Must-see PC: Digital Media Station

Hi-Grade's Digital Media Station (DMS) is the second Media Cen­ter PC we've seen with a DVD player-like form factor (after Pioneer's early effort.)

The DMS is also the best engineered so far, capitalising on Hi-Grade's experience in the European market. This also explains the rear composite SCART connections (the defacto standard for AV equipment in Europe) - not as useful here but some local home theatre buffs are sure to welcome it.

The DMS doesn't ship with a separate monitor/TV or speakers like the Pioneer, as it's designed to work with your enter­tainment setup. It does so incredibly quietly and doesn't appear to be plagued by heat problems. The use of low-noise components means that, unlike some other Media Center PCs, it's unlikely to be overheard in all but the quietest scenes.

Infrared receivers for the bundled stylish Media Center remote and wireless keyboard with built-in trackball are integrated into the DMS, making for a neat setup. If you have pay TV, you could opt to plug the supplied "IR Blaster" cable into the back of the DMS. This is then placed in front of the pay TV box, enabling the DMS' remote and recording scheduler to change pay TV channels.

Our shipping-ready DMS featured a 3GHz Intel Pentium 4 processor (with Hyper Threading and 800MHz front-side bus), 512MB DDR SDRAM, 200GB 7200RPM Western Digital hard disk and a silver slot-loading Panasonic multi-format DVD burner.

Inside, a number of crafty methods bridge the gap between components and the rear or front of the casing.

The ASUS P4P800-VM motherboard contributed three USB 2.0 ports (one front, two rear) integrated Ethernet, 56K modem plus six-channel audio - either S/PDIF or optical.

All three PCI slots were filled, used by either the D-Link G520 802.11g wireless networking card (with rear antenna), FireWire card (sent on to a single front FireWire port) or the ATI eHome-wonder 9000 analog TV tuner card with FM and TV aerial connections. The AGP slot housed a 128MB MSI NVDIA GeForce FX 5200 graphics adaptor. All cards were low-profile to accommodate the DMS' casing and combined to deliver rear S-Video-in and out plus composite (left, right, audio and video) out connections.

Of course, the DMS is also a standard PC running Windows XP. It performed reasonably well in our tests, returning scores of 286 in SYSMark 2001 and 5161 in 3DMark 2001.

The DMS offers about everything you'd expect from a Media Center. From the comfort of your couch and using your TV as a display you can watch, record and pause live TV, listen to the radio, access premium ninemsn and Telstra broadband content, manage your photo and digital music collections while you chat away on an enhanced MSN Messenger interface or browse the Web - all backed by a one-year, nationwide pickup and return warranty.

In brief: Hi-Grade Digital Media Station

Media Center PCs are expensive compared to other PCs and consumer electronics, but if you want a piece of this technology, the DMS is an ideal implementation.

Price: $2795

Distributor: QDI Technology

Phone:1800 660 280

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Danny Allen

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