SilverStone Lascala LC16B-M review
Designing an entertainment PC is a big challenge. But as our Media Center PCs group test demonstrates, it’s more feasible than ever to welcome a computer into your living room.
For those who prefer to plot their own route, there are some excellent chassis emerging too. SilverStone’s Lascala LC16B-M is one of the most appealing yet, with a Vacuum Fluorescent Display (VFD), media control buttons and a swish-looking dial. The aluminium chassis will house a full ATX or microATX motherboard and full-sized power supply, allowing you to specify exactly the system you want.
The sleek simplicity on the outside belies the bewildering complexity once you get the lid off – you’re greeted by a jumble of wires that seems too complicated for even the most generously equipped motherboard. The main culprit is the VFD, which uses a floppy power connection and re-routes the power switch through itself. Using the integrated IR sensor, this has the benefit of allowing you to power on the system from standby using the remote. There’s also a USB lead feeding out of it, which you can either connect to a spare motherboard header using the supplied adaptor or, more inelegantly, route out the rear and into a USB port on the backplane.
There are also several front-panel connectors hidden by a panel underneath the VFD, offering four USB, a single six-pin FireWire and audio ports. Unfortunately, the cables connecting to the USB ports don’t carry any power, so charging MP3 players, cameras or external hard disks from them isn’t actually possible – a disappointing oversight.
Once you’ve removed the drive cages and grouped the wiring, the optical drive is the only really fiddly aspect. The assembly sits centrally and is hidden behind a spring-loaded door, but trying to get the eject mechanism to work effectively was tricky with our flush-buttoned drive. Once working, there’s a soft-closing mechanism to elegantly close the door after the drive accepts the disc.
SilverStone bundles two pieces of software from SoundGraph (www.soundgraph.com). The first, iMedian, is a media centre front-end, handling TV, radio, video, music and photos. Compared to Microsoft’s MCE, it’s extremely basic; it supports only a single analog tuner, and browsing around for media files simply isn’t anywhere near as sleek or satisfying.
The second is iMon, a tray applet that handles the infrared, VFD and transport buttons, as well as allowing you to comprehensively reconfigure the remote control. It’s a touch confusing to operate, and doesn’t behave as we were expecting. The most logical use for the LC16B-M’s wheel would be to scroll through Media Center menus, providing an intuitive method of navigation without a remote or keyboard. Not only disappointingly flimsy, it’s actually linked to volume, and pressing it activates mute. Considering there are already volume buttons underneath, it’s a wasted opportunity.
We were more impressed with the remote once we’d fiddled with the iMon settings though. You can assign it to launch Media Center and then it does everything that a standard MCE remote does and controls all the iMon applets and extras. This includes the LCD panel, letting you select whether it shows a graphic equaliser, a newsfeed, email updates or system resources. While not totally customisable – you can’t import your own RSS newsfeeds, and it can’t show the date in a proper UK format, for example – it’s reasonably useful. The remote can also control your mouse pointer, skip you to various parts of Media Center and do anything else you’d expect of an all-in-one remote.