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TOUCHSCREEN AND iMON SOFTWARE
Like most of the other high end HTPC enclosures we've seen, the MonCaso comes
with an alternative to Windows MCE called iMon. We
looked at iMon in connection with Zalman's TNN-300 case, but the software
has progressed significantly since then. A number of improvements have been
made, notably TV recording, better support for network storage, and the ability
to DirectShow codec filters instead of iMon's effectively supporting
almost any file that will play back on Windows. It has also added an extensive
news application that gathers headlines from RSS feeds and displays them
effectively, it's a web browser that uses a remote control rather than a mouse
and keyboard for its interface.
Another feature we haven't seen before is an application called FrontView that
allows the front LCD screen to be used to navigate media. Under ordinary circumstances,
iMon displays a passive stream of system information, weather, and news headlines
on the front panel. Running FrontView makes the screen interactive; it essentially
parallels the functionality of iMon on the front LCD screen with the most complex
sections (settings, database management) disabled. It draws on the same media
database, but navigates it in a way appropriate to a small, front-mounted screen
rather than a full-sized TV.
FrontView is best suited to for playing back audio and other uses where the
screen is needed for occasional navigation rather than viewing full-sized video.
It provides a quick, always-active display of what the system is doing, even
when the main display is being used for something else or it's just too much
trouble to turn on the TV just to advance to the next album. Navigation can
be done via remote control, the control buttons on the case itself, or the touchscreen,
but the interface heavily favors the remote control, and navigating with the
touchscreen stylus is downright clumsy.
As it happens, the touchscreen component of our sample was dead on arrival,
so we could only guess at what the full functionality was, but it was clear
that the interface was designed to be scrolled through with a remote control,
not jabbed at with a stylus. If you do choose to use the touchscreen for audio
navigation, it may be easiest to bypass the FrontView software entirely and
revert to a convention, mouse-navigated audio program like Winamp or iTunes.
Alternately, a small wireless keyboard with appropriate keymapping software
might work even better, since it could operate from a distance. An earlier revision
of the Moncaso actually included such a keyboard, but it has been dropped as
a cost cutting measure. Presumably, the number of users who wanted to deal with
a wireless keyboard in their living room was too small to justify jacking up
the retail price by $100.
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