Alienware Hangar18 HD Entertainment Center

Alienware doesn’t do “cheap.” The Miami-based PC builder is known for rolling every conceivable bell and whistle into their slick computers – and selling them for prices that match. That’s exactly the same approach the company took when designing their home entertainment system, the Hangar18. If you’re looking for a box that can do almost anything you ask of it, the Hangar may fit the bill – just don’t expect it to fit on the credit card bill.

Although the box has the look and feel of a home theater component, under the hood it’s all PC. The Hangar18 runs Windows Vista Premium with Media Center on an AMD Athlon 64 X2 dual-core processor. The base model gets a 4200+ processor, 250GB of storage, and handles 720p video. The top-of-the-line version sports a slightly  faster 4600+ processor, an astounding 2 terabytes of storage, and uses the extra zip to handle 1080p video.

The Hangar occupies the extreme high-end of the HTPC market.  Its $1,999 price tag for the base version could easily outweigh the cost of the HDTV television that you mate it with, and the 1080p-capable version runs $3,899. But there’s plenty inside the black box to justify the expense, making it an attractive way to ditch your drab cable company DVR and upgrade to something with some more flexibility.

Alienware Hangar18
Image Courtesy of Alienware

For one thing, you can skip buying a separate amplifier for your home audio system, because the Hangar packs its own punch. An integrated 1000-watt amplifier will power a 5.1 channel surround sound system right out of the box. Although most home theater buffs eying the Hangar18 probably have an amp or two already on hand, having one built in means one less remote to deal with, and a few less wires snaking around the entertainment center.

In the video arena, the Hangar is similarly well-equipped. Cheap DVRs get away with having just one tuner, but problems immediately arise when you want to watch a show other than the one you’re recording, or record two shows at once. Alienware has planned ahead and included four tuners in its 720p-capable (base) system – two for HDTV signals and two for regular signals. You’ll really have to be a media mogul to get this thing all tied up. But if you spring for the 1080p-capable box, you’ll find yourself stuck with just one HD tuner and one analog tuner, so plan wisely.

Alienware Hangar18
Image Courtesy of Alienware

Since the Hangar18 is a full-fledged PC and not a DVR with button-friendly menus, Alienware ships every model with their Gyration remote for controlling a cursor. Based on motion-sensing technology, the Gyration is supposed to make it easy to navigate soft menus without a cumbersome mouse.

Alienware Hangar18 Remote
Image courtesy of Alienware

The Hangar’s Wi-Fi connection opens the whole Web as a source of potential content, and also serves as a way to sync up other devices. AMD’s “Live!” technology makes it possible to stream video recorded on your Hangar to any other Internet-connected device, meaning you could watch shows on your laptop in the bedroom or from an Xbox 360 in the kid’s room.

When it boils down to it, a three-year old computer with the same software as the Hangar18 could probably fulfill many of the same broadcast-quality HTPC duties for a lot cheaper. But when it comes to HD content, the Hangar18 is well-equipped for the task, and has the presentation to match the other pricy components in a high-def setup. Home theater enthusiasts with the gear to take advantage of its full range of capabilities will want to give it a closer look.

You can find more information about the Hangar18 on Alienware’s website.

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