I first looked at the Elonex eXentia just before the official launch of Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition. It was a pre-production model but it still blew me away with its cutting edge integrated design and high quality construction.
As with all pre-production samples it wasn’t quite finished, especially considering that the eXentia was originally built for a North American market. Now however, Elonex has full production samples of the eXentia, and although it feels like it has been a very long wait, I can assure you that it’s worth it.
The eXentia is an all-in-one Media Centre solution, and unlike any other attempts at an AV PC I’ve seen, this one only needs to have two cables attached to it for full functionality, one for power and one for the TV aerial.
When I tested this eXentia in my home, I plugged it into a power socket, fired it up and just started using it. The keyboard and mouse are RF based wireless devices, which is nothing new. But what is impressive is that there is no messy external receiver for these input devices, it’s all built into the chassis, making for a very tidy solution. The Media Center remote control receiver is also built into the unit, so there’s no need to have an external IR port spoiling your décor either. I still maintain that an RF remote control would have been better, but going with IR was a Microsoft decision that Elonex has had to adhere to.
For those of you who haven’t read my original preview of the eXentia, here’s a little recap. What you have here is, in my opinion at least, Microsoft Media Center as it was meant to be seen. The eXentia looks superb, with a curvaceous silver casing surrounding a 17in widescreen TFT screen. The TFT panel sports a resolution of 1,280 x 768 which gives you a decent sized desktop if you’re using the eXentia as a PC, and a large enough screen for watching TV or DVD movies.
The display itself is first rate, with a bright and vivid image that’s viewable from almost any angle. Elonex has also improved on the original design specs laid out by Gateway and Intel for the North American market, by placing a sheet of non-reflective glass over the TFT panel to keep it safe. Let’s face it, with a device that is viewed as a piece of consumer electronics, sooner or later someone would spray the screen with furniture polish. It also stops any kids damaging the screen by poking sticky little fingers at it.
To the left of the screen you’ll find an 8-in-1 memory card reader, making it easy to transfer images from your digital camera, or even swap data between the eXentia and a PDA. The right side of the screen is equally well equipped with a DVD writer. Not only will this be great for backing up data, but you can also use it to offload recorded TV programmes from the hard disk, if you find yourself getting a bit short of space.
Of course to get the most out of a Media Center PC you’ve got to be connected to the Internet, and preferably via broadband. The problem with this is that most people don’t have their broadband connections in the living room. Plus, with a movable system like the eXentia (it even has a carrying handle), you don’t want to have CAT5 cables running into every room where you might use it.
But fear not. One of the best features of the eXentia is its built-in WiFi adapter. When I setup the eXentia in my living room, it instantly found my wireless ADSL router located in the bedroom. Within seconds the eXentia was hooked up to the Internet and downloading all the Electronic Programme Guides (EPG) and tuning in all the TV stations.