We've always found the idea of a Media Centre computer appealing, but often the realities have been disappointing.
Not so Evolve's new LifeStation, which avoids the pitfalls that plague many similar machines.
First, the LifeStation looks great, and not at all like a computer: you'd happily give it room on your AV rack, and it's quiet enough to avoid offending audiophile sensibilities. Second, it's easy – even enjoyable – to use, thanks to its iPhone LifeControl app.
Based on a 64-bit Windows 7 Professional platform plus an Intel Core i3 chip, it can play Blu-rays and DVDs, while dual Freesat and Freeview tuners allow for TV timeshifting.
Hard-disk capacity is up to you: the model we sampled came with 1TB, but if you require more, it's easy to add.
Performance is excellent. The Evolve copes well with the frenetic motion in Transformers while thundering out the film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack.
Unlike many rivals, the Evolve can deliver proper 24fps, 1080p video from its hard drive too, plus HD audio. Picture quality is excellent, save for the merest trace of motion instability – but in this regard, the Evolve is no worse than many Blu-ray decks.
More than just a video server
Of course, the LifeStation isn't just a video-centric device: it can store thousands of songs. It supports every popular format except Apple Lossless and, usefully, has analogue, SP/DIF and HDMI outputs for audio, which let you connect it to multiple systems or multiple configurations.
We found it sounded best via its digital outputs into a good external DAC (in our Classé processor) but it's great to have the choice.
But then choice is core to the Evolve's attraction. It will work in isolation or, if you want, form the first stage in a multiroom system based on matching server and player components.
They're all on their way to our testing rooms in the months ahead, and if they're as convincing as the LifeStation, Evolve's future could be bright indeed.
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