Russound offers high-end media center PCs sold through custom-retail channels. The company's Smart Media Console series of media center PCs includes six versions, with different storage/processing specs and tuning options. The SMC-45 ($7,499) is one of the mid-level machines, sporting a still-generous 1TB hard drive, a DVD/CD burner and dual CableCARD/Clear-QAM tuners, with DVR functionality and the ability to record two premium HD channels simultaneously. If you are not a cable subscriber, the SMC-40 has the same specs as the SMC-45, but offers dual NTSC/ATSC tuners to tune over-the-air signals. The SMC-45 doesn't include a Blu-ray player, but it does offer a nice assortment of video output options: HDMI, DVI, component, S-video and composite video. Running the Windows Vista Ultimate operating system, the SMC-45 sports a 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor with 2GB DDR2 SDRAM and uses the Nvidia GeForce 8500GT graphics card. On the audio side, the SMC-45 uses an Intel On Board sound card, with optical digital audio and 7.1-channel analog audio outputs.
As with other Windows Media Center PCs, the SMC-45 provides a simple user interface through which you can access and import music, photos and movies. This model has a generous assortment of peripheral connections, including eight USB ports (only two are 2.0; the rest are 1.1), two FireWire ports and a 28-in-1 card reader. The unit supports gigabit Ethernet via the back-panel RJ-45 port, but it does not have built-in Wi-Fi. An RF remote and a wireless RF keyboard are included.
Russound is an Exceptional Innovation partner and develops products that are compatible with EI's Life/ware home automation software, which is designed to run on a Windows Media Center PC. A Russound dealer can load the Life/ware software onto the SMC-45 and set up the system to control whole-house A/V and automation products via the Windows Vista user interface. Consequently, the SMC-45 features some nice control options, with two RS-232 and 12-volt trigger ports, as well as one IR input and two IR outputs.
• The Russound SMC-45 has a thorough back panel and excellent build quality.
• It sports a large 1TB hard drive.
• With the inclusion of dual CableCARDtuners, the SMC-45 lets digital cable subscribers record two premium HD channels simultaneously or watch one show and record another.
• This product will be set up and configured by a trained installer and is Life/ware-ready, so it should be more stable to run automation systems.
• The SMC-45 doesn't support Blu-ray playback and the HDMI output is video-only.
• The unit lacks built-in Wi-Fi.
• This unit is meant for digital cable users; it does not have internal NTSC/ATSC tuners, nor is it compatible with satellite TV systems.
The SMC-45 has a good list of connections and features and a large hard drive, but it is missing a couple of items (Blu-ray playback, Wi-Fi) that you can find in a less-expensive media center PC. This product is ideally suited for someone who plans to exploit the SMC-45's home automation potential and requires a more stable PC with advanced control options.