Editor's Note: This is Part 2 of a 3-part series. Be sure to start with Part 1 to join Cyrus at the beginning of his project.
Choosing the Graphics Card and TV Tuner
Last year, high-end graphics cards were expensive for one reason: Doom 3. Chipset manufacturers were in a desperate race to see who could get the best frames-per-second rate on John Carmack's most anticipated video game of all time. Fortunately, since then the market has caught up and prices have dropped. So I can finally afford a higher-end graphics card.
Why is the graphics card important? Well, this is a visual system. We're planning to pump digital video to high-resolution screens of various types. More importantly, we're going to use this system for gaming. That's right, gaming! So I settled on the eVGA GeForce 6600 256MB TV-out/DVI/HDTV. A special PCI-Express Heatsink Edition is available from pcalchemy. It uses a large, passive heatsink that covers most of the card. More importantly, it fits into the Ahanix case on the Gigabyte PCI-E x16 slot. I was a little worried at the fact that the heatsink on such an intense graphics card had no built-in fan, but so far it seems to throw off the heat well enough, and I haven't seen any stability problems.
The TV tuner card is also important, since one of the goals of an MCE is to displace the TIVO. One of the biggest advantages of TIVO, apart from its ease of use, is the fact that it allows you to record one show while watching a different show that's playing simultaneously on another channel. However, TIVO requires a maintenance fee, and we hope to break out of that form of slavery. Fortunately, with the new version of MCE, you have dual-tuner support. However, make sure that you select a card that supports dual tuning.
For this system, I selected the Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-500MCE. This is the latest card from a respected MCE hardware supplier, and it contains two complete TV tuners, each with its own hardware MPEG encoder. (Note that you'll need to download your own MPEG-2 decoder in order to play DVDs. More about this later.) The WinTV-PVR-500MCE allows you to pause live TV, replay, and skip forward; meanwhile, you can record another TV show on the hard drive. At the time of writing, I haven't heard of another dual-tuner card that performs as well.