You can pick up home cinemafriendly computers with Media Center operating systems quite cheaply. So why, if you buy the Hewlett Packard Media Center m7200 PC for £500, would you spend six times as much on a computer from a brand that you've probably never heard of?
For starters the EPC Fidelity-t has build quality to die for: a solid metal case that sits horizontally rather than vertically as with most computers. On the connection front all the important bases are covered, with both HDMI and DVI outputs for connecting to a hi-def capable screen - thanks to its super-high specifi cation Nvidia 6600 graphics card this baby can output video in 720p, 1080i and 1080p.
The Fidelity-t also has an audiophile-quality sound card, which is 192kHz/24-bit capable, and can output the sound via digital or analogue to a multichannel receiver.
Other computing basics include an Intel P4 3GHz chip, which while not quite top of the tree is certainly up there. Also important is the size of hard drive, and our review sample came with 300GB of storage, which is enough for 140 hours of TV recorded from the Freeview tuner, 40 DVDs or 4,000 albums. The good news is that you can specify storage of up to two terabytes, more than enough for most people's DVD and CD collections!
The bespoke operating system - which runs on top of Windows XP - may be different to the standard Media Center OS, but this is a good thing. In conjunction with the bundled wireless keyboard and mouse it makes the EPC a pleasure to use. As with all media computers, a broadband connection is vital; not only for downloading video footage - such as Sky's excellent new broadband service - but for accessing details of the DVDs that you burn onto the hard drive including cover art.
This baby runs incredibly quietly. Yes, there's still some noise there, especially when playing back rather than viewing a DVD stored on the hard drive, but compared to the competition it's like a Stealth bomber compared to a Nimrod.
Performance wise, that analogy is also apt, and stacked up against lesser rivals this beast is seriously impressive! It works best with hi-def goodies downloaded from the internet. But even with standard DVD or TV stored in the copious memory everything is delivered with bright colours and bags of detail and no pixellation or blur getting in the way of your enjoyment.
It's impossible to tell a 'stored' DVD from the original, and that goes for the sonics too, where the top-notch sound card is capable of some mind-blowing levels of performance. Even CDs sound good on it.
Okay, so this product couldn't ever be described as cheap. But considering the impressive level of performance, the future upgrade potential and the ease of use, it certainly represents an excellent buy, and is in our mind THE best home entertainment PC we've yet come across. Shaun Marin