One of the major impediments to the growth of the home theater PC (HTPC) market has been the lack of digital cable TV support. Yes, Clear QAM tuners can handle unencrypted digital channels, but only now that cable companies have started getting behind the CableCard standard can consumers use their PCs to view and record encrypted cable channels. While HTPC makers have been selling CableCard-ready systems for $1,500 and up, Ace Computers is planning to show off a couple of $999 models at CES next week.
Covering its processor bases, the company is going to offer the LMS 250 with either an AMD Phenom X3 triple-core CPU or an Intel Core 2 Duo E7300 CPU. The Phenom config is based around AMD's Maui entertainment platform, while the Core 2 Duo version may be the last computer to use Intel's unsuccessful Viiv media-friendly technology. (Or at least the last to advertise it.) Either LMS 250 comes with 2GB of RAM, 500GB hard drive, DVD burner, and internal ATI Digital Cable Tuner, which houses the CableCard you get from your cable provider. The AMD version comes with a whopping 12 USB ports, while the Intel config sports 8 USB ports.
Both come with the latest version of Windows Vista Home Premium, which ships with Windows Media Center built in. That latest version is an OEM-only upgrade that finally brings CableCard support to Windows Media Center. You can spend an extra $100 on a Blu-ray drive, and the acoustically dampened case also supports an additional ATI Digital Cable Tuner for recording even more programming. (That version of the LMS 250 costs $1,249.) Ace is definitely making a statement by lowering the price of a CableCard-compatible HTPC under $1,000. But will that be enough to broaden the HTPC market as more companies try to bring elements of the PC into the home theater through other devices?