Packard Bell's Smart TV S320 appears to be having an identity crisis: it doesn't know whether its 32-inch LCD is a TV or a PC. As confusing as this must be for the S320, it should be a Godsend for the multimedia hungry: the potential for an LCD TV with a state-of-the-art media centre tucked inside is huge. However, as we'll discover, this smart idea's only as good as its screen.
We're flatscreen TV experts, so we're not going to bamboozle you with computer technobabble. In brief, the 2.8Ghz Pentium D-equipped PC at the heart of the Smart TV S320 is some bit of kit. Able to run Windows Media Centre Edition 2005, it has a sizable 1GB of RAM and a 400GB hard disk drive, and more sockets than you can shake a Scart at.
Highlights include an Ethernet port (for connection to a network), a VGA output (for hooking the PC to the screen), six USB ports and the HD-necessary HDMI input.
This is a step up from a TV that offers multimedia playback through a card slot: you're able to visit websites, send and receive emails, and store multimedia files on the sizable hard disk. The S320 also comes with DVD authoring, free internet telephony (through to Skype 2.0), and MP3 jukebox utilities. There's also a built-in DVD recorder that can burn to dual-layered DVDs as well as CDs.
The TV also gives you access to the video game-on-demand service Metaboli. Hook up to a broadband connection, log into www.metaboli.co.uk and you can download new PC games at your leisure.
So far, so 21st century. But everything the PC offers comes through the LCD, which sounds promising on paper, being HD-ready and having a native resolution of 1366x768. However, a few pitfalls lie ahead.
For starters, get used to waiting: as this is a PC, you won't get the instantaneous switch-on of your TV. Empires crumble in the time it takes this PC to perform its boot up.
With high-definition video clips downloaded from the internet, there's excellent detail on the S320's screen. Similarly, HD multimedia files are played back at a high quality. Yet regular video is disappointing, with judder during camera movements - particularly in the fast-paced sequences of our Kill Bill Vol. 2 test disc.
This judder is even more noticeable during TV broadcasts with scrolling text, which doesn't run smoothly and renders the programme difficult to watch.
The overall TV picture is quite a let down: there just isn't as much fine detail as we've seen on other (and cheaper) LCD TVs. Hooking up a Sky HD box doesn't help matters either. The overall picture is lacking: reminiscent of supermarket bargain basement fodder, rather than a near-£2,000 screen.
Similarly, audio is below par for what we'd expect at this price point. At least the TV's support of 7.1 speaker systems goes some way to remedy its weak sound.
Good PC, not good TV
We love the idea of a powerful software suite such as the Windows XP Media Centre PC married to an LCD TV, but this smart idea has been fudged in combining such a great PC with a mediocre screen. With that one simple improvement, this could be a revolutionary home entertainment product. As it stands it won't be troubling the alternative of having a PC feeding a separate flat TV.