Dive into Viiv
Senior associate editor
Updated March 20, 2006
While Intel's plan for living-room domination through its Viiv program has garnered a significant amount of attention from both the mainstream and tech press, system vendors have been slow to jump on the bandwagon.
The systems below are some of the very first Viiv-branded PCs we've seen, and most are either slightly reworked versions of existing products or quickly thrown-together boxes that don't quite hit the mark. If you head to these vendors' Web sites, you'll be hard-pressed to find anything touting the arrival of Viiv-compliant systems. The spec is listed almost as an afterthought most of the time.
That being said, Viiv has the potential to take some of the confusion out of buying a media-friendly machine. At the most basic level, Viiv is a designation that certifies that the system in question fulfills a list of basic specs. Instead of wireless networking, like Intel's Centrino, Viiv is about media playback, or as Intel describes it, "a new platform designed for the enjoyment of digital entertainment."
Since Viiv is an Intel platform, it makes sense that an Intel CPU is required. Systems must have a dual-core Intel Pentium D or Pentium Extreme Edition processor. Laptops must have a new Intel Core Duo CPU. Viiv also requires Windows XP Media Center Edition and must support 5.1 or 7.1 audio and Intel's Quick Resume instant on/off technology. Full details on required chipsets and network components are available on Intel's Web site.
Missing from the list of Viiv requirements are basic things we think an entertainment PC needs, such as a TV tuner and a decent video card. So just because a system has a Viiv sticker, that doesn't mean that it will meet your needs.
The Dell XPS 400, while a little pricey, had a fast Pentium D 940 CPU, dual TV tuners, and a decent GeForce 6800 video card. We liked many of the proprietary features on the HP m7360n, including a LightScribe DVD burner and a slot for HP's Personal Media Drive, but those are also available on non-Viiv versions of the system. The iBuyPower Viiv-350 is a no-frills PC stuck in a weird half-height case, and it lacks a TV tuner and a Media Center remote, but you could probably build it to suit your needs, with iBuyPower's everything-but-the-kitchen-sink configurator.
Alienware's Area-51 3550 hits all of the requirements for Intel's Viiv platform but otherwise fails to impress. It's hard to think of an Alienware system without thinking of high-end gaming, but the 3550 is underpowered and has very limited video-card upgrade options.
The Polywell Poly 975MCE-Extreme, on the other hand, goes all out, with 750GB of storage space and dual TV tuners. Still, for almost $4,000, you could get a media-friendly Mac Mini and a killer gaming rig and still have beer money left over.