At least though, the system looks cool. The chassis used is one of the smartest looking that Shuttle has yet produced. The front is mirrored and contains a small Vacuum Fluorescent Display or VFD. This actually interfaces with Media Center and shows where you are in the operating system, displaying items such as Recorded Shows or Home for the default location. And if your playing a video from the hard disk, it even scrolls the name of file. The rest of the time it simply displays the time and date, like any VCR, though if you’re after that genuine ‘Old Skool’ look you’ll have to set it to flash, ‘00:00’ the whole time. When recordings are set, a small timer icon is illuminated and a small flickering light indicate hard disk activity.
To keep the lines of the facia clean Shuttle has flaps covering the front ports and connections of which there are many. At the top right a silver button will release the tray of the DVD Writer, capable of burning dual-layer discs. Beneath this is another flap that hides the card reader, ready to ingest Compact Flash, Memory Stick, SD and Smart Media. The usefulness of this in a machine such as this was really brought home to me when I wanted to show off some pictures I’d taken. I simply took the card out of the camera, popped it into a card slot and the Media Center let me easily browse the contents in a slideshow. This can be done with or without a moving, ‘Ken Burns’ type effect or controlled manually via the remote. At the base of the machien is yet another flap, this time covering the two USB 2.0 ports, a small four-pin Firewire connector and headphone and microphone sockets.
Round the back the Shuttle G5 8300M offers a number of ways to connect to your display. The best option would be via the DVI connection, ideal for a suitably equipped LCD, plasma or projector. Alternatively you’ve got a VGA connection or S-Video out for use with a CRT TV. This image from this was noticeably better than from my own hand-built Media Center PC, with a solid and clear image.
Audio connectivity is good too, with analogue outputs for connection to PC style speakers or both coaxial and optical digital out for hook up to an external decoder. While there’s an integrated LAN port the Shuttle is also available with a wireless module and our review sample was supplied with it in place. However, it isn’t included at the price we’ve quoted at the top of this review. It is a handy option though, and it enabled me to play content over my home network from a PC located upstairs without having to worry about having to run an Ethernet cable across the whole house. That said there were occasional glitches so it’s always preferable to play content locally. I also was unable to get the supplied wireless utility to work. Instead I turned this off and using Windows to control the card instead, without problems.