- Review Price: £2000.00
It seems like the media PC concept is definitely evolving, with many companies bringing out new and innovative designs to convince us that having a PC in our living room is a smart move. And it’s the design of these units that’s the key to their success to a large degree, after all, no one wants a big beige box sitting in their living room next to their stylish widescreen TV.
It’s clear that Moore Innovations has spent a lot of time and effort trying to get the design of the Medio just right, and I have to say that the final result is pretty impressive. I am however not 100 per cent won over by the design, mainly due to the fact that the device is just too big. The Medio is based on a Micro ATX motherboard, and uses the expansion slots in a standard fashion, unlike the Hush ATX machine that I looked at a little while ago. Hush used a riser card design, which meant that the graphics card and a PCI card connected horizontally rather than vertically – the upshot of this design is that the height of the unit was kept to a minimum, making it far more décor friendly next to your Hi-Fi and home cinema equipment.
OK, excessive height aside, the Medio looks quite stylish, finished in silver and grey, with a single round power button at the front. Of course next to the power button is a light that glows blue when the unit is on, after all, you can’t have a technology device these days without a blue light on it. The front fascia is constructed from a solid billet of aluminum that’s 8mm thick, which adds to the Medio’s hefty weight and reassuringly sturdy feel. The grey fascia is offset by a sliver of silver that marks the front of the DVD drive drawer. Moore Innovations has chosen a Lite-On 851S which is an eight-speed DVD writer, and although it doesn’t officially support dual layer writing, a quick firmware upgrade should solve this issue.
There are horizontal fins running along both sides of the case to aid head dissipation, and both the 160GB Samsung SATA hard disks are mounted against the sides of the case so that heat is drawn away from them quickly and efficiently. The inside of the case is shrouded in accoustic padding to reduce noise pollution. This wasn’t necessary in the Hush machine, since it was a completely passive solution, but the Medio still employs fans, albeit low noise variants. Sitting on top of the CPU is the same Zalman cooler that we used in our Silent Solution feature about reducing noise pollution from your PC, so there’s no objection there. The power supply is also a small low noise unit, that barely whispers in operation.
Filling the AGP slot is a Sapphire Radeon 9600 Ultimate, which is passively cooled via large heatsinks and heatpipes, making it a totally quiet graphics solution. Three of the PCI slots are also occupied with a digital TV tuner, a Netgear WiFi adapter and a Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 2 sound card.
The digital TV tuner is good to see and means that you can watch all the Freeview digital channels as well as the standard five terrestrial ones. Reception proved to be very good, even in problem areas like the TrustedReviews offices in Bracknell. The Netgear WiFi card is also a very welcome inclusion, since it’s vitally important for a media PC to have a wireless connection. Let’s face it, you’re not likely to have your broadband connection in your living room, so you need to be able to connect somehow, especially if you want to download EPG data.
But it’s the Sound Blaster card that’s probably the most important to Moore Innovations. The company is pushing the Medio as a high-end media PC, and therefore needs the audio output to be just as impressive as stand alone AV equipment. There’s no doubt that a Sound Blaster Audigy 2 card gives you a significant aural improvement over the integrated sound you’re likely to find on a motherboard – I’m sitting here listening to Music of the Spheres by Ian Brown as I type this and I must say that the sound quality is most impressive. Of course the quality of the sound output is helped by the fact that Moore Innovations also supplied me with a set of Accoustic Energy ego speakers, which are definitely the best multi-channel PC speakers I’ve heard. The external processor will decode both Dolby Digital and DTS streams through either optical or coaxial digital connections. You also get a high-quality coaxial digital cable in the box, to connect the Medio up to the speakers or your own processor/amp setup. Unfortunately, the speakers don’t come with the Medio and represent a costly optional extra.
Another great feature is the Gyration keyboard and mouse set. The keyboard is just a reduced size wireless affair, although the action is still good enough to achieve a decent typing rate. However, the mouse is a gyroscopic device which means that it can be used in the hand, without the need for a surface. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty easy to navigate menus from the comfort of your sofa. If you prefer using a mouse on a desk or table top, you can do this too, since it has an optical sensor at the bottom. There’s also a rechargeable docking cradle for the mouse, so you’ll never pick it up and find the batteries dead.
Finally, there’s a an ATI Remote Wonder RF remote control thrown into the bundle. So, if you really can’t get to grips with the Gyration mouse, you can use a far more familiar remote control to navigate the Medio.
But a machine like the Medio isn’t about the components inside it, it’s about the user environment. For any media PC the interface has to be simple and effective. Moore Innovations has chosen ShowShifter as the media environment for the Medio, and on paper it does pretty much everything you’d want a media package to do. However, in practice, things didn’t turn out as simple and intuitive as I’d hoped they would.
Like most media environments, ShowShifter is broken up into different categories like TV, DVD, music etc. When running ShowShifter for the first time, I needed to initialise the TV tuner and search for all the channels. This took quite a while, but no longer than it would on any other machine with a digital TV tuner in it. When the auto-scan had finished it listed all the channels that it had found, and while I was switching between the channels to see what they were ShowShifter crashed. No problem I though, I’ll just start it up again. But when I did restart ShowShifter, it prompted me run the auto-scan for the TV tuner again – it hadn’t saved the channel listings! So, I ran the scan again and after waiting for it to track down all the channels once more, I was presented with the list. I thought I’d have a quick look at BBC News 24 before carrying on with the review, and bang, ShowShifter crashed again. I was almost too scared to start it again for fear of all the channels being lost once more, and sure enough, when I fired up ShowShifter, it had no TV channel listings. This time, as soon as the auto-scan was finished I jumped to the next step of the setup without trying to change channel – thankfully this time it managed to save all the channels and didn’t crash.
Next I decided to play a DVD on the Medio, so sticking Kill Bill Volume 1 in the Lite-On drive I launched the DVD player. Unfortunately there was no 5.1-channel sound on offer, and only a PCM stereo stream was being output. After looking around the Creative Sound Blaster settings, I discovered that the S/PDIF output had not been configured – I addressed this issue and launched ShowShifter once more and fired up the DVD – still no 5.1-channel sound. I then closed ShowShifter and played the DVD using Cyberlink PowerDVD which had also been installed – I was instantly greeted with full 5.1-channel Dolby Digital audio. After speaking to Moore Innovations about this problem I was told that a system registry entry had to be altered to allow 5.1-channel sound using ShowShifter, since it employed an nVidia codec that required the change. It also meant that if you wanted to switch back to stereo sound you needed to change the registry again. I pointed out that this was a rather convoluted method of obtaining the correct sound, and I was assured that a future version of ShowShifter will have an option to switch between stereo and multi-channel sound – it will basically do the registry changes in the background.
However, if I was Moore Innovations I would dump the nVidia codec completely and go with Cyberlink PowerDVD instead. When I told ShowShifter to use PowerDVD as it’s DVD decoder, it played 5.1-channel sound without the need for any kind of registry changes. Also, using the nVidia codec caused severe audio breakup when outputting a DTS stream, while using PowerDVD caused no DTS issues at all.
Another problem with the DVD playback is that ShowShifter had an annoying habit of locking up when I tried to access the disc menu. Moore Innovations assured me that this is a known problem and has now been addressed.
There were also issues with the music section of ShowShifter. Now, call me picky, but when I click a button labeled “find all music”, I expect it to find all the music on the computer, but no. In the world of ShowShifter, “find all music” means find all the music in the ShowShifter Music folder – not much use at all really. You can of course point ShowShifter to a specific folder on the PC, but that’s a long winded solution to a very simple problem.
To be fair, once you make it past these problems and niggles, ShowShifter does a reasonable job of providing a media environment. Unfortunately it’s just not as slick or smooth as Windows XP Media Center Edition, and a machine like this needs an interface that looks and feels great.
But issues with ShowShifter and the user interface aside, there’s one thing that really holds the Medio back from mass adoption, and that’s the price. At £2,000 without a screen or the lovely speaker set that came with the review unit, the Medio is a very expensive proposition indeed. Now, Moore innovations would argue that it’s not looking for mass adoption, and is instead targeting the high-end home cinema user – a user that will be bundling a 50in plasma screen or projector with the unit, and that’s a pretty good angle to go for. However, I’m not convinced that the overly large form factor of the Medio would fit in with a stylish high-end AV setup.
I like seeing small companies trying to break into new markets, but I don’t think the Medio quite cuts the mustard as a high-end media PC. I like where Moore Innovations is trying to go though, and I know that it has a couple of other products in the pipeline which I’m looking forward to getting my hands on. Ultimately though, I think that a £2,000 media PC should be pretty close to perfect, and unfortunately the Medio isn’t.
A brave attempt at a high-end media PC from newcomer Moore Innovations, the Medio has some strong plus points. The design is good and bundled peripherals like the Gyration keyboard and mouse are excellent. Unfortunately the form factor is too large, the interface has problems and the price is way too high.
Score in detail