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Over the past year or so we’ve looked at a fair number of media PCs at TR, enough to show that the there is some belief in the concept; if not quite the huge take-up that some in the industry had hoped for. Most of these systems have been based on Microsoft’s Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, but it's dissapointing that Dell, the world’s largest PC company, still doesn’t offer any MCE 2005 systems at all.
Not surprisingly, Sony, a brand virtually synonymous with AV, offers media PCs, but it also doesn’t use MCE 2005. But then, if there’s one company that likes to furrow its own path it’s Sony. Unlike the all-in-one media PC Sony system we looked at here, this is a tower system that ships without a monitor, but if you want one included, Sony will no doubt be happy to sell you one.
The system is more than a just a regular PC though - it’s a home server system. The PC is designed to act as a central store point for media, either downloaded from the Internet, or captured over the air via its integrated TV tuner. The RA304 bundle includes a Network Media Receiver, a box that connects directly to a TV via composite, S-Video or component (which gives a far better picture). Content can them be streamed to the box via wireless or wired Ethernet. If your set up at home isn’t yet wireless, Sony has bundled a rather snazzy looking wireless access point. This home server approach isn’t new for Sony though. We looked at a predecessor of this machine a year and a half ago, /> here.
One thing that Sony machines normally boast is style and this one has it in spades. It’s a cool black block, set-off by a silver strip with the Vaio logo at the left that sits beneath the two optical drive bays. Each section of the front fascia is covered by a flap bringing a smooth understated look that oozes sophistication. In other words it’s cool, but not in a crass shouty kind of way. The really neat thing though is when you look at the system side-on. Yes, it has a hole in it and yes it’s intentional. Sony has designed a heat-pipe system that draws air from the centre of the machine before emitting it at the rear towards the top. Press the button in the middle of the system on the left and the side flap pulls down, revealing that the power supply is located in the middle of the machine rather than at the top. Whether this system is preferable to more conventional methods is debatable but there’s no denying that the system is quiet.