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The issue was definitely with the tuners as I connected a USB digital tuner that was had in the office and got a strong, clear picture. This meant we could only pick up the first four channels over analogue, and these looked frankly awful. This is a real shame and the dual tuners should have been a great feature. There's an FM tuner as well and also two IR Blaster's so you can in theory control up to two external set-top boxes.
The remaining connectivity is another two USB 2.0 ports, a Gigabit capable Ethernet port and finally a aerial in the corner for the integrated Wi-Fi. Unfortunately, the drivers weren't installed on our review sample and while other drivers were available on the Asus web site the Wi-Fi drivers were not.
The hard disk is a full size 250GB Western Digital, which is only ok for a system like this - larger capacity drives are available. The processor is a T2300 Intel Core Duo chip, running at 1.66MHz - not super fast but good enough. There's 1GB of RAM provided on two 512MB DIMMs. Both slots are filled but this isn’t' the sort of system you'll want to be opening up anyway. The graphics are provided by Intel and naturally are integrated. If this machine has a Blu-ray or an HD DVD drive, this combination of CPU and graphics might not be enough to playback the content but the fact is that it doesn't so I guess it's a moot point.
Opening up the system I found that all of this is powered by a lowly 120W PSU. There are only two fans in the system, one on the PSU and one over the CPU heatsink, which helps to make it really quiet and room friendly.
Unlike many Media Center system's which use a rather ugly external infra-red dongle for the remote and keyboard, Acer has integrated this into the front of the chassis. This means less clutter and easier set-up. The remote provided is a standard Media Center one, which does the job well. The keyboard looks rather conventional and there are some useful shortcut buttons at the top. There's a notebook style trackpad and mouse buttons attached to the right hand side. The keyboard has slightly rattly keys but was up to the job. However, it bothered me for two reasons. Firstly, next to the styling of the system itself, the keyboard looks rather corporate. Also the trackpad is on the right, which wasn't much help to me as a left hander. Obviously, Acer has to cater for the vast majority but I thought I'd mention it anyway.
Taking the Acer home one night and using it for watching some pre-recorded content I was pleased with the ease of set up, the quiet operation and the reasonable looks. However, the numerous issues I experienced while testing rather soured my view. Top of the list are the two tuners that just aren't good enough. They couldn't lock onto a digital signal, when an inexpensive USB tuner could. That's not impressive and I'd be sending it back if I had planned on relying on it. The other issue was the missing Wi-Fi drivers and the buttons on the front that don't do anything, though the latter is a minor issue. The LCD screen could also be a touch more sophisticated
These problems are a let down for what would otherwise be a very nicely integrated and potentially we'll featured Media Center system, especially as in typical Acer style it's quite keenly priced. Hopefully, Acer will bring put an updated version putting these things right. If it does, it'll have a very decent Media Center system on its hands. As it stand though, the Aspire Idea 500 doesn’t quite reach its potential.
The Aspire Idea 500 is certainly a good idea, but it doesn’t quite come together in practice.
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