As enamored as I was with the DEC as a high-def DVR, I was disappointed that the HDTV tuner worked only with over-the-air broadcasts. Like earlier Media Centers, the HP has no high-def-capable component-video or HDMI inputs to accept the HDTV signal from a digital cable box. Microsoft and CableLABS, the cable industry's research and development organization, have announced an agreement for CableCARD-equipped Media Centers, but they won't be available until the fall of 2006, and current systems won't be upgradable. Still, the DEC does let you tune in, record, and archive off-air HDTV programs with the best sound and picture they have to offer. Most Media Center PCs can't even receive HDTV, much less record it.
Through all my TV watching and recording, music playing, picture viewing, Web surfing, and general poking around, the DEC was easy to use and responsive. Commands from the remote or keyboard were instantly followed, and the system didn't crash.
The DEC has two kinds of sleep modes: a traditional standby mode where the computer only wakes itself up for unattended TV recording, and a new Away mode that wakes it up and starts playback the moment you pop in a DVD or CD.
Considering its three tuners, FM radio, superb handling of HDTV programs, and everything else this Media Center PC does, the $1,500 z556 is a great value.
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