Windows Media Center: you either love it or you hate it. That’s what they all say, but I’ve been an in-betweener for many years. I had one of the earlier models. It was loud, ran hot, and the DVD player never worked properly.
Now comes S1Digital’s P500—part of the company’s ProLine Series—and I remember what I liked so much about the Media Center platform in the first place.
Let’s start with cosmetics. Right now, the P500 is plopped on my media center console next to my big-screen TV. It’s big but it looks … not bad.
The thing is dead quiet. Finally, it’s downright cold. There is not the slightest heat emanating from the ominous looking machine.
On to the specs. The biggest deal about the P500 is that it was (apparently) the first Media Center to output lossless Blu-ray audio. This is accomplished with the Xonar HDAV1.3 sound and video card from Asus, and is available as the “SoundPack” option from S1Digital.
I don’t have SoundPack on my machine. Even so, the audio sounds immaculate—even through my crappy receiver—and the video is pristine.
On the software side, there isn’t too much to say. Media Center is Media Center. But the kind folks at S1Digital do strip the computer clean of all the junkware that comes on a typical PC. Also, they load up a trial version of control software from Autonomic, possibly the most innovative developer of Media Center software.
One more goodie is that the P500 comes with the My Movies application ready to go. If you want to rip the DVDs that you purchased and own, you have to download additional software, say, maybe AnyDVD from SlySoft? Not that I do that … but if I did have DVD-ripping software, this machine could be an awesome movie server with its 3 terabytes of storage.
In any case, Netflix just added a Media Center plug-in and it works like a charm. Hulu has one now, but it’s not nearly as good. And through Media Center, you can scan movies to view and record what’s playing now and for the next two weeks. And you can create your own “watch” list; if your movies come up, Media Center will record it.
I figured I wouldn’t use the P500 much except for TV and movies. But when my 9-year-old niece visited recently, she went crazy over a big-screen slide show.
I’m not a big sports fan, but I did browse the cool features that Media Center offers, like live updates on anything happening in any game. If I were a fantasy football player, this would be heaven.
And it’s fun to browse around the different apps. I’ve even found myself playing a few games. Sadly, Microsoft’s Internet TV section is completely lame. Guess I’ll wait for Windows 7 (free upgrade if you bought your P500 in time).
Of course, Media Center also serves as a full-blown music server.
The P500 is available with up to four CableCard HDTV tuners, plus an unencrypted QAM/ATSC tuner. I use the ATSC tuner and a single CableCard. The CableCard installation went perfectly. My simple experience, however, is not necessarily common. CableCard is commonly the biggest complaint among users (and non-users).
I have plenty of gripes about Media Center, but they have nothing to do with the S1Digital P500. The machine is stable and quiet and not bad looking.
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Julie Jacobson is co-founder of EH Publishing and currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro, mostly in the areas of home automation, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. She majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. Julie is a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player with the scars to prove it. Follow her on Twitter @juliejacobson.