Moneual MonCaso: Touchscreen Gadgetry and Solid Cooling in One?

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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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