Choose your front end when integrating a PC into your home theater

Source From: CNET




Once your computer and your display are getting along, you can start figuring out how to build and manage your library of digital media.

With Windows XP Media Center Edition, Microsoft has built a very functional package for keeping track of all your media files, plus DVR recording, that's easy enough for novices to use. A sizable percentage of new PCs come with the Media Center version of Windows by default; it looks just like regular Windows XP until you switch into the Media Center view. Even if your new PC doesn't have a TV tuner card, it's still useful for photos and music and video files, plus it has big menu icons that are easy to use and can be seen from 10 feet away on the living-room couch.

If you want to record TV without the Media Center operating system, similar products on the market can do the job. SnapStream's Beyond TV comes bundled with many TV tuner cards, so if you're building a home theater or upgrading a machine you already own, you might end up with a copy by default. Add the Beyond Media program for organizing photo, music, and other media files, and it does pretty much everything Microsoft Media Center does. Beyond TV doesn't support every TV tuner card on the market, so check the hardware specs first.

Meedio offers several interconnected programs that can control your music, photos, and videos--even your lights and household appliances. MeedioTV is its DVR program, and it'll grab the local program guide for your cable or satellite signal and record shows. If you want just DVR functionality, that's one way to go. Or, you can get one of Meedio's software bundles, such as Meedio Pro, for the full media library experience.

If you have no interest in recording TV programs, you can even use programs such as Windows Media Player, iTunes, and PowerDVD to manage your preexisting media library using software you already have. Whichever option you choose, make sure to include plenty of hard disk space; once you start recording TV shows or showing off vacation videos on a plasma TV, you'll find it hard to stop.

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