Pinnacle's ShowCenter 200 bridges the audio-visual gap between PCs and TVs.It plugs into your home network (or directly to a PC using the supplied 'crossover cable').
If that's too much hassle, Wi-Fi provides a wireless alternative. A barrage of terminals,meanwhile, feeds your AV equipment.You can stream audio, video or still images from any networked PCs running the special ShowCenter server software included in the package. The 200 is compatible with a wide variety of formats including MP3/WMA audio, DiVX/XViD/MPEG1/WMV/MPEG 2 video and JPEG images.
Any others have to be converted by another Windows XP/2000 program called MediaManager,the primary job of which is to specify the media you want to experience.
But there's more to the 200 than the streaming of audio and video files held on networked PCs.If your set-up has a broadband connection,you can listen to Shoutcast-driven internet radio stations.There are hundreds of these with DAB-standard sound quality.
Then there's the ability to integrate with Pinnacle's PC analogue and digital tuners so that you can view TV over the network - great if your room lacks an aerial point.Remote scheduling and playback of recordings is also possible.We configured the unit to work with Pinnacle's PCTV 200e terrestrial-digital tuner. Streaming live TV directly from the tuner via the network is forbidden; instead, you have to invoke recording and then start playing the file - as a result your TV is 'timeshifted', rather than live.Sufficient HDD space should be reserved for the recordings,which can always be deleted afterwards.
A front-panel USB port allows external HDDs,pen-drives and other storage devices to be attached; as a result,the 200 can play compatible media without a PC or network connection.But to make the most of the unit,networking is essential.The 200's WEP-ready 802.11g Wi-Fi implementation may be fine for audio,but is not particularly reliable at the high sustained data-rates associated with video.For anything other than low-bitrate DiVX,expect plenty of stuttering and dropouts.
To enjoy the 200's pièce de résistance - high-definition video streaming - wired Ethernet is a must.Formats supported by the 200 are 720p/1080i WMV,720p MPEG4 (eg DiVX/XViD) and 720p/1080i MPEG2.HDTV playback is restricted to the component outputs - feed these to your HD Ready display.
Little hi-def content,sadly, is available here - contrast this with the US,where HDTV is transmitted terrestrially.Unfortunately, it refused to play a 1080i MPEG2 transportstream capture of a US TV show.
After converting this to a 4Mbps 720p DiVX file, the unit rewarded us with a smooth and detailed picture. We also achieved success with some of the hi-def WMV clips available on Microsoft's website.Should movies or TV shows ever become available commercially in these formats,then the ShowCenter will be ready for them (thankfully,DRM is supported). Other legitimate routes are few and far between: Euro1080i/HD1 is now mostly encrypted,terrestrial HDTV is a long way off and Sky HD might be a walled garden.
Everything you want to play is specified in the Media Manager program's media library. This is split into music, video and photo categories, which also appear in the ShowCenter's main menu after you have selected the server of interest. In terms of performance, the ShowCenter 200 does a great job - although there's slight line jitter in the HD output mode.Standard-def DiVX,XviD and MPEG2 files all play successfully.
In terms of audio,music is conveyed fairly well although a direct digital-feed to to a decent amplifier improved clarity. It may not be perfect,but the ShowCenter 200 is a likeable - and intriguing - prospect. Martin Pipe