For those people who don't want to have to build an HTPC system from scratch, the good news is that many hardware vendors have done the work for you. Custom-built HTPCs have been out on the market for quite some time, and while the basic idea behind them doesn't change from system to system, each vendor tries to inject some innovation into their implementation to give it a competitive edge.
Gigabyte's AVPC is an Intel Viiv-based HTPC designed to slot straight into your home theatre, and we think it does a pretty damn good job of this.
The H663 is an Intel Viiv-compliant system, which automatically sets a particular standard of hardware specifications. The motherboard is a Gigabyte GA-8I945EF-RH, which has an Intel 945G Express Northbridge chipset and an Intel ICH7-DH Southbridge. The motherboard has an onboard Intel GMA950 graphics adaptor, but there is also a PCI-E Gigabyte GC-ADD2EF-RH graphics card with DVI and S-Video - this card isn't an independent graphics card in its own right, it simply expands the capabilities of the GMA950 adaptor. Onboard audio is provided via a Realtek HD audio chipset.
The processor installed in this model is an Intel Pentium D 3GHz but you do have the option of buying the H663 as a "barebones" system without any components installed, depending on your location. The hard drive is a 250GB SATA-II Hitachi Deskstar, the optical drive is a Matshita DVD-RAM SW-9585 and there's a single stick of 1GB PC2-4300 Apacer RAM.
Unlike most HTPCs which use a traditional computer PSU, the H663 has a 220W external power adaptor. This has the advantage of saving quite a bit of internal space, reduces heat build up and promotes silent running.
The form factor is a custom build, lower even than a standard low-rise desktop case. The chassis measures in at 43.8cm wide x 32.5cm deep and just 6cm high. These dimensions make the AVPC ideally suited to a home theatre environment, as it is the shaper of an older VCR.
The operating environment is Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, and the system come bundled with CyberLink MagicDirector, MakeDVD and PowerDVD 5, and Norton Internet Security 2006. This bundle is actually a little disappointing - MagicDirector isn't really necessary and MakeDVD is a nice-to-have but there are better OEM DVD burning packages out there. PowerDVD 5 is a real disappointment considering that they are up to version 7 - new versions should include something like PowerDVD Ultra which is able to playback HD-DVD and Blu-ray movies if you intend on adding in a next generation movie player such as the Xbox 360 HD-DVD USB drive.
The AVPC is bundled with an IR Gigabyte keyboard with trackball, and a Gigabyte MCE remote control. There's also a recovery CD, driver/utility CD, the power adaptor, 3.5mm RCA cable, IR cable for a set top box, a male-male 3.5mm audio cable, an S-Video cable and batteries for the remote and keyboard.
Let's move onto the outside of the H663 now and take a closer look.