The DMS (Digital Media Station) range sits at the top end of Hi-Grade's selection of Media Center PCs. It's designed to be the heart of your multimedia world, storing photos, music, recording television and playing hi-def Blu-ray movies directly on to your big-screen television. With dedicated Blu-ray players such as the Samsung BDP-1000 costing around the £800 mark, the £1,600 price doesn't seem entirely unreasonable either. You can buy the Hi-Grade DMS Extreme Xtc2_02 direct from the Hi-Grade site.
The DMS Extreme Xtc2_02 looks like a DVD player that's been fed a strict diet of steroids and lard. Its horizontally oriented chassis makes it seem ideal for replacing your existing VHS or DVD player, but bear in mind that at 430 by 410 by 160mm it's about twice as tall as ordinary AV equipment -- it may not fit under your TV.
The top and sides of the PC have a shiny black metal finish, while the front has a matte brushed-metal effect. The front panel is subtly concaved, which helps to reduce the boxy overall look.
It's hard not to notice the vacuum fluorescent display (VDD) installed in the top left of the front panel. This, by default, displays the name of the PC as well as the current time of day, but can also show what's happening inside Windows Media Center. The only drawback is that it has been connected to a rear-facing parallel port to receive the data -- which means there's a discreet cable running from the inside to the outside of the machine.
At the front are a couple of flip-down panels that hide the system's input-output ports. The panel to the far right hides the Blu-ray drive, while the middle panel hides a memory card reader, which supports a range of popular formats. That's a handy addition to a Media Center PC, but we can't fathom why there's only one USB port at the front -- that's truly lame.
Things are relatively straightforward at the back of the PC, apart from a Wi-Fi aerial that protrudes by about an inch when upright or by four inches when fully extended. There's also two separate D-Sub video ports (one on the graphics card and another on the motherboard IO port). This could conceivably baffle the hell out of novice users.
There's an element of skill in building a dedicated media PC, but although Hi-Grade has definitely taken steps in the right direction, there are drawbacks in its choice of components for the DMS Extreme Xtc2_02. (Read this article on what you need to do to build the perfect Media Center PC).
The Xtc2_02 uses a motherboard with a mobile chipset, ie one designed for laptops. This is a good choice, as laptops generally use less power and make less noise than desktop PCs -- benefits that translate well to a Media Center PC.
As a result, Hi-Grade has had to install laptop-specific memory -- in this case a pair of PC2-4300 1GB DIMMs -- and a mid-range laptop processor, the Intel Core 2 Duo T5600, which runs at 2GHz. The downside is that you can't add any existing desktop PC memory you might have lying around, as it won't fit.
The upside is that, becasue the processor is designed for laptops, it runs cooler than normal desktop chips, which, in theory, means Hi-Grade can use a quiet fan. Unfortunately, Hi-grade has used a standard Intel-branded heatsink and fan, which is still noisy despite the cooler chip.