Form Factor Frustration
Someone really needs to re-think the form factor for Media Center Edition PCs. Integration with the home entertainment components remains an afterthought (or not a thought at all). Most of the Media Center Edition PCs shipping from the various manufacturers look just like their desktop brothers and sisters. That is, they look like boxes designed to be shoved under a desk.
Gateway was offering a box that approximated the shape of a home stereo receiver, allowing you to easily add a PC to a home theater setup without shaking things up too much, but I no longer find that option on their Web site. The new towerless 610 and 610XL models, complete with 17-inch LCD are intriguing, but I'm not likely to downsize from my TV to a monitor for movie watching.
HP packs in tons of great features for their MCE boxes. Memory card reading from the front face. Access to audio, video, USB, and FireWire connectors from a hidden front interface. Some models even include a way to integrate the docking station for the HP digital camera the company hopes you will buy. I get the feeling HP is making a serious effort to integrate its hardware into your digital lifestyle. Someone forgot to tell them the case design is about as pleasant as a swift kick to the backside.
The television screen remains the focal point of most American homes; I can only assume the idiot box is a major attraction elsewhere as well. We've already integrated our home audio systems and home video systems into one massive home entertainment altar where we worship the next future Hollywood-has-been as cars explode in the speakers carefully placed along the sidewalls. If the PC wants to be more than a second-class citizen, it needs to fit in.
Most of the furniture available for home theater deification isn't meant to hold anything taller than six inches. While browsing a number of consumer retail outlets, I noticed this isn't something likely to change in the near future. Exactly one home entertainment unit offered storage space with enough customization to accommodate even the smallest of PC towers.
I love being able to watch photo slide shows on my television screen while playing a custom-designed soundtrack in the background. I love being able to time-sift my television viewing by recording shows with a PVR. Browsing thousands of songs in my music collection is much easier using the television screen and a remote control. I just wish the PC looked like it belonged in my living room.