Manufacturers are investing an increasing proportion of development and marketing efforts over the coming 12 months into the Media Center.
While there is still some debate as to whether people really want a PC in the living room - with stowaway media servers suggested as an alternative - manufacturers prefer to concentrate on removing barriers to adoption, such as noise.
"You don't see a fan in your stereo or TV. You don't want to hear your fan in your PC in your living room - it's annoying," said Jonathan Yi, vice president of product planning at Shuttle, which ships its XPC SBA81P Media Center at the end of the month.
"A few years ago I didn't care because I didn't know there were quieter machines. Now we've learnt this is important."
Small form factor is splitting into two camps: the cube, typically designed to look like a midi hi-fi, and a more traditional chassis that slots under the TV.
Transmeta has claimed that its latest low-drain Efficeon TM8620 processor, aimed at the portable market, can also run small consumer devices. The vendor is working with manufacturers to build quiet, fanless media centres. Chip maker Via argues that its processors and smaller, low-power boards are aimed at addressing this issue and future video-on-demand applications.
In August, Gigabyte plans to ship the HA2, a sleek-looking Media Center the size of a DVD player. Abit has a slightly bigger alternative with a built-in mini TFT screen due in late July.
ECS has stuck with the cube shape, although the EZ Buddie2 is using its own EZ Cinema software, running on Linux, to run entertainment software. Although this is cheaper than running Windows Media Center, whether it will prove a mistake will become clear once Microsoft ships Symphony, the next version of Media Center.
Like ECS and Shuttle, AOpen favours the cube with midi hi-fi looks and, again, products are imminent. The company also looks set to produce a DVD-type chassis barebones product.
Vincent van der Meer, senior field application engineer at AOpen, said there would always be a split between those who want an all-in-one system in their living room and those who do not. But he believed the ultimate challenge will be to make an expandable barebones system on whatever format.
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