Hi-Grade's Digital Media Station (DMS) may not have the sleek finish of some of its rivals, but the machine is a good match for conventional home entertainment kit - looking much like a high-end DVD player. It's quiet too. After an initial whir on start-up, only a mild operational hum is heard.
And the rear looks more like an AV receiver. As well as usual PC fare, such as Firewire (two of them), USB 2.0 (two to match the pair on the front), modem inputs and VGA/DVI video outputs, there's a whole host of AV connections - more than most rival machines, not just those featured here.
Two sets of inputs for composite, S-video and stereo audio are supplied, along with a set of AV phono inputs under a front flap, to allow you to record from a non-RGB set-top-box and 7.1 speaker outputs allow for direct connection to a surround set, using the in-built Dolby Digital and DTS decoders. Plus there's optical and coaxial digital audio outputs to hook it up to an amp or receiver.
Unfortunately, there's no digital tuner (the DMS II 3400 Dual has two Freeview tuners for an extra £400 - plus extras). Instead, a typical analogue tuner is offered, its only major setback. It certainly doesn't make the most of MCE 2005's excellent EPG and PVR powers but thanks to the video inputs, you can feed images from a Freeview or cable box. It will also fetch a full programme guide while an IR cable handles remote chores.
The DMS II is a high-spec machine, with a very speedy 3.4GHz Pentium 4 processor and 512MB of DDR RAM. It also has a large hard drive - 250GB. Ideally, you'd want to plump for the upgraded version with the digital tuner card. For this price, its analogue tuner is a downfall that points to its rivals.