Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
- IceTV subscription, Fluid operation
- Pricier than the competition
A very decent media centre, however it is outperformed in terms of value for money by some of the competition.
Price$ 2,999.00 (AUD)
In the media centre arena it really takes something special to differentiate a product. With something like the Optima Entertainment Media Centre, a combination of excellent design and low price meant it was one of our favourite choices in this category. Claritas' high end offering, the CTS-1000 was another strong performer, offering a gargantuan gigabyte of storage. Following on from this model is their lower end CLT-302, and whilst it does have some of the same features that endeared us to its predecessor, it doesn't impress quite as much.
The key problem with this unit is pricing. If you compare the specs of the CLT-302 with those of the Optima you'll soon see they're very similar, yet the Optima is $1000 cheaper. Both offer Intel Pentium D dual core 2.8 Ghz chips with a gigabyte of ram. The only point of differentiation is the graphics card. Whilst the Optima sports an ATI Radeon X300 graphics processor Claritas have gone with the Nvidia 6200 chipset. The difference? Negligible at best. The CLT-302 scored 1137 in 3DMark05 and 85 in Worldbench, which mirrors the Optima almost exactly.
We found its performance to be fairly solid. Navigating the Windows Media Centre OS was smooth and everything operated quite quickly. Whilst it won't be able to crunch many high end games or applications, as a media centre this is about the level of specifications necessary to perform the required functions.
So what does the extra pricing get you? The CLT-302 has three advantages over its competitor, the big one being a 12 month subscription to IceTV straight out of the box. For people who want a hassle free setup this will be perfect. The other big factor is the dual tuner setup offered by this model, as compared with the single tuner present on the Optima. This allows you to both record and watch television at the same time, or even record two shows simultaneously.
Of course last time we checked, IceTV cost just under $150 for a yearly subscription, and a tuner card goes for anywhere from $80 to $200, which essentially means you're paying $650 or so for the CLT-302s other differentiating features, its front panel LCD. Whilst this screen is pretty nifty, after a while it winds up really just being a novelty in our eyes. It displays a variety of data including the weather in various countries, your system status (resources used etc), time and date and a host of other little tidbits. Generally we are of the opinion that external LCDs are only really useful for hardcore overclockers who need to monitor their system status minute by minute. We can see its application when listening to music with your TV off, but is that really worth paying so much for?
Design wise the CLT-302 resembles a miniaturized version of the CTS-1000. The silver case looks pretty sleek, suitable for a home entertainment cabinet, and the thinned out design means it will squeeze well into a cramped environment. We really like the fact that the DVD tray is just that, a simple tray. Most manufacturers will simply hide the DVD drive behind a panel, or not bother to hide it at all, which ruins the aesthetics of the machine. Claritas have simply left a slot for the tray to push through and it really gives the unit a smooth, consistent look. We also loved the fact that there are ventilation grates on both the sides and top of the unit. A big problem with some media centres is that when they're placed in the confines of a cabinet they struggle to keep cool but Claritas have gone some way to remedying this, with airflow in multiple directions.
The downside of this is that there are more places for sound to escape. Whilst the CLT-302 is quiet by normal PC standards (our X1900XTX machine does a great imitation of a large jet) it did emit a little more noise than we normally like. In patches of complete silence the spinning of the fans was just audible. It wasn't much of a problem for us as it was only very slight, but some people need absolute silence to enjoy their movies.
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