The latest buzz area of computing, dictated down from Bill Gates’ ivory towers, is media. More specifically in Microsoft’s case, Windows XP Media Center, a version of the operating system that’s designed to marry up functions such as watching television, listening to CDs, viewing a DVD or browsing images.
Not surprisingly, with the bandwagon now happily making its way down to your local computer shop, companies are looking to jump on board. Intervideo has already done it, though, with a useful suite of tools all bundled together in its new Home Theatre suite.
Selling for a not-too-cheap price, the company bills its product as something that can turn your PC into a VCR, DVD Player, Photo Album, Radio and Music Box. In essence, it’s a tidy front-end for a home theatre computer, and that’s reinforced by the inclusion of absolutely no hardware in the package (or certainly not in the review copy we were sent – more on that later).
Thus, requirement one is that you must have the hardware capabilities in place on your PC to deal with the likes of DVD playback and television reception, MP3 playback and radio, etc. Any features that your PC doesn’t have – such as radio – won’t be available in the software.
If you’re over that hurdle, there are some genuine merits to consider. For what Home Theatre does is allow you to access the various multimedia facets of your PC via one simple menu screen. Even the sub-menus are devilishly easy to get around, and take you initially through the basic setup – which can include scouring your PC for appropriate multimedia files to play – before allowing you to get down to your entertainment of choice.
The program comes with its own array of easy-to-use playback tools as well (although few playback applications, you could rightly argue, are actually tricky to get to grips with). Intervideo is perhaps best known for its excellent WinDVD software, and so it’s little surprise that these tools are so efficient and easy to use.
Interestingly, they’re also stripped of options on the playback screens themselves. This is presumably following the ethos of removing the PC feel to the whole program, instead presenting menus and tools that sit more comfortably in the home entertainment market.
More detailed options are present, mind, although the individual components of the program aren’t going to lend themselves as easily to the more experienced PC user, who will get more out of a series of standalone applications. Still, we have few if any grumbles about how the program goes about its business. It does what it sets out to do, and it’s hard to complain about that.
Incidentally, the blurb we received with the review disc mentioned a remote control, and the US Web site for Intervideo states that such a unit is free with Stateside orders for the time being. However, it doesn’t seem that the UK software includes a remote – at least ours didn’t, so check with your retailer first – and that makes the price tag a lot harder to justify.
Thus, as it stands, the software is strong, tidy and professional, and if you are looking to put a home entertainment PC together, it’s worth considering. But we’d be hard pushed to call it good value for money without the remote control unit.