After you’ve built your base, expandable PC, there’s not a lot needed to make it into a home theater PC.
Those required things are:
- home theater PC software, and
- a TV tuner card or TV tuner USB device
If you’re going to use Windows 7, you can choose to use the Windows Media Center software that’s included as part of Windows 7. You don’t have to use it, though.
My choice is still the SageTV Media Center (www.sagetv.com) software that I’ve used since 2004. One of the major advantages of SageTV is that you can use multiple hard drives. SageTV can automatically record to any of several, independent, hard drives that you set as its main drives, and it can also read and play shows that you may have on other hard drives (the "imported videos" drives).
Windows Media Center, the last time I checked, could only do this by treating multiple hard drives as one large logical hard drive. The problem with that approach is that all your eggs are in one basket. If any drive fails, you’ll probably lose all the information stored on all of them!
The other thing you need is a TV tuner card or TV tuner USB device. The key is to make sure that your software supports the card or device before you buy it.
Some TV devices are for display only; that is, they have tuner software included and will tune and display the television show on the computer monitor. But, they don’t make a stream of video available to be recorded.
SageTV has a list of supported tuners listed on its System Requirements page.
My choice is the Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-2250 PCI-E tuner card.
|Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-2250 Media Center Kit Dual TV Tuner 1213 PCI-Express x1 Interface – Retail
This card is a dual tuner card, able to handle ATSC (analog over-the-air or analog over-cable) and ClearQAM digital signals. The card has hardware encoding, meaning that the card will handle the realtime conversion of the signal to a recordable digital format, as opposed to forcing the CPU to do the work.
That’s the minimum to be operational. At this point, you can add another 2250 card, as I did, so that I have 4 tuners available.
You can also add additional hard drives.
By the way, SageTV will do slideshows of your pictures and will play your MP3 files, too, in addition to playing the MPEG-2 (.mpg) video files it records.
As usual with my computer systems, my home theater PC runs Sunbelt VIPRE Antivirus+Antispyware. As soon as Sunbelt releases Sunbelt Personal Firewall for Windows 7, due in 1Q2010, I plan to use SPF to replace the Windows 7 firewall that I’m currently using.