Windows XP Media Centre Edition is a damned clever operating system, enabling a fairly standard computer to be used as a home entertainment console complete with picture-in-picture viewing and digital video recording all from the comfort of your sofa. Well damned clever if you’ve got a Media Centre PC that is.
If you haven’t then you will be wanting a Cinergy 2400i DT which does all of the above with ease. Actually, truth be told, it does a lot more than the average Media Centre PC because not only can you watch movies and television at the same time but, thanks to the "DT" standing for Dual Tuner, you can also watch one TV program while recording another a la Sky+.
For a Media Centre PC to be able to do that it has to have two separate TV cards, which adds to the expense and reduces the expansion potential of the computer (because they will occupy twice as many expansion slots as one card would). With the 2400i, however, you get the equivalent of a Freeview set-top box and a video recorder inside your PC, complete with a proper TV remote control, all on one amazingly small card.
Which brings us to problem number one: this device won’t fit the vast majority of PCs in use today. Er, yes, you did read that properly, TerraTec have put a product on the market that’s perfect for people who want to upgrade their existing computer apart from the little detail that most computers have full sized PCI expansion slots into which the 2400i won’t fit.
It’s perfect for one of those small ‘Shuttle’ cube PCs which by necessity tend to favour the equally small PCI Express expansion slot, but most full size systems don’t need to conserve space like this so have full size slots. So check your computer's technical spec before buying.
The good news is that there isn’t a problem number two, assuming you don’t fall foul of problem number one this really is a superb upgrade for your PC.
Despite having two tuners, effectively two tellies on one card, you only need a single aerial to feed in the Freeview signal. Like all good TVs these days it’s auto-tuning so you don’t have to fiddle about; we just installed the software, stuffed the card into the slot, and sat back and watched as it found no less than 48 channels, including digital radio as well as TV ones.
Your mileage will vary depending upon your location and aerial signal strength but as long as you live in or near a city you should be fine.
The card will happily work with Windows XP Media Centre, but also comes bundled with a copy of Cyberlink PowerCinema 4, which acts as your media centre front end.
From here you can watch live TV, listen to digital radio, access the electronic program guide, record TV shows including the automatic recording of a show on a daily or weekly basis, and activate the picture-in-picture functions. If that weren’t enough, you can "time-shift" TV broadcasts in a way that Sky+ viewers will be familiar with, by pausing a program while you go make a cup or tea or answer the phone to yet another cold caller wanting to sell you yet another new kitchen - and have it start from where you left it when you get back.
A superbly specced add-on for your PC, bringing 21st Century TV into your computer - if you’re one of the few with a computer that can accommodate it.