer, for example), and you will soon get mad and hurl the control smack into your (expensive) monitor.
So, text typing, active Internet surfing, archiving your media files on writable discs and other tasks are not to be performed on a HTPC. You can of course have a radio keyboard and mouse at hand for such particular tasks, yet if you seriously intend to use such a PC for anything more than just pressing Play with comfort, you will have to face some serious requirements to the peripherals. The visualization device (PC monitor, plasma panel, projector, etc) will cost much more, not to mention smaller necessities. If you clearly understand the HTPC concept and want to have a HTPC system, then you have surely made your own conclusion and need no more explanations.
But if you just want to have a remote control and a pretty display on your PC case, learn more about such devices and their purpose. 90% of such users are perfectly satisfied with a wireless keyboard with an integrated touchpad or trackball; a specialized graphical display controlled via USB makes them absolutely happy.
Besides everything else, this series of system cases from Thermaltake has one more indisputable advantage. They allow installing almost any hardware components and they are large enough to accommodate any configuration. It means you can really transform such a case into a full-fledged media center not only for reproducing media content, but also for playing today’s games. We think you’ll agree that a UT2004 match is going to be more enjoyable on a 40” LCD panel. :) If you take this approach, you will probably have to improve the system case in some minor ways, but that’s not a big problem and is a subject of some other article that will hopefully be published soon. That’s all for now, and good luck to you in building the perfect multimedia PC of your very own.