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Like many computer enthusiasts, I’m an early adopter. At the turn of the millennium, I decided to construct a home theater PC (HTPC)--before Windows Media Center Edition was readily available as a standalone product. Armed with AMD’s Remote Wonder, a Radeon 7500 with an S-video output, some game controllers, and a DVD-ROM drive, my HTPC was tasked to play DVDs, music, and PC games on the 27" TV in my living room.
The experiment technically "worked"–it played movies, music, and games and I could even play the PC version of TOCA race driver in split-screen mode. However, the system was not very user-friendly and I got tired of explaining and re-explaining how to operate it to my family. It was also a little buggy and temperamental, while frankly yesteryear’s CRT televisions weren’t really capable of making even the low 640x480 resolution look readable. While it was technically an HTPC that could do the job, in reality it was still just a PC attached to my television.
Here we are, almost a decade later, and in the last few years high-resolution LCD and plasma televisions have proliferated extremely quickly. More and more folks are even running dedicated home-theater rooms with HD projectors. In addition, Windows Media Center offers the PC a truly user-friendly interface that even my wife–who is not very tech-savvy–and children can use. Between modern graphics cards being able to offer sublime image quality on HD playback and my desire to try out the latest PC games on my HDTV, I believe the HTPC’s heyday might have just arrived.
It's certainly not 2002 anymore, and there are a lot more case options than beige-on-beige. In fact, there are a seemingly infinite number of unique and interesting HTPC cases available. Notably, we've seen a number of cases offering an integrated LCD touch screen that have both user-interface functionality as well as information-delivery. But are these cases well-optioned, well-built platforms for the serious home enthusiast? Are they worth their substantial price premium over an HTPC case without an LCD display? Or are they just a flashy case with a pretty face?
Let’s find out by taking a hard look at three HTPC cases with integrated LCD touch screens: the Moneual 972, the SilverStone CW03, and the Thermaltake DH102. All three offer full ATX compatibility, iMedian HD media player software, a handy IR remote, and a 7" LCD touch screen.
We'll start in alphabetical order and see what Moneual has to offer, first.