My dad gave me a call today. He was looking for some consultation from a computer engineer. That was pretty flattering, considering my father is an electrical engineer. He was looking to put something into his entertainment center that would allow him to do slideshows of all of his digital pictures for friends when they came by. He figured he could probably throw a PC in there. He wanted something that would lay flat, like a rack unit. He wanted to look into 802.11 wireless connectivity so that he could get to media on other PCs in the house. He was also interested in some type of wireless keyboard and mouse so that he wouldn't have wires running all over the place. I knew that Microsoft had released the Windows XP Media Center Edition, which was meant to do exactly what he was talking about, but I wasn't very familiar with it. I had also seen a unit by the now defunct SonicBlue that would do all of these things. Unfortunately, SonicBlue is now out of business. For a PC, I figured the Dell Optiplex small form factor would be a good choice. It was very small, and it could be mounted in a variety of orientations. For a keyboard and mouse, I immediately though of Logitech. I love my Logitech Dual Optical mouse, and I knew they had several types of wireless optical mice and keyboards. I've had a good experience with my Netgear wireless equipment to this point, so I figured that would do well for him.I told my dad that I would look into it and get back to him.

After doing some research, I wasn't very happy with what I had seen from the Windows XP Media Center Edition. It looks as though it would work well, but it would be the most expensive option. Microsoft only licenses the OS, which is a specialized version of Windows XP Professional, on particularly certified hardware. HP and Gateway both had models available, but both were well in excess of $1000, which my father had stated was his absolute price limit.

So next I checked into SonicBlue. Of course, they were out of business, and the remaining fragments of that business were only offering audio receivers, no picture or video support. So then I went to ThinkGeek, which is where I first learned about the SonicBlue equipment. They had a link to the PRISMIQ. It was another set-top-box (STB) that had support for audio, video, pictures, and streaming internet radio. It included a web browsing feature, and had a card slot on the back to allow for a wireless network card. It came with a TV style remote control, but they offered an optional wireless keyboard. Software running on another PC on your network would catalog the media content on your network, and provide that information to the device. What really blew me away was the price: $250!!!! I couldn't believe it! The Windows hardware and software combination was going to cost five times that amount.

I had not heard of PRISMIQ before, so I decided to go ahead and checkout what Dell could offer. The Optiplex was lower cost than the Media Center PCs, but it was still going to run at least $550, and that is without adding wireless networking equipment and peripherals. I figured that, after adding those items, the total cost was going to run at least $800, and it wouldn't be very easy to use.

Finally, I thought to check CNET to see if they had any other options. While they had several MP3 streaming devices, the PRISMIQ was the only one listed with video and picture features. Several DVD players could read those content from a burned DVD or CD, but that wasn't the point. The idea was to have a link to the content on the PC, not on some burned media. The review on CNET of the PRISMIQ was nothing short of glowing. Even the user reviews ranked over 70%, which is rare for any device on CNET. This pretty well solidified the device as my choice for a recommendation. Even after adding wireless networking equipment and a wireless keyboard, the entire system would cost no more than $450.


Jade Mason