Acer Aspire iDea 500
- Great design, Reasonable performance
- Hard disk size
Acer has done a great job of disguising this PC as a set-top box. It's easy to setup and simple to use. We would highly recommend waiting for the Core 2 Duo refresh before purchasing this product. However, if you need something right away it will still handle most tasks easily.
Price$ 2,499.00 (AUD)
With the iDea500 Acer has taken a couple of major steps in the right direction to making media centre PCs more accessible to regular buyers. First and foremost they have ditched the PC tower for a case not unlike a set-top box. And while it still comes in the standard black and silver Acer colours, considering the design and colour of most large format TVs it fits the bill nicely. The second thing that makes this unit more appealing, particularly to people looking for an all-in-one solution, is Acer's decision to give you the option of coupling this unit with their own 37in AT3720B LCD TV.
Even though it now looks like a normal DVD player, there's a lot more riding under the hood of this Aspire iDea500. It uses an Intel Core Duo T2300 1.66GHz notebook CPU with Viiv technology, which allows this unit to run cooler and quieter, but doesn't impact too heavily on performance. Acer says that a Core 2 Duo refresh of this product is likely to be available around mid December 2006. Due to the lower power requirements, cooler temperatures (which result in less fan noise) and undeniable performance improvements of the new Intel CPUs it may be worth holding out on this purchase until you can upgrade it to the latest chip.
While a media centre of this nature may not find itself tasked with heavy duty usage, it will still need to encode music and video, play media, access the Internet and keep itself clean with anti-virus software, which all use system resources. We put it through some performance tests to see how it held up. In World Bench 5 it scored a reasonable 86. Not the highest score, but plenty to do what this machine needs. We also encoded a full music CD to 192Kbps MP3 files, which took four minutes and thirty eight seconds to complete; a fairly speedy but not outstanding result.
The audio outputs in 7.1 channels and can be connected using anything from analog cables to coaxial or optical (to slink). There's also a media card reader that supports CF (CF-I&CF-II)/MD as well as SD/MMC/MS/MS-Pro and of course there's a DVD re-writable drive with dual layer burning capabilities. Two hybrid digital/analog TV-tuners have been installed using a pass through system to allow you to watch one TV channel while recording another. We recorded footage from a High Definition TV channel and played it back in Windows Media Center's (MCE) player, but also in Windows Media Player, and did so with a number of computers, each producing a clear image with no audio synchronisation problems. Time lapse recording worked smoothly and again there were no evident audio synchronisation problems. Rewinding the recording was fast and it quickly picked up the new location when play was resumed. There's also an input for analog radio. The 250GB installed hard drive is the maximum storage that comes with the current model and there's no room inside for a second hard drive. Acer says that the hard drive size may change in the coming refresh.
A display on the face on the unit gives you all the necessary information including lapse time, track, title and chapter information that a standard DVD or CD player might, but can also be programmed to display things like RSS feeds or the weather.
Although it might be convenient for many people to purchase both the computer and the screen as a bundle, the PC itself has plenty of connectivity and will work with any other TV. We used the HDMI output with the Acer AT3720B TV, but S-Video, DVI, composite and component connections are also available. There's also USB 2.0 and FireWire and a host of network connection options like Gigabit LAN and 802.11 b/g wireless.
A rarely seen feature is the IR Blaster which grants you control over other infrared devices, such as an amplifier, via this media centre box. One useful function of the IR Blaster is allowing remote access to devices behind cupboard doors, so you don't have to keep cabinet doors open to adjust your volume. With some initial setup this could be a very handy function for a room packed with electronics and different remotes.
Both the PC and the TV are HDCP compliant, meaning if you upgrade to a High Definition (HD) Blu-ray or HD-DVD player, or optical drive, somewhere down the track you won't have any incompatibility problems under the new copy-protection standard.
Acer has done a great job of disguising this PC as a set-top box. It's easy to setup and simple to use. We would highly recommend waiting for the Core 2 Duo refresh before purchasing this product, and hopefully Acer will increase the hard drive size, if only slightly. However, if you need something right away it will still handle most tasks easily. The design is pleasant and it should blend well into a lounge room setting with both its form and function.
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