Media centres (or Centers in this case) are sprouting up everywhere. It's all starting to get a little crowded in this space mainly due to the fact that Microsoft didn't license the name 'Media Center' when it launched its Media Center software. So is this a bandwagon that Pinnacle is jumping on to or a bona fide solution to capture the imagination of media-hungry PC users?
The media centre concept is a valid one - store all your music, photos, DVDs and digital videos on a PC with wireless internet and TV access. Pinnacle already has a downmarket Media Center adapter, the ShowCenter. The PCTV MediaCenter is a new solution.
The PCTV MediaCenter 100e is a solution for PC users that want to turn their existing computer into a combined jukebox, DVD player, personal video recorder and photo slideshow projector with TV thrown in.
The 100e is based around a tiny external USB 2.0 analogue TV receiver (there's a PCI version, the 300e, also pictured) that enables the PC to access channels directly through a standard TV aerial connection. It's not new and Pinnacle originally sold this seperately but combined with its MediaCenter software, the proposition is slightly different.
Set-up is straightforward enough although you need to find a spare TV aerial socket if your TV is not based in the living room, or use a portable aerial if you are in a good signal area. There is an automatic scan option that searches for live TV channels or you can search manually as with most PVR control panels.
The front end software provides the control panel for accessing the various types of media, while the MediaManager software (it comes with the unit but it's only a trial) provides a more extensive media management tool reminiscent of Pinnacle's ShowCenter.
Using the remote, it is possible to navigate the MediaCenter GUI giving you access to a range of media files resident on your PC, although the software does not always manage to find your media automatically and you'll have to browse the hard disk yourself. The MediaCenter software plays back MP3, WMA and WAV music files although it doesn't support any files protected by Digital Rights Management licensing. It also supports a number of video standards including MPEG 1, 2 and 4 as well as WMV9, Xvid and DV-AVI.
Navigation is not the smoothest of processes although there is a preview window for pictures and videos. This is particularly important for the images section, especially when you are trying to set-up a slideshow.
The 100e's most redeeming feature is its price. Media Center PCs can set you back anything from £900 upwards so this should be seen as a cheap first step into centralising your home entertainment files and processes.