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HTPC Cases With LCD Screens: Bringing Bling

Introduction

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.

  • 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
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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!
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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!
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply