Pinnacle ShowCenter test and review from Computer Video Magazine

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Pinnacle ShowCenter

For years, computer hardware companies have been helping us put our favourite videos, music and stills onto our PCs. Now that we've got hard drives full of media, Pinnacle's ShowCenter might actually let us enjoy them - in the comfort of our living rooms.

Many readers' earliest outings into the world of computer video involved TV tuner cards and analogue capture devices. The idea was that a PC could replace a TV, VCR and stereo system, becoming an all-in-one solution for recording and playback. There are lots of good reasons why you might want a TV tuner on your PC, but the fact remains that personal computers just don't feel right as home cinema devices. Watching movies on a computer monitor feels wrong - regardless of how good a monitor it is.
And, while some clever IT enthusiasts have succeeded in creating PC-based media jukeboxes for their living rooms, the world of computing and home entertainment have largely remained separate. Digital media is now very much a part of the consumer lifestyle. People are taking digital photos, sharing MP3 music files, and even downloading movies from the internet. However, just as a PC's desktop isn't the most appropriate place to watch telly, it's also not an ideal or comfortable place to enjoy all this PC-based media.
Movie studios and record labels might be slow to accept the importance of the internet, but millions of potential customers now use it to discover or acquire new music and video. For them, it's neither here nor there how this affects CD or DVD sales, or whether it's ethically or morally sound. People are getting their entertainment in cyberspace and clever companies will try to capitalise on this market rather than crush it. A handful of firms - including Pinnacle, Hauppauge and Neuston - are doing just that, with networking devices that connect Windows PCs to TV sets and stereo systems. Mac users aren't left out in the cold. Neuston has Mac software for its box, and Linux, too, while Elgato has the Mac-only EyeHome (, and we'll be looking at those two systems plus a range of Windows competitors in the near future.
Pinnacle's offering - ShowCenter - relies equally on hardware and software. The hardware is a slim, good-looking hi-fi-style set-top box which feeds a TV set. The Windows software combines a media server and database program designed to organise movies, music and pictures into manageable categories and playlists for access by the ShowCenter box. No media is stored on the box itself - it's all accessed from a PC system over a network. As the box is useless without a PC running the ShowCenter software, that software is installed first.

The basic concept of ShowCenter makes a lot of sense. People are using their PCs to store media, and even though they want to enjoy their music, photos and videos, they don't necessarily want the hassle of burning collections to CD or DVD, making up inlays, and generally keeping track of what's where. Significantly, too, large-capacity hard drives are now so cheap that there's shouldn't be any worries about the cost of the space taken up by a multitude of media files.
We've got our grumbles - in particular the poor performance with certain DivX files (though not all), and the lack of direct support for Windows Media - but those complaints aren't major considering that conversion to MPEG is so painless. If we were to make one immediate change, it would be to tidy up the software on the PC side to make it more immediate and intuitive. Ideally, it should carry the same look and approach as the player's software, creating a better sense of continuity between the two.
Ultimately, ShowCenter comes very close to the media jukebox that many of us have been looking for. We're sure that, with the right marketing, it will appeal to a vast number of internet enthusiasts as well as digital photographers and video makers. And we hope ShowCenter will turn out to be one of the first in a long line of convenient and practical bridges from PC to living room.

Peter Wells

Read the full review in May 2004's Computer Video magazine.

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Pinnacle ShowCenter
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CyberLink PowerProducer 2.0
Magix Movies on CD & DVD 2.0
Pure Motion EditStudio 4
Shining CitiDisk DV
Ulead DVD Workshop 2
Wacom Graphire 3 Studio XL

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Video Forum 2004
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Cut-price Canon cams
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