Convergence Isn't What It Used to Be
The latest update to Pinnacle System's digital media adapter, the ShowCenter 200, is designed to eliminate the computer vs. TV household debate. The ShowCenter 200 connects - wired or wirelessly (802.11g) - to a PC or home network, and it can stream media (video, photo, music, and TV files) to a TV, receiver, or any kind of home entertainment system.
What makes the new ShowCenter different from previous versions is support for high-definition video and high-resolution photos, which means the image quality is significantly improved when used with an HDTV. HD video can be viewed in the following formats: WMV, .AVI, and .MPEG files. Music can be imported from RealRhapsody subscriptions (which Pinnacle says provides access to over 770,000 songs, but I'll leave counting them all to you). Users with a broadband connection can listen to Internet SHOUTcast radio stations.
Included with the new ShowCenter player is Pinnacle's MediaManager software (Windows PC) to aid in the daunting task of managing large collections of music, video, and picture files. The software provides an integrated ability to burn CDs and DVDs containing collection archives or playlists for sharing. In addition, the media management software lets users create playlists, import and export content, as well as browse automatically created playlists such as "Top Rated" and "Most Played". The ability to create "watched folders" on connected PCs from which content can be imported automatically is an extremely useful feature (lazy bum that I am, I like automatic features). The software will even alert you when new media files have been found.
For someone who has a PCTV tuner card installed in or connected to his or her computer, the ShowCenter player can control the tuner card's PVR functions. The unit's integrated disc burning capability comes in handy when you want to archive recorded programs to DVD.
As with any of these "convergence" products (or, truthfully, any a/v product), usability and reliability are key to a product's success. I have yet to see what the new ShowCenter 200 can do in the real world of home networks and living rooms, but Pinnacle maintains that the MediaManager software is "powerful" and provides the ability to manage large file collections "with ease". I thought that the previous ShowCenter's software was good - albeit not great - so it'll be interesting to find out if the new incarnation lives up to Pinnacle's promise.
The ShowCenter 200 comes with a front-panel USB port, a remote control, Ethernet and power cables, and the MediaManager software. It's expected to be available in April, 2005 with a MSRP of $299.