Test Report: S1Digital ES400 and P250 Entertainment Server Page 4

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Sports fans will love Media Center’s sports features, which allow browsing of top stories, photos, videos, and scores. Media Center can also keep tabs on your fantasy NFL, MLB, NHL, and NBA sports teams. Surprisingly, the “Scores” section never showed any information for either World Cup soccer or the U.S. or British Open golf tournaments. Also, given the S1’s processing horsepower and multiple tuner capability, it would have been nice to include a picture-in-picture option, something that many sports fans live for.

The My Movies feature, an S1 Media Center plugin, has an incredibly cool, impressive-looking GUI for browsing films. It identifies titles by cover art, correctly loading either the Blu-ray or DVD box art. When you select a movie, a high-rez still from the film is displayed along with both the front and rear box art. There’s also a synopsis of the film, as well as cast and crew information and a list of similar movies in your collection. Image resolution was good enough that I could clearly read all of the rear box art text from 4 or 5 feet away. Operation was also speedy, with Blu-rays stored on the server taking about 11 seconds to start and DVDs taking around 5 seconds.

Scaling performance was mostly good, with the P250 passing the majority of tests from the HQV, Spears & Munsil, and Qdeo video-evaluation discs. (The fact that S1 is using integrated Intel graphics as opposed to a hot-rodded video card from the likes of Nvidia or ATI shows just how far scaling technology has come.) It did occasionally stumble in real-world use, however. To cite a particularly bad example, the picture combed badly on some cuts between scenes in a DVD rip of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, riddling Clint Eastwood’s hat with stripes for 1 or 2 seconds until the video processing finally recognized the cadence and locked on. Also, it didn’t like horizontal scrolling text: The tickers on ESPN channels had a broken and jittery appearance. Blu-rays looked the way they should — which is to say, great — though horizontal pans came across a bit choppy at times, and the video occasionally appeared to have dropped frames.

BOTTOM LINE
I can sum up this S1Digital system by saying that when it worked, it worked great. Having the option to permanently shelve my many movie and music discs and hop seamlessly within all of that stored content, as well as use the S1’s impressive DVR functionality and explore Internet TV, added up to a terriffic experience. But when the S1 system’s quirks kicked in, it was an exercise in frustration. (To be fair, most of the problems seemed to reside with the Windows Media Center software rather than S1’s hardware.) I experienced many little glitches and hiccups — audio dropouts, system freezes and lockups, video resolution changes, error messages — that often required a system reboot or a call to tech support: I spent so much time both on the phone and enabling remote log-ins that when the system would act up, my 3-year-old would say, “You need to call Ron to fix the TV.” Granted, it can be assumed that I, as a Sound+Vision reviewer, got preferential support treatment. (You probably won’t be calling S1’s president at home on a Sunday.) However, I can say that the support I received was fantastic. If you can put up with the occasional operational setbacks that come with using a PC-based media server, S1’s system offers an amazing amount of bang for the buck.

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