Hi-Grade DMS II 3400 review

Price when reviewed

It’s a shame we didn’t receive Hi-Grade’s new DMS II for last month’s Media Center PCs Labs (see issue 125, p94), since it would have provided stiff competition to Elonex’s Artisan LX. The DMS II’s specification is much like the Artisan’s – there’s a dual-tuner analog TV card, a Radeon X300 PCI Express graphics card and a digital display at the front to provide useful information, such as playing time, TV channel name and various other items.

Hi-Grade DMS II 3400 review

Despite the fact that this is a pre-production unit, the DMS II is easily the Artisan’s equal. It feels supremely well built, even by AV standards – you’ll feel you’ve got your money’s worth the instant you lift the 9.5kg unit out of its box. Our only slight reservation is the front panel. Instead of looking modern, the blocky styling and green display is reminiscent of a 1980s VCR: it’s retro, but won’t be to everyone’s taste.

Nonetheless, there’s a nicely disguised DVD tray, and the green dot-matrix display is certainly visible. A row of playback controls are the only other things on show, giving a clean look. But like other high-end hi-fi equipment, flip down the magnetic cover at the bottom of the fascia, and you’re faced with an array of extra controls and connections. The most unusual are the Media Center navigation controls, complete with Home and Back buttons. Pressing Home launches Media Center if it isn’t already running.

Then there’s a 7-in-1 media card reader, two USB 2 ports and a mini-FireWire connection. Also unusual – but welcome – are the 1/4in headphone and microphone jacks, matching the standard of mainstream hi-fi kits. Lastly, there are S-Video, composite and stereo RCA inputs, for connection of analog sources.

These connect to the AVerMedia A169-D dual-tuner TV card, which replicates these ports on the rear of the unit. The card also sports an FM radio. As you’ll see from the picture (see left), there are a plethora of interfaces, but they’re well labelled and arranged, so it’s easy to hook up the DMS II to existing equipment. The eagle-eyed will already have spotted the absence of scart sockets. Unlike other DMS models, the connection wasn’t included, but the fact there are DVI, D-SUB and S-Video outputs mean it isn’t a fatal blow.

Audio is provided by the integrated Intel HD audio, and there are both optical and coaxial S/PDIF connections, along with 7.1 RCA analog outputs. Two IR Blaster outputs also allow you to control a variety of compatible set-top boxes, including Sky and cable receivers.

It all adds up to an incredibly competent Media Center system, and we found it worked flawlessly in our tests – even when recording two TV channels at once. And thanks to the 250GB hard disk, you’ll have well over 100 hours of recording time at the ‘Better’ quality setting.

With 1GB of PC3200 RAM and a 3.4GHz Pentium 4 CPU, this is also a powerful PC, scoring 1.92 in our 2D application benchmarks. The Radeon X300 proved a decent enough performer too, managing 37fps in our Unreal Tournament 2004 test at 1,280 x 1,024.

Since the chassis and motherboard are built around an enhanced version of Intel’s BTX (Balanced Technology eXtended) layout, internal airflow is as optimised as possible. Two 80mm ‘silent’ fans cool a huge heatsink, which is connected to the CPU by heatpipes. In tandem with a silent-fan PSU, it means the DMS II runs very cool and is easily as quiet as the Elonex Artisan in normal use. You’ll know the system is on in your quiet living room only by looking at the display.

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