At the rear there’s a full array of PC ports, along with some welcome additions. On the main motherboard port cluster you’ll find two PS/2 ports, two serial ports, a parallel port, four USB 2.0 ports, a network socket, line-in, line-out and microphone ports. Above this there’s an expansion card with both optical and coaxial S/PDIF ports, and two more audio outputs for 5.1-channel analogue sound output. The wireless antenna connection is also mounted here.
The other connections are on the expansion cards. The 128MB Radeon 9600 graphics card has both DVI and D-SUB connectors, as well as an S-Video output, while the TV tuner is very well featured. The E2-MCE came supplied with an analogue TV tuner, but you can specify a digital tuner at no extra cost – on the TV tuner card is an aerial input for TV, another aerial input for FM radio, S-Video input, composite video input, and left and right audio inputs.
So, the Hush E2-MCE is a beautifully constructed PC that would put some high-end audio manufacturers to shame, let alone PC builders, but what’s it like to use? Well since the E2-MCE is running Windows Media Center Edition 2005, it comes as no surprise that the user interface is slick and easy to navigate. Although there are many third party media environments that you can use to build a media PC, nothing feels as integrated or smooth as MCE. The Hush E2-MCE was an absolute joy to use, switching between all the Media Center functions quickly and easily, and never once did the machine hang or crash. It just felt completely natural controlling a machine that looks like the Hush with a remote control rather than a keyboard and mouse.
The TV tuner is obviously a good one, because even in the poor reception area of Bracknell, I managed to get a decent quality image on most channels. If I have one criticism of this machine, and it really is just the one, it’s that it doesn’t have dual TV tuners. Now I know that there’s only one spare PCI slot, but you can get dual tuners on a single PCI card, but Hush doesn’t even offer this as an option on its website. This means that you can’t record one channel while you’re watching another. To be fair, dual tuner cards are still pretty new, so I’m hoping that Hush will add one to its option list in the future.
The integrated WiFi makes downloading electronic programme guides easy, while also making use of MCE 2005’s Online Spolight services is also simple as pie. The latter is a list of online services that are tailored for a remote control navigation environment. The services are a little limited at the moment and many of the music and movie download services require registration and payment. However, Music Brigade is definitely worth a look – this is a free service that lets you stream music videos to your Media Center PC. The quality of the video isn’t amazing, but the amount of choice definitely is.