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Luxury Items

Setting up the entire home theater is beyond the scope of this article—and beyond the scope of our budget! For example, even a low-end 7.1 surround sound system of minimum quality is going to cost $1,000–3,000 just for the speakers. However, for those who are interested, I wanted to share my sound card experiences.

I splurged and got the HDA Digital X-Mystique 7.1 GOLD Sound Card for $100 (see Figure 2, the rightmost PCI card shown in rear view). To the best of my knowledge, it's currently the only PCI sound card that supports Dolby Digital Live. This will be useful for those who want to play DVD movies, for example, with true surround sound by using PowerDVD (described later when we discuss MPEG-2 decoding). I've found it to be temperamental when adjusting Windows speaker settings, so I recommend this card only for those of you who plan to build true home theaters. Otherwise, your motherboard sound card, or a cheaper PCI sound card, should be adequate for music playback and gaming.

The other luxury item, and one that I haven't yet tested, is an HDTV tuner. HDTV is on the verge of explosion, and may soon be enough to justify the investment of an HD-compatible plasma or LCD TV.

Finally, if you can't (or won't) run an Ethernet cable to your living room, you should invest in a wireless PCI card. I opted for the Linksys WMP54GS Wireless-G PCI card with SpeedBooster for $60 (see Figure 3, the shortest PCI card, third up from the bottom). It works well with my WRT54G router.

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