I have often commented that there is nothing are few things I like better than a decent media centre PC. Therefore HP's pre-CES/post new year product line refresh has brought a warm glow to my heart bringing as it does not one, but three new media centre PCs to the market alongside one other desktop designed, apparently, for amateur photographers.
Starting then with the photographer- orientated a6330f (on the left) we find a base spec featuring a (none too shabby for AMD) 2.8GHz Athlon 64 X2 5600+ processor, nVidia nForce 430 chipset with integrated GeForce 6150 SE graphics, 3GB of DDR2 RAM, the most a 32-bit OS would warrant, and a 500GB hard drive. Other, less noteworthy features include a 15-in-1 card reader, which should accept memory cards from most cameras, and an HP pocket media drive bay - basically a glitzed up external hard drive with a proprietary interface. All this is fairly par for the course but the base price is set at $650, which would translate to around £400 over here, which is hardly extortionate - even factoring the added cost of a monitor.
Moving on to HP's media-centric offerings, we shall start with the Pavilion Slimline s3330f, which builds upon the current s3000 series by bringing HD DVD and Blu-ray playback to the range. Backing up the dual-format drive (from an unspecified manufacturer) which, by the by, only reads and not burns HD discs, is a 2.8GHz Athlon 64 X2 5400+, 2GB DDR2 RAM and a 500Gb hard drive. A DVB-T tuner and a 256MB nVidia 8500 GT graphics card also makes the bill, which is likely to be of more use offloading video decoding from the processor than trying to play any games - and of course it offers HDCP compliant HDMI output. Coupling these specs with the attractive form factor and equally attractive $950 (£500-odd) price, HP could be on to a winner here.
For those needing a bit more oomph, the Pavilion Media Centre m8330f offers a 2.2GHz Phenom 9500 quad-core processor, 3GB DDR2 RAM and dual 320GB hard drives, configured in RAID 0 by default for 640GB space. A TV tuner is also included but graphics grunt is oddly not specified, leading us to assume it is of the integrated variety but with pricing set at $960 (£500) the system doesn't represent particularly bad value for money. If Phenom doesn't float your boat, then a similar Intel flavoured system is also available.
The Pavilion Elite m9100, (pictured above right) boasts a Q6600 processor running on the G33 chipset, 4GB of DDR2 RAM (couples with 64-bit Vista Home Premium). Buyers will also find the same TV tuners as seen on the other models mentioned here, dual 360GB hard drives, again in RAID 0 for 720GB total space, nVidia 8500 GT graphics and a read-only HD DVD drive. The m9100 will start at $1160 (just under £600) and as is true of all the machines here firm release dates are expected to be announced later but word is we'll see them fairly soon.