All three of these cases use identical software--Soundgraph's iMedian HD is the bundled media center and the iMon utility manages the touch screen and bundled remote controls. Even the physical remote controls are identical, except for branding. This puts all three cases on an equal footing when it comes to usability. But how good is this bundled software and hardware when applied to home theater PC tasks? Since this is a case review and not a software review, we will take a cursory look at this software and go over its major benefits and limitations, without delving into the minutia.
Can you see a diffrence?
First, let's understand the terminology: Soundgraph's iMedian HD works a lot like Windows Media Center does and comes bundled with all three of these touch-screen LCD cases. iMon is a resident program that monitors the remote control and manages all of its settings. iMon also controls Frontview, which is the software application that displays information on the secondary LCD screen and runs the touch-screen interface.
Software installation is fairly straightforward. It simply involves running the install program and following the instructions. Hardware installation is a two-step affair and is almost as simple--you first make sure the remote sensor is connected via a USB header on the motherboard and then make sure the LCD screen's VGA cable is physically attached to your graphics card. Since it uses the older analog VGA cable, you might need a DVI-to-VGA adapter.
With everything connected, we simply set the LCD touch screen as a secondary display at 800 x 600 resolution with the desktop extended on to it. After we set the Frontview player to start on boot, it worked like a charm. We customized settings in the iMon manager to choose a local city for displaying date, time, and weather information.
iMon Manager settings
For our tests, we used a Radeon graphics card that would auto-detect whether a monitor was plugged or unplugged. This caused a bit of a problem in that every time we switched the television input to something other than the HTPC, AMD's Hotkey Poller application would detect the loss of the monitor and immediately assign the LCD touch screen as the primary output. Switching the TV input back to the HTPC would automatically assign it as a secondary monitor clone, and this would cause both the television and LCD touch screen to display the Frontview application, with no desktop. To get around this, we disabled AMD's Hotkey Poller with Window's msconfig. This allowed us to change TV inputs with no further issues.
Another issue was that the Frontview player didn't work with the older Windows XP Windows Media Center, but it ran fine with the new Windows Media Center that comes bundles with Vista Home Premium and Vista Ultimate. When using the older XP Media Center, the touch screen wouldn't show the graphic equalizer when playing music or movies like it did when using the Vista Windows Media Center. Instead, it would continue to display the local date, time, weather, and system information. However, it would work when using iMedian HD as the media center, even under XP's MCE.
A notable annoyance is that the iMon remote monitor plays a default sound whenever a button on the remote is pushed; we assumed this obnoxious sound was an error sound at first. We were quite happy to find that the sound could be turned off in the iMon settings.
One final issue was that we couldn't use the iMon remote to control television channels because we have a cable set-top box. Microsoft's Windows Media Center Remote Controllers come with an IR cable to control a set-top box, so you might find this to be an attractive--albeit expensive--option. Alternatively, you could simply continue to use your set-top box remote, although this causes a notable pause when switching channels in Windows Media Center.
Now that we have an idea of what's involved in the installation, let's see how it works.
I'm pleased to say that the iMedian HD application works pretty well as an alternative to Windows Media Center. The interface is very similar to Microsoft's Media Center Edition in many ways as it is simple and intuitive.
iMedian HD paired with the iMon remote delivered a solid home-theater experience, allowing us to quickly sort out where we needed to go to view the audio and video on the system. It takes a little getting used to, but once you understand the paradigm, you'll be scooting around comfortably. The only big component missing was television software, but the program accommodates the user by allowing for a separate TV application to be launched.
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