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Windows Media Center Edition 2005

Written on September 29, 2006 by William George

Hardware Recommendations (Continued)

The other device in your computer that will contribute to video quality is the TV tuner. Under Windows Media Center it is responsible for both tuning into a channel properly and recording it. MCE records TV in a special variation on the MPEG2 codec (similar to how DVDs are encoded), and because this is a rather demanding task there are special chips built onto the tuner card itself that handle this (usually complimented by a small amount of memory). The quality of the tuner itself and the MPEG2 encoder will determine how nice the TV signal will look when you are viewing it. ATI makes a great TV tuner chip, the Theater 550, which several manufacturers have created cards based off of. You will also need a program that can do MPEG2 decoding (like a DVD application) so that MCE can properly play back TV (and DVD). The software you choose for that role may also impact video quality, so I suggest getting something that takes advantage of your video card's MPEG2 decoding capabilities (all modern video cards have this feature - Avivo for ATI, and PureVideo for nVidia). There are also dual tuner models that have a pair of physical tuners (and encoders), allowing you to record and/or watch two different channels at the same time (like this one). The same thing can be accomplished using two separate tuner cards, but then a signal splitter would also be required.

Lastly, we come to what should probably have been the first decision: the case. Most home theater owners will want their computer to blend in with the other parts of their home theater setup, like receivers and amplifiers. For these situations, a nice, sleek looking, rack-style case is probably best. Silverstone makes several cases that work great in such a setup, including the LC17 and LC18. Other users may want a traditional mid-tower case, but one that is as quiet as possible. The Antec P180 is the perfect solution - it combines a larger, more upgradeable tower design with plenty of airflow and features designed to specifically quiet the noisier components of a computer (the hard drives and fans). Lastly, there may be people who want simply the smallest computer possible - perhaps for a dorm or bedroom. Again Silverstone comes through with the MicroATX-size SG01. It is also extremely portable, and has an optional duffle-bag-style carrying case.

There are also modifications that can be done to a case, such as replacing stock fans with quieter models and lining the inside with sound-absorbing foam. These sorts of add-ons will cost a little extra, but can make a noticeable difference if you want to make an HTPC that is as quiet as possible.

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