It all started on October 29th 2002 when Microsoft launched Windows XP Media Center 2002 with Hewlett Packard as their supplier of a computer with the new system. The thought behind it was to gather all the digital fun in one place, partly for the enthusiasts and partly for those with limited space for electronics. When the first machine was available more and more manufacturers followed Hewlett Packard’s example and on November 18th the same year you could buy solutions from Gateway, Alienware, ABS Computer Technologies and CyberPower Inc, besides Hewlett Packard.
It all started on October 29th 2002 when Microsoft
launched Windows XP Media Center 2002 with Hewlett Packard as their supplier of a computer with the new system. The thought behind it was to gather all the digital fun in one place, partly for the enthusiasts and partly for those with limited space for electronics. When the first machine was available more and more manufacturers followed Hewlett Packard’s example and on November 18th the same year you could buy solutions from Gateway, Alienware, ABS Computer Technologies
and CyberPower Inc, besides Hewlett Packard.
The development continued and version 2004 of Media Center was introduced September 30th 2003. Except the already existing functions supporting DVD, TV, music,
photo and radio the weight was put on ”on demand” and
on-line media. A new portal showed up in the main menu simply called ”Online Spotlight” while the cooperation with different companies around the web made it possible to listen to onlineradio, play games and other entertainment with Media
Center and its interface. At this time there where somewhere around 40 manufacturers that sold computers with Media Center.
The design of the interface available today, its content and all of its functions has been developed together with users. During the process Microsoft has done over 20 major investigations where they received propositions and opinions from more then 5000 consumers which later evolved into the thing you see in front of you today when you start Media Center.
Since the product is so very special you can’t buy it separately, instead it’s only sold as a complete package by some manufacturers. Except media Center itself you need a TV-card with support for the system and a special remote and last but not least Microsoft wants to guarantee the function works which they can’t if they sold it separately.
So far Media Center is only available in English, French, German, Japanese and Korean even though there are systems available in other countries as well. In Sweden Network Technical is the first to launch a product with Media Center which they have chosen to name Media Station
Boxter. The operating system is in English and since there isn’t a Swedish version available there are no tv program-tableau for the channels available for download. In Sweden we can expect a complete Swedish product at the earliest by the first quarter of 2005.
Since the product isn’t complete yet (when it comes to some on-line functions) in Sweden Microsoft has been very restrictive with picking the companies that can sell Media Center. Network Technical
is the first and only company which offers a product today even if there is another which has been grated permission. Today Wellton Way, which the other company is called, sells a selfdeveloped system based on
Windows XP, but with its own interface. Microsoft will without a doubt deny further companies to sell products with Media Center at this point until the Swedish product is finished.
We at NordicHardware will however give you a preview of what Network Technical has to offer,
and what we can expect from a future complete Swedish version in about a year. Before we move on to the review we should mention that Network Technical will launch a new version of their Media Station in a near future which will have a completely new look.
Windows XP Media Center is only delivered
as a complete product, which means that you can’t buy the operating system
as peripheral equipment and install it on your computer. If all functions
must work and work satisfactory then there are only a few TV-cards that
are certified to be used in Media Center. Together with the TV-card (which
case is a Hauppage PVR-250) a remote control is shipped that is licensed
to use with the Media Center. Together with software for playback of
this case PowerDVD) this is a complete solution for what the consumer
experiences as one single product in the interface.
Keep in mind that the base of Media Center is Windows XP Pro, which means that you at the same time get all the advantages with Media Center, also get the ability to use it as a normal computer to do your usual tasks. Usually you have a monitor plugged into the computer at the same time as a TV-set or a plasma screen which gives you the ability to work with the computer and then watch a movie, listen to some music or do something else on the big screen in the living room. The interface is easily started using a button on the remote, which is completely controlled from the remote so that you don’t have to use a mouse and a keyboard. Everything is supposed to be simple.
Network Media Station Boxter: Specifications
|Operating system:||Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004, ENG|
|CPU:||Intel Pentium 4|
|Chipset:||SiS651B + SiS 962L|
|Cache:||512k on-die full speed L2 cache|
|Floppy disk drive :||Optional|
|Harddrive:||EIDE 160Gb, Ultra ATA/100|
|Optical storage:||DVD+/- RW recorder|
|Sound:||AC-97 Soft Audio on-board (5.1-support)|
|Internal memory :||512M DDR333 SDRAM|
|Graphics:||NVIDIA GeForce FX 5200, 128M, TV-out, DVI|
|Network:||Integrerat 10/100Mbits with Wake-On-Lan|
|Card slots:||1 x 32-bit PCI, 1 x AGP (4x)|
2 USB 2.0,
1 IEEE 1394 Firewire
1 line-in (optical SPDIF)
2 PS/2 for mouse and keyboard
2 COM-ports, 9-pol
1 output for monitor (built-in)
2 USB 2.0
1 IEEE 1394 Firewire
1 microphone input
1 headphone output
1 line-out (optical SPDIF)
1 monitor output
1 input for TV-signal
1 input for radio antenna
1 input for s-video
1 input for composite-video
1 input for sound (stereo, RCA)
|Power Supply Unit:||200W, PFC|
|Size:||200 x 300 x 185 mm (Width x Depth x Height)|
|Miscellaneous:||PowerQuest DISE (restoration), XP Media Center TV-card, 6-in-1 card reader, Cable kit for DVD and remote + IR-eye|
Contact Network for the current price on telephone 0300-67 00 00.
The package is delivered with the following components:
1 wireless keyboard
1 wireless mouse
1 remote, wireless
1 cable kit for DVD
1 antenna including t-coupling
1 s-video cable
1 audio cable
We give this package a big plus for all the
necessary cables delivered with the machine, and cables in sufficient length
as well. The S-video cable for example is very long and even if you place
the computer far away from your TV set it will reach.
I was thinking of beginning
with saying that Network is almost ready to launch a new look for their
Media Center, with the new name Medius. You who visited Comdex recently
could see it in Network’s case and it is also on their webpage for those
of you that are interested. They aim for a look which looks better in
the living room and is suppose to be quieter then the existing product.
The content when it comes to the system Media Center will be the same
though, even if the hardware may change somewhat though.
The base of the whole concept
Media Center is a box of less size. You probably know the look since earlier,
but as I said in the introduction it will change soon. Windows XP Media
Center 2004 is installed from factory and your product key and license
is on the side of the case.
On the front of the small
case (that is why it is Boxter) offers a bunch of different types connections
for accessories and also outputs for other regular uses. From the left
you have an optical line-out followed by a microphone-input and an amplified
connection for headphones. To the right of these there are two USB-connections
and an IEEE1394-connection where you can connect your regular accessories
such as DV-camera, digital camera or other multimedia products. Of course
you can connect anything that has a USB or Firewire-interface, but since
Media Center is probably going to be used with multimedia I wrote the
way I did.
A bit further up to the right you can find the buttons for turning on, resetting the machine the hard way. The diodes are blue and yellow to show that the computer is on and that the harddrive is working. Today there is no possibility to turn it on via the remote but you can turn it off .
Where there normally is a
floppydrive a cardreader is located, which can handle six different types
of memorycards. These are for transferring pictures to your Media Center
from digital cameras and similar. The pictures can then be shown together
with music, one and one or in a stream in a so called slideshow. This
function and of course all the other will be looked closer at further
into the article.
The optical unit in the computer is DVD-writer from Sony which can handle
both standards (plus and minus). With it you can read all media and the
possibility to write is also there.
On the back there is a whole
bunch connections and at a first glance it may look very advanced for
a beginner, but most of them have their natural placement. What you have
to be careful about though is that the card has two connections for monitors,
one at the bottom left from the integrated graphics card and an extra
one at the bottom right. The machine is configured to use the extra one
at the bottom right since it has better performance and therefore you
have to connect the screen through it, otherwise you don’t get any picture
on your screen. This is mentioned in the manual though.
Further more there are two COM-ports, one network outlet, two USB-ports,
two IEEE1394 (firewire) and two PS/2-port (mouse and keyboard). There
are also connections for 5.1-sound (front, rear and center/sub) in combination
with line-in, line-out and microphone. They are configured for stereo
as default and if you for any reason want to change this you have do it
in Windows manually. There is also an optical line-in (SPDIF) and a connection
for connecting the powercable.
There are two extra expansion-cards
installed in the computer, one AGP and one PCI, which is the maximum number
of cards that can be installed. Which means you can not install any other
cards. The card to the left is the tv-card(PVR-250 from Hauppage) and
there you have a connection for the radio antenna at the top, video connections
both in form of s-video and composite and two line-ins for stereosound
via two RCA-connections. There are also, except for this tv-card, other
models which work with Media Center.
The right card is the graphics card which in this case is a nVidia FX5200
with 128 MB RAM, where you got a DVI-connection on the top, an s-video
connection in the middle and a regular for you monitor at the bottom.
This is the primary one an if you later connect the tv via s-video or
your plasmascreen via the DVI-connection. The graphics card which is used
is not bound to any specific model or brand so it can vary from computer
Your Media Center is primary controlled with the remote and with control I mean you can start up the interface and control all function in there without assistance from neither mouse nor keyboard. The foundation is a regular Windows XP though so the need for other accessories are big and therefore is the machine from Network delivered with a wireless keyboard and mouse from Logitech. These can also be used with Media Center if you want to, but the thought with Media Center is that you should only have to lean back into the couch and relax and not lean over the keyboard.
On the top of the remote
you control the regular functions which you already know (play, pause,
stop and so forth) in all applications such as tv, DVD, movie and music.
You can also chose to turn off the computer or set it to sleepmode (depending
on what you have chosen in the power settings) with the button to the
upper right. Just as I mentioned earlier you can not activate the machine
with the remote but have to press the button manualy on the case. However,
if you have set it to sleep mode you wake it up via the remote, with a
touch on the same button.
The middle section of the remote is used to to navigate through the menus.
Just as you probably assumed you steer right, left, up and down with the
arrows which points in the corresponding directions and then you chose
with "OK". There are also quickbuttons to jump to previous menu,
open fullscreen, bring out more information about a tv-show (does not
work completely in Sweden yet) and to pull out the tv-tableau and guide
(does not work in Sweden completely yet either).
Below these buttons are quickbuttons for video video, music, tv and pictures and numeric keyboard to chose track, channel and write text and so forth. The big green button on the remote starts up the interface for Media Center and lets you jump back to the mainmenu .
The remote has to have a
receiver and this comes of course along with the computer. It is connected
via USB and then there are two more connections on the back of it. These
are for an extra IR-eye (one extra comes along) which you can connect
an extra receiver with. It can be a receiver for cable-tv or satellite-tv
and the purpose with this is perhaps that you can let Media Center control
your external receiver so that you can change channel in Media Center
it will change channel for you on the receiver. A very convenient function.