HTPC Cases With LCD Screens: Bringing Bling

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.

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  • Hamsterabed
    Nice Review, I agree with your take on cost but if i had the funds i would defiantly get one of these cases for an HTPC. the Moneual looks like the one I would get. This review was nice and balanced and took into all the different factors affecting the cases. noting that the screens were very similar and that the remotes were identical was something I was very happy to see as well as using the fan less psu as another control. A note of how the VGA cables get to the out side from the touch screen would have been a nice note but the pictures demonstrated it accurately showing that they have a pass through to the back video card area.

    A+ review in my book
  • cruiseoveride
    ... and we're supposed to put these "hub caps" on my car?

    Seriously, this looks so cheap. Who is going to put it on a rack with $20k worth of audio/video equipment.
  • average joe
    I like the rack mounting feature of the Silverstone. But I like the other case better. I think a rack would fit my sparse industrial theme.
    I have a fairly small space. Lots of Ikea furniture.
  • DiscoDuck
    The touchscreen to me seems a bit of a waste. I prefer to use a standard computer monitor and a HDTV connected to a video card setup in a way that creates a workstation in the front wall of my hometheater with a slide out shelf for keyboard mouse. That way it can be a workstation/gaming machine from chair and HTPC from armchair via remote. I use mce2005.
  • JeanLuc
    Why would you want an expensive touch screen interface on HTPC? The whole point of having a HTPC is use can operate it remotely from your sofa. I would also like to have seen what motherboards these cases can support whether it be a micro ATX or full ATX motherboards.
  • cleeve
    Yeah, I have to agree with you fellows and I tried to get that across in the review; any productive use for these screens is a bit of a stretch. The only thing I could come up with is using the frontview media player to access music if you didn't want to power up your screen; I have a projector with a limited bulb life and I don't want to turn it on to listen to my music library.

    But thanks for reading it anyway, I hope the info was useful to you guys.

    And thanks for the kind words, Hamsterabed!
  • cleeve
    JeanLucI would also like to have seen what motherboards these cases can support whether it be a micro ATX or full ATX motherboards.

    I mentioned on the first page "All three offer full ATX compatibility", that includes MicroATX.
  • I have been waiting a long while for an updated HTPC review. I was hoping to see what kind of components you gurus would use, but this case review was very helpful to me too (been thinking about using an AMD GPU with the HDMI, but was interested in seeing some overall system power requirements of running an HTPC. Don't want a huge jump in electric bills). I was mostly considering building an HTPC for my dad. He's old, and likes to listen to music. He streams internet radio, but sits in the uncomfortable computer chair. With one of these cases he could easily select music AND be able to play a movie using the same box, without a learning curve that would frustrate him. Thanks for the write-up, I hope you can do another one soon!
  • neodawg
    nice review, I have the DH101 which is the same - the 7in touch LCD, but it does have the remote and small 2x5 in blue black lcd, that displays computer/media information, i didnt find that the case was flimsy at all, maybe a little without the cover, but once the cover is on it is like a rock. I have to agree with you on the touch LCD, another good idea on paper, but in real world it is an epic fail.
  • cadder
    I've thought about this issue in the past and there are times when I might want to use the small screen and not power up the big screen-
    1) to set the PC to record something, say I get up in the morning and remember I wanted to record a certain broadcast, I can do that from the small screen
    2) to take a quick look at the weather maybe
    Actually I've thought about this with respect to just having a large screen and a small screen beside it, sort of the next step beyond "picture in picture". So maybe the touch screen aspect isn't useful but the screen itself might be useful, and if a person didn't want to use the touchscreen in the front of the case, they could use a small monitor or tv setting with the equipment. Some people might want the HTPC to set in the furniture along with the BluRay player and TV tuner, but others might have a more extensive setup with a place to sit and work, video games, multiple screens, etc.
  • cleeve
    cadder) to take a quick look at the weather maybe

    I probably should have stressed it more in the review, but the frontview player shows the weather, time, system properties (like CPU usage), and a news ticker.

    And in retrospect, the weather feature is the one I used the most. I might add a note about that in the review, cadder.
  • BillLake
    The Silverstone has one additional feature that Don missed, because it has a 1080p screen it can duplex the video. This is a great feature as you can have simultaneous display at high resolution, 1080p, it is one of the few cases that has this feature.
  • cleeve
    Well, I'm not sure if that's much of a feature, Bill. What's the advantage of simulaltaneously displaying interpolated video on a 7" screen at the same time as it's playing on your HDTV?

    If you're watching a movie on your TV, why would you want the same movie displayed on a 7" screen? Or am I missing something?
  • niknikktm
    While I'm glad that Tom's finally turned just a little of their attention to HTPC enthusiasts, and the reveiw on the cases was adequate, I do hope that it doesn't end here. Just another case reveiw is not what we need. I beleive a lot of us here would like to see an article about someone actually using one of these cases to build a state of the art HTPC. You know, with hardware and platform and the like???

    That sure would be nice for a change.
  • cleeve
    I'll look into it. I'm not unually involved in the HTPC case system builder marathons and I'm not sure when the last one was.
  • niknikktm
    Thanks Cleeve. I beleive it's been nearly three years and much has changed since then. It's long overdue! I'll keep my fingers crossed and hope that the decision makers at Tom's give it a green light.
  • cleeve
    niknikktmThanks Cleeve. I beleive it's been nearly three years and much has changed since then. It's long overdue! I'll keep my fingers crossed and hope that the decision makers at Tom's give it a green light.

    Here's some from May 2007:
  • Orion75
    Well for those of you who don't want to upgrade their existing HTPC cases... here's an alternative:
  • niknikktm
    I stand corrected. Nearly two years (not three) since the last HTPC build. The point is still valid. A lot of new hardware has come out since then and a new build is long overdue. HD PVR recording and Blu-ray authoring are just a couple of key aspects that are now possible but weren't then. Also, the advances in graphics and video capture hardware is notable. There are many reasons to revisit an "HTPC" or "Media Center PC" marathon after two years.
  • cleeve
    I wasn't calling you out Nik, just linking to the last HTPC build I could find. Like I said, I'm going to try to make this happen.
  • BillLake
    Cleeve, it is just a scaling thing, if you have a 1080p small screen you get the same both places. Not a big feature like you said but it can be useful or fun to have. It can also be used to monitor a third football or baseball game :)
  • BillLake
    For those who don't like the touch screen, use your imagination, what if you put your shortcuts on the touch screen for starting all your apps, like DVD playback, then you can start the program by just touching the screen. I have no problem doing this. It is sometime a little bit of a pain getting the programs to go where you want them but once you get it set up then it works great. My 5 year old can start her videos from the touch screen easily. She just walks up and touches the one she wants. I worry more about it wearing out than it being a problem
  • jaz50y
    I already have the music thing covered by streaming to my PS3 via TVersity and using a PSP as a remote. The touchscreen macro idea is nice, tho my old Phillips Pronto does that pretty well. And all that together is less than the expensive case.
  • rwpritchett
    I just thought I'd chime in with my Moneual experience. I have the Moneual 832P and found the build quality to be outstanding as well. I hope Moneual can hang in there and continue to make excellent HTPC cases. The 832 doesn't have a touch screen but it does have the control buttons and volume knob. When I first built my HTPC I thought I'd never use these controls but I find myself using them regularly (usually when I can't find my remote!!!) so I can see the value of having the touchscreen controls.

    Also, when I upgraded to a blu-ray drive, the adhesive tape that attaches the door cover came off with very little fuss and I was able to re-use it just fine even though I had purchased some replacement 3M tape for the drive upgrade. How often do you upgrade an optical drive anyway?

    BTW, in the "Weaknesses" summary for the Moneual 972 case you've listed it having two 60mm fans but it actually has 80mm fans.