Price (RRP): $5,499
Claritas has absolutely pulled out all the stops to produce the ultimate Media Centre with its CTS1000, and has included a few remarkable features. One of these is the 7 inch LCD panel on the front of the unit. This screen can be configured to perform a number of different functions, and Claritas will customise the screen during installation to suit your particular set-up.
The screen itself can handle a surprisingly high resolution of up to 1366 x 768, which means you can match it with a high definition television and set the small display to duplicate what appears on the big screen. The display is also a touchscreen, so in this configuration you can actually control the Media Centre interface from the small display, even setting it to record a program, without needing to switch on your television.
Another alternative is to install an application such as Yahoo!’s Widgets. These provide a wide range of functionality, such as clocks, weather, news, etc. You can then set up the 7 inch display to show these Widgets while your television displays the regular Media Centre interface. You can also turn the screen off if you don’t want it distracting you when watching television.
Ultimately, the touchscreen display is a novel feature, and does bring added functionality to the CTS1000 that you won’t find on other Media Centres, although it’s not an essential part of the package. As such, Claritas also offers the CTS1000 without the display, which will save you $400 or $500 off the price, depending on which model you choose.
The other unique feature of the CTS1000 is its dual high definition digital tuners. This makes it possible to record two different programmes while watching a third, or use Windows Media Center’s time-shift feature – all with HD programming. While you can do this with a digital set-top box that has dual tuners, none of these support high definition recording as well. For this, you’ll need a media centre PC like the CTS1000.
High definition content does require massive amounts of storage in order to record, and to handle this CTS1000 packs plenty of hard disk space. There are three models available, with the entry level CTS600 giving you a hefty 600GB, the mid-range CTS800 offers 800GB and the top end CTS1000 sports a whopping 1TB (1 terabyte, or 1000 gigabytes, which is 1,000,000 megabytes!) This is important as HD consumes up to 6GB per hour, depending on the format. This means the 1TB model can store around 166 hours of high definition, or around 400 hours of standard definition, which is truly remarkable indeed!
The CTS1000 also includes a 12-month subscription to IceTV’s electronic programme guide (EPG). While Media Centre functions well without an EPG, it absolutely comes into its own when combined with an EPG.
Audio and video connections
The CTS1000 is also well equipped in other departments as well. It supports DVI and VGA video outputs for connecting to a plasma or LCD screen or PC monitor. It also features S-Video and component connections or a composite adapter, which covers all the video connection options. Keep in mind, though, that you’ll need to use either VGA, DVI or component in order to get true high definition. Audio is also well catered for, with a top quality Dolby 7.1 sound card that sports analogue, digital and optical output.
In terms of interface, the CTS1000 gives you a range of options. In addition to the built in touchscreen, you also get the regular Media Centre remote as well as the new Microsoft wireless Media Centre keyboard. This keyboard is preferable to a conventional wireless keyboard as it features a range of Media Centre-specific controls. It also operates through the same infra-red receiver used for the Media Centre remote.
Connectivity-wise, the CTS1000 not only includes the usual wired networking port, but it also supports the latest 802.11g wireless. This is ideal if you already have a PC in your home and you want to share content between your PC and Media Centre without laying network cable around the house. There’s also a multi-card reader at the front of the unit that supports all the popular formats, including SD, SmartMedia and CompactFlash for uploading and viewing photos from your digital camera.
Aesthetically, the CTS1000 is a large unit, so you’ll need to clear some space to install it. It’s also not terribly attractive, although it is available in black or silver, so you can make it blend in with your existing home entertainment gear. Keep in mind that while it does take up space, it negates the need for a DVD player, digital set-top box and CD player.
It’s also not cheap. At $5,499 for the top end model, with 1TB of storage and the touch screen, it’s one of the most expensive Media Centres around. Even the entry-level model, with 600GB and no touchscreen, comes in at $4,299. However, it is the best-equipped Media Centre we’ve looked at to date, and the only one on the market with dual high definition digital tuners. So if you’re looking for a Media Centre with everything, the CTS1000 is an excellent choice.