The remote control is an original Media Center device which lacks the Teletext and FastText buttons. Of course if you don’t use Teletext then this won’t be much of an issue to you, but it’s a shame all the same, since there are Teletext equipped remotes available.
The keyboard is a wireless device, designed to sit on your lap, much like the one seen with the Elonex Lumina. Unlike the Lumina keyboard though, this one uses infrared rather than RF as the wireless connection method. I’ve never been a fan of infrared keyboards in the past, because I found them to be patchy at best, with characters dropped regularly when typing. However, this one performed flawlessly during use, and the integrated trackball made pointer manipulation simple and accurate. The only downside is that the infrared receiver isn’t integrated into the DMS II, so you need to have a rather bulky receiver sitting on top, or next to the machine.
Although the DMS II that was supplied shipped with a twin analogue tuner, Hi-Grade has informed me that DVB tuners are available as well. Personally I’d go for DVB, that way you’ve got digital TV without the need for a separate set top box.
The integrated modem also means that you can make use of the caller ID feature of Media Center 2005 – this means that if someone calls while you’re watching TV or a movie, the number will appear on the screen and you can decide whether you want to answer or ignore it. It might not be the most important feature in Media Center, but it’s pretty amusing nonetheless.
You can also configure your instant messenger to work under Media Center. Then all your friends who have you in their buddy list can annoy you by sending messages to your screen when you’re in the middle of watching a movie.
Specification wise, the DMS II is powered by a 3.4GHz Pentium 4, backed up with 512MB of RAM and a 250GB Western Digital hard disk. All in all, you should be able to run pretty much anything on this machine, although the Radeon X300LE graphics card isn’t going to handle any recent games.
Of course to get connected to the Internet you’re going to need some kind of wireless interface and I’m very glad to say that Hi-Grade has implemented an 802.11g WiFi adapter in the DMS II. So, assuming you have a wireless router, the DMS II will be connected to the Internet all day, every day, seamlessly.
The Hi-Grade DMS II is a strange beast. In many ways it ticks close to all the right boxes for a living room based Media Center solution, but I just find the look and feel of the device a bit too generic. I guess this isn’t too surprising since as I already mentioned, this is an Intel reference design box, and other manufacturers can produce similar machines based on the same chassis.
Personally if I’m going to have a Media Center box sitting under my TV I want it to look as good as my other home cinema equipment and unfortunately the DMS II doesn’t. To be fair, the only system that I’ve seen that would look good in a high-end AV setup is the Hush Media Center box, but you have to remember that you’re paying lot more for this solution.
Even though I think that the DMS II is quite disappointing in the design and aesthetics stakes, it's hard not to give it a decent set of scores. Ultimately, it performs well for a Media Center PC and has most of the features you'd want in your living room.
This brings us onto pricing and at £1,098 including VAT, the DMS II is significantly cheaper than the aforementioned Hush, but I would probably still save up more and go for the totally passive and beautifully crafted Hush machine.
The Hi-Grade DMS II is a solid attempt at a living room based Media Center solution. The box is reasonably slim and it runs pretty quiet, but the chassis looks too dated to fit in with today’s sleek and stylish home cinema equipment.