Kings of All Media

Adding a computer to your home theater no longer means crossing your fingers and hoping for the best. All of the rigs here handle video and audio with aplomb, and even play saved movies while burning DVDs. For the Windows PCs, Intel’s Viiv (rhymes with five) standard promises plug-and-play compatibility with other Viiv-labeled products, like MP3 streamers, when they come out later this year. The downside is that configuring these computers – with the exception of the iMac – is a real challenge. Set aside at least half a day to integrate one of these monsters into your entertainment system.
– Dylan Tweney

How we tested

We timed each model as it ripped a 35-minute audio CD to 192-Kbps MP3 files.
Using Explorer on the Windows machines and iPhoto on the Mac, we clocked how long it took each PC to rotate a hundred 1-Mbyte JPEG images 90 degrees.
Getting AVI video from your camcorder into a format ready for burning to DVD is taxing for any computer. We processed a 10-minute sample video and counted conversion time only, not the time required to burn the disc.

Apple iMac (20-Inch)
You gotta hand it to Apple: The iMac has just about the easiest setup we’ve seen. Everything is integrated into a single, beautiful package, with no monitor, speakers, or remote control receivers to plug in, and no software wizards to stand between you and your new Kung Fu box set. Its Shuffle-like remote is an uncluttered joy to use with the included Front Row software, which lets you browse pictures, music, videos, and DVD menus. The 16:10 widescreen is vivid and clear, although it struggled with shadow detail in the dark opening scenes of The Shawshank Redemption. The same case holds a built-in webcam and some surprisingly respectable speakers. But if you want to send video to your TV, you’ll need a $19 adapter. And the iMac doesn’t allow you to watch and record TV out of the box – for that you’ll want Elgato Systems’ EyeTV 250 ($200).
WIRED: Incredibly simple to set up and use. Elegant one-piece design. Minimalist remote has everything you need – and nothing you don’t. Inexpensive.
TIRED: Only computer here that lacks built-in TV connections. Files quickly fill its 250-Gbyte hard disk. Slowest DVD–encoding in test (14 minutes, 10 seconds). Won’t slide into your stereo cabinet.

Sony Vaio XL2
WIRED: Crisp, stereo component-like design. Includes 200-disc DVD/CD changer and recorder. Wireless keyboard uses RF, not infrared – no line-of-sight required. Integrated Wi-Fi. Slew of home theater-friendly A/V ports.
TIRED: Boot up quirks. Fair-to-middling gaming performance due to lower-end Nvidia 7400 videocard. Overflowing with useless, preinstalled junkware.
*** 1/2

Gateway FX510XL
WIRED: Fast: CD rip took just one minute, 20 seconds; video conversion, only 5 1/2 minutes. Monstrous 1 terabyte of storage. More ports and media card slots than you’ll ever need.
TIRED: Big, ugly PC tower case dominates your living room. Fan sounds like a DustBuster. Hideous, mismatched IR -receivers are an eyesore.

Dell XPS 400
WIRED: Optional dual-drive RAID storage system on test unit protects data against drive failure. Convenient, front-mounted ports and media readers. Compatible with 7.1 surround-sound speaker systems.
TIRED: Ripping a CD took six whole minutes. Annoying pop-up screens for security and backup software get in the way of setup. Paltry 190 gigs of usable storage.
** 1/2

Link: Kings of All Media

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