The convergence of the PC and home theater was destined to happen. PCs are simply too good at accessing and playing back multimedia content to keep out of the living room. But if you're going to put a PC across from your couch, you want it to look as good as the home theater components next to it. Predictably, there was an explosion of new cases designed to house home theater PCs.
One could argue that the perfect home theater PC hasn't been built yet. However, over the years, certain characteristics have established themselves as being particularly useful for HTPC applications. This natural selection has left us with a core feature set that largely defines the genre. Home theater enclosures typically favor desktop-style designs rather than towers. Their front panels normally have doors or flaps that conceal unsightly jacks, drives, and ports. Some even integrate LCDs to display snippets of useful information like the time, date, details of what's being played back by the system. All of these things help today's HTPCs blend in with home theater components like your average receiver or amplifier. They'll fit into the same entertainment units, too, since home theater PC enclosures tend to stick to similar dimensions.
nMedia's HTPC 2000B case has the right dimensions, a slick front bezel, and an optional integrated display, so all the basics are covered. Should you consider it for your next home theater PC build? There's only one way to find out.
Even the bottom is black
The HTPC 2000B might not be the most creative name for a product, but at least it's somewhat descriptivethe B denotes the black version. A brilliant silver-anodized model is available as the 2000S.
Don't worry; the ill-fitting top lid is the result of yet another shipping mishap. It's tempting to say the rough handling gives us a real-world test of nMedia's packaging quality, but considering this case came all the way across the Pacific, my experience probably won't be representative of the norm. At least the 2000B feels like it can take a bit of a beating. The case is crafted from a combination of steel and aluminum, and it weighs in at a reasonable 20 pounds.
Even with a small bump in the top panel, the HTPC 2000B does a fine job of mimicking your typical home theater component. With a 17" width and 16.4" depth, it should stack nicely with other standard gear. The case's 6.6" height should be tall enough to accommodate a good number of aftermarket tower heatsinks without compromising compatibility with home entertainment units, too.
In the looks department, the 2000B features a glossy black stripe down the middle that offers just enough contrast against the expanse of brushed aluminum that makes up the front panel. Care has been taken to ensure that each element adorning the front is properly aligned, from the centering of the LCD over the group of stenciled icons below it to the left-justified nMedia logo, buttons, and "HOME THEATER PC" graphic.
nMedia incorporates two drop-down flaps into the front bezel to cover the 3.5" and 5.25" external drive bays along with the integrated card readers, audio jacks, and external device ports. Both flaps extend all the way to the edges of the case, making it easy to flip them down. They also stay tightly shut when closed.
From left to right, the bottom access panel hides 3.5-mm microphone and headphone jacks, one eSATA then two USB jacks, and finally a Firewire port. The ports are spaced far enough apart that they can actually be used at the same time.
The power and reset buttons have chrome trim and a good feel to them, but I'm not sold on their glitzy styling when the rest of the front panel has a strong industrial, minimalist theme.
On the far right is an array of memory card readers that will accept CompactFlash, Secure Digital, Smart Media (does anyone actually use Smart Media anymore?), and Memory Stick cards. An indicator light, er, indicates card reading and writing activity, and yet another USB port should squash any worries about having enough ports to plug in your USB-powered rocket launcher alongside more mundane peripherals.
There's nothing but passive venting on the left side of the case, but on the right side is an intake vent covering a 120-mm fan. The lack of a filter means you can probably expect dust to get inside the case easily, however.
Adorning the back panel of the HTPC 2000B is a pair of 80-mm exhaust fans and some passive venting above the expansion slots. The expansion slots don't protrude into the case. Instead, they sit flush to the rear of the enclousre, and the 2000B has a metal ledge just above them to provide an anchor for each device's mounting bracket.
I don't normally pay much attention to the bottom side of an enclosure; they're usually unfinished or completely uninteresting. However, the HTPC 2000B's underbelly is nicely finished and clear of any mounting holes or other markings. This little touch probably won't matter to most people, but it's definitely out of the norm, so I thought it was worth a mention.