It seems almost ridiculous to think that, by releasing the LX2000, Philips is taking a punt in the dark. But, in AV terms, the company surely is.
Media PCs, in general, should have made more of an impact by now. Just look at all the kit that one simple, slimline computer can replace: DVD recorder? Check. Upscaling DVD player? Check. CD player? Check. MP3 player? Check. HD and SD media streamer? PVR? DivX player? Digital photo frame? Games machine? Internet? Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. It does all of these things and more.
A half-decent media PC can replace a swathe of existing components and comes with digital video and audio as standard. Now that should therefore sound like a no-brainer. However, the AV community, on the whole, treats media centre PCs like a farmer treats foot and mouth disease. They are fully aware that it exists, but they wouldn't waaaant it on their laaaand!
Because, no matter the dressing, underneath there's a computer. And unless you're called Nigel, carry around pens in the top pocket of your shirt and spend your social time chatting to your cyberfriends as Gobbo the half-Orc, that may not be your bag, baby.
Or, at least, overtly. Take one closer look at your kit rack and you may find 'convergence' lurking there in the corner like a B-movie slasher. Check out that Blu-ray player, the HD DVD player, the DVD recorder and the PVR. In their essence, they are computers.
Indeed, modern home entertainment technology has many PC-centric traits: firmware patches, crashing, a constant need to be hooked up to broadband internet, etc. When you put it like that, then the leap to media PC is less alarming than you may otherwise have thought.
And with products like Philips' EasyLife LX2000, it's not even a hugely expensive one. At less than £500, this represents astonishingly good value. We've always prided ourselves on putting performance above wonga - if it's good, it doesn't matter how much it costs - but for the capabilities of this piece of kit, the relatively small outlay is tantamount to daylight robbery. Let me explain.
From the off, the setup is a doddle, and everything works straight out of the box - although you will have to wait for it to 'boot up'. It's not brutal though, unlike many of its computing peers, and completes in a minute or two. Compare that to any regular computing experience (and some AV ones) - it's nothing short of a miracle.
For video, you can hook up the PC to a flatscreen TV or projector via DVI, VGA or HDMI (the latter two using supplied adaptors), and audio can be served via TOSLink or stereo out. Bish bash bosh, sorted! Even fans of mucky, murky, mud-spattered connectivity are catered for with S-video out.
And unlike most media PCs, there are few other connections, which, thankfully, means there are less things to bugger up. An uncluttered back-board allows the computer to be titchy, along with a cunning interior design. This causes mild heating issues due to a restriction of airflow so you certainly won't want to leave this box switched on for hours on end.
But what it does provide is a pixie-esque footprint. Space-savers rejoice, it's no bigger than a Freeview box.
It's also immediately apparent that size-reduction has not been achieved to the detriment of speed. The LX2000 is nippier than a bushel of crabs. Of course, it won't stay that way should you find the need to fill the hard drive with game demos, illegally downloaded movies and smut, but from the box, simple taps on the included remote bring up features almost instantly.
In days of yore (er, last week) Media Center Edition used to take a veritable age to start up, even if Windows didn't. But on the EasyLife, there's nary a breath between click and access. And that's on the 1.6GHz, 1GB RAM version.
Its stablemate, the LX3000, has the same form factor but has the addition of 2GB of RAM, so zips along at an even faster rate of knots.
Hard drive 2000
However, the other difference between the two models introduces a far greater caveat. The 160GB hard drive found on the 2000 (in comparison to the 3000's 250GB HDD) will soon fill up if you don't keep it under control.
Consider that even some modern DVD recorders have much more storage space and you can start to see a relative stinginess. It's also another good reason to avoid using the machine as a regular PC: The more software and games you install, the less scope you have for entertainment media.
Other than that, though, and the fact that there's only one digital TV tuner built in (so you can only watch or record one channel at a time unless you add a second 'aftermarket' tuner via USB), there are few other faults here.
Its reliance on Vista and Windows Media Center may dissuade some of the anti-Bill Gates brigade, but I, for one, am an oft-quoted fan of the entertainment front-end. It's smooth, extremely easy to get to grips with, and I'd advise you to have it start up in that mode every time you boot up the machine. In fact, that's the best advice I can give should you eventually plump for an LX2000.
As a fully-functioning multi-media player and recorder, it is excellent. Through HDMI, the pictures are spectacular. They are colourful, bright and offer resolutions that really impresses. It's very capable with high-definition footage (such as the H.264 material found on the web), and DVDs can be upscaled to 1920 x 1080p.
Audio, too, is great. The soundcard may not be the best available, but DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks are reproduced as you should expect especially if you use the digital output.
But, don't buy this Philips PC to use as a PC. For the money, there are far better computers on the market. Instead, this is a convincing argument for Audio Visual meeting Information Technology. Or as Peter Kay once put it: AV IT! And note, in that famous phrase, the AV comes first.