When a notebook doesn't fit your needs and a skyscraper-like tower, humming with fans won't suit either your room or your chosen aesthetic, smaller can definitely be better.
HP's answer to this problem is the Pavilion s7540, a small form factor PC that doubles as a media centre, though it lacks some essential features. It has many of the attributes of a good media centre, starting with Windows Media Center Edition (MCE), a remote control with receiver, and wireless mouse and keyboard. As well as the remote, HP's colour matched keyboard is crammed with media centre controls for easy navigation. There's also a 9-in-1 media card reader so you'll be very unlucky to have a camera that isn't compatible. FireWire should take care of any other camera or camcorder needs. Of course a DVD player is essential and the DVD writer sits snugly behind the front panel until ejected.
For audio, there are a couple of options: the motherboard supplies 7.1 surround sound output, which can be sourced through an array of 3.5mm ports at the rear of the case for analog 7.1; or, you can use the coaxial digital output for digital surround sound. Also for convenience, a single 3.5mm analog output is on the front panel.
There's enough USB connectivity for USB keys or an external hard drive with four USB 2.0 ports on the rear and one on the front panel. Plugging in the receiver for the remote takes up one USB slot, while the peripherals use up one more for their shared hub. If you really need to free up that one extra port, you can always plug your mouse and keyboard into the PS2 ports available. With a 160GB 3.5in hard drive (7200rpm), you've got enough space to store a fair chunk of your movies, photos and MP3s. Ripping the MP3s in the first place may take some time as this unit's Intel Pentium M 1.7GHz and 512MB RAM only managed to rip 14 WAV files to 192Kbps in three minutes and took 16min44sec to encode a full audio CD. We also ran WorldBench 5 and got a score of 71. This is indicative of the CPU and by no means a powerhouse score, but should suffice for casual usage.
The onboard Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 900 won't win any blue ribbons either, scoring only 3580 in 3DMark 2001 SE and only supplies a VGA output, not DVI. Sadly that is all the Slimline offers in video ports, with no S-Video or composite output. This essentially cancels any hopes of plugging this unit into your TV, though you also get a 19in screen as part of the $1999 package. There is no TV tuner installed for watching and recording TV onto your computer.
The unit runs fairly quiet with one fan cooling two heat sinks over the CPU and chipset. Two DIMM slots mean there's some room for a RAM upgrade, though space is otherwise too tight for any storage improvements with the DVD writer and hard drive taking up most of the front two-thirds of the chassis. Naturally there's a 10/100 LAN and a 56Kbps modem for network connections.