A computer today is something that one cannot do without. A PC platform attracts users mostly due to its wide compatibility, expandability and a low price. A bulky and unsightly PC case, a high noise level and bugs in the software prevented it so far from turning into a home entertainment center which could easily press out various special consumer electronic devices such as TV consoles, audio systems, DVD players etc.
VIA tackles the problem its own way offering a VIA Eden based miniature Hi-Fi computer named VIA Hi-Fi PC. The hardware filling and the test outcome can be found in the VIA Eden M-Series for Home Theater Review. Today we will deal with its appearance and consumer properties.
VIA Hi-Fi PC, aluminum body, the dimensions are quite small - 19x19x33 cm
The Hi-Fi PC case is made of aluminum alloy, the controls are coated with chromium, that is why the exterior doesn't yield to audio/video equipment of the consumer class. Such a computer can be a match even for a modernist-style room. However, it can reach the Hi-End class if they replace colorful plastic plugs and add something like gold-plated bolt caps or a twin triode in the preamplifier of the audio section, like it was done by AOpen. :)
The front panel sports a matrix high-res LCD which displays an alarm-clock with handles in the standby mode. During the operation it shows various animated pictures. In the release version they promise some useful data like information on played audio compositions and in the Windows - CPU temperature monitoring. The backlight can change dynamically to red, blue and green.
The ultrathin keyboard with keys like those from notebooks
Handy IR remote control with a trackball and a complete set of controls for the CD/MP3/VCD/DVD player
For playback of music and audio tracks in movies there is a 2.1 acoustic system which consists of an active subwoofer with a sturdy wooden cabinet, and satellites of an unusual design. The sound is just excellent for a microsystem. The subwoofer based on the resonant chamber scheme plays purely all bass parts in almost all music genres, and sonorous and clear highs are achieved thanks to the high-quality MF/HF speakers with two aluminum loadspeaker's cones in each satellite. The only complaint is the inferior mids. Power is enough, at a high volume level the speakers do not overload. However, I wish the digital volume control were more gradual and there were an equalizer and tone control.
The 2.1 acoustic system produces unexpectedly excellent sound
The key advantage of this system is et BIOS; this is a graphics program flashed into the EPROM which starts up right after initialization of all devices by the BIOS.
Pride of the developers - "et BIOS" with the integrated CD/VCD/DVD player. Turn on and watch, no OS is needed.
The version we had in our lab offered four options: MP3/CD player, VCD player, DVD player, Quit. The latter item means a transition to booting of the operating system located on the hard drive (or on any other device set in the BIOS).
The MP3/CD player recognizes and plays audio discs. Unfortunately, it doesn't display any information like names of compositions from ID3 tags or CD-text, and it's impossible to make up playlists or establish an order of compositions. Moreover, you can't look through the disc contents in folders and files, though it's allowed by many consumer DVD players. I hope it will be much better in the new software versions.
MP3/CD player with a spectroscope: ID3 tags and CD text is not displayed yet.
The DVD player uses hardware features for MPEG2 decoding. There were no problems in playback. The quality on the SONY 15" LCD display was superb. The IIYAMA 17" CRT monitor had some artifacts (which are lacking in the software PowerDVD/WinDVD players under Windows), that is why in the et BIOS it's better to use an LCD or TV screen. Absolutely smooth playback. Moreover, the movie was played very smoothly in the fast forward view mode. Unlike in an ordinary computer, here everything can be handled with a mouse or the remote control. The remote control is expected to become compatible with the PowerDVD player.
DVD player looks decent; fortunately, the remote control can handle all functions
The MPEG4 (DivX) movies are to be watched in the Windows with software players (for more detailed information see VIA Eden M-Series for Home Theater).
A monitor is not included into the pack. It's supposed that a user chooses something according to his or her tastes.
There is one PCI expansion slot which you can use, for example, for a FM/TV tuner.
For connection of consumer devices there is an S-Video output for TV, a digital S/PDIF-out, 6 analog-outs from the integrated VIA VT1616 AC'97 codec.
Noise is caused only by the minute fan in the power supply unit and a CD drive. The noise level is lower compared to a usual computer but a bit higher than that of consumer devices such as a DVD player or an home audio mini system.
So, the VIA Hi-Fi PC is a normal computer with a pleasant body design, a top-quality 2.1 acoustic system, a handy and functional remote control and a hardware CD/MP3/VCD/DVD player; it's ready for operation right on the start-up, doesn't need to be adjusted and doesn't depend on whims of an operating system.
It's obvious that such solution will interest, first of all, those who fancy new digital devices and also those who don't want to spoil the interior of their apartments with a dismal gray office-type computer clashing with a projecton set or Hi-End equipment in a modern-looking room.
It's clear that dedicated devices can handle some special tasks better, though
the Hi-Fi PC can stand against thanks to its universality.
Maxim Liadov (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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