The Short Form
|$5,995 / 16.75 x 6.75 x 17 IN / inteset.com / 866-543-3797|
|•Instant access to movies and music
•Integrated multiroom audio
•Excellent video and audio performance
•Massive 1-terabyte storage capacity
|•Excessive fan noise
•No access for HD-cable TV
•Much more expensive than typical Media Center PCs
|•Media server with 1-terabyte hard drive for music, videos, HDTV, ripped DVD movies, FM radio, photos
•Distributes standard and HD content to Vana extenders in remote rooms via wired or wireless network
•High-def DVR functions
•Feeds up to two displays via HDMI, DVI, VGA/RGB, or component video in 720p format, with upconversion for DVD and standard-def TV/video
•7.1-channel analog and digital audio outputs; THX-certified Dolby Digital EX and DTS-ES decoding
•3-zone multiroom line-level audio outputs
•Price: Denzel TP420-SD media server, $5,995; Vana VA6420-SD, $2,395
VIDEO PERFORMANCE Digital video from the DVI output on the Inteset Denzel's high-end ATI video card generally looked superb on my 50-inch Samsung DLP. Configuring the card for high-def 720p output yielded the best all-around images, with excellent playback from both DVDs and HDTV. DVDs like the Bruce Willis actioner Hostage looked outstanding - in direct comparisons with the 480p output from my everyday DVD player, the Denzel's upconverted 720p signal rendered the movie's detailed interior scenes with a visibly more film-like texture, and better showed subtle gradations from light to dark. I judged the Denzel's component-video output to be marginally less sharp, but otherwise very similar in image quality.
Off-air HDTV via the Denzel's ATI HDTV tuner card was fine on the two digital stations I could capture in my rural area. I use HD cable in everyday life, and the off-air programs looked virtually identical to the same shows via my Comcast cable box. Note that, like all Media Center PCs, the Denzel TP420-SD won't accept the HDTV output from a digital cable box. Microsoft's new Vista operating system, set for release later this year, will correct this deficiency by allowing the Denzel to accommodate a CableCARD-ready digital tuner card. Inteset has an upgrade in the works for this, as well as for handling the new high-def disc formats when available.
Movie serving is among the Inteset's most alluring features, and the Denzel ripped DVD movies to its hard drive extremely quickly: just over 5 minutes for The Fifth Element, for example. (That's more than 100 megabits per second!) With its installed terabyte of disk storage, our review unit could easily hold 150 average films, with plenty of space left over for recorded TV shows, music, videos, and photos. Movies ripped to the hard drive looked indistinguishable from straight DVD playback.
The Denzel's My Movies interface was easy and completely intuitive to use: you see thumbnails of your titles' cover art, which when clicked gives you a larger view with scrollable credits, director, synopsis, running time, and more. Having all this plus a graphic and text database of films, browsable and searchable, was very cool - and would no doubt be cooler still with 150 films at your fingertips.
Music or videos streamed from Denzel TP420-SD to the Vana extender over my home network - even recorded HD content - were picture- and note-perfect, looking and sounding just as they did when auditioned directly from the Denzel. However, you can't stream live TV programming from the Denzel to the Vana - a Denzel-sourced recording must be completed first. This isn't an issue with standard-definition programs since the Vana has its own analog TV-tuner card, but you'd have to configure the Vana with its own HD-tuner card and antenna feed to watch real-time HDTV on it. Both Intesets are equipped for wireless networking as well, though most current-day wireless nets lack the bandwidth required for high-def video. (Check back next year ... )
I encountered a few operational quirks while using the system, mostly after rebooting it for one reason or another. For example, on a couple occasions the Denzel's component-video image went all watery and blocky shortly after a restart; simply rebooting again always cured this, and I never did figure out the cause. Another time the Denzel "forgot" its component-video configuration, requiring me to restore those settings. And it would occasionally boot up with Windows messages about software or security updates cluttering up its blue startup screen - I'd have to break out the wireless keyboard to trash these. But considering its leading-edge nature, over its several weeks in my system the Inteset Denzel/Vana combo was impressively trouble-free.
One problem both Inteset components do suffer from, however, is noise. The Denzel's fan kicks up a very noticeable racket, while even the Vana is nearly as whooshy as a typical small DLP or LCD projector. Either one is too noisy to be in the room during serious classical or jazz music listening, even after minimizing the adjustable fan settings-which caused the Denzel to run quite hot. They're best relegated to a custom installation's remotely located, professionally noise-proofed and cooled equipment closet, which is doubtless where they'll most often be found.
BOTTOM LINE Inteset's Denzel/Vana duo makes for an impressive state-of-the-technology media-server system. Of course, that's a fast-moving target right now, but since both components are card-based, they're eminently upgradeable. It's true that a reasonably savvy Windows geek could assemble the same functionality - perhaps not as slickly integrated - for a lot less money than the $6,000 asking price for the Inteset Denzel TP420-SD media server. But the Denzel and Vana are clearly targeted toward well-heeled custom-install customers for whom ease of use and transparency of technology take precedence over price. Media Center PC-based A/V entertainment may not be quite ready for the typical cash-and-carry consumer, but Inteset has measurably narrowed a gap that is sure to continue closing.
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