Do you wish you could watch TV shows on your TV and your computer? Or maybe you want to combine all the set top boxes into one single solution? If you have answered yes to any of the questions above, you may want to create a media center PC.
What is a Media Center? A media center is a computer with the qualities of set top boxes like a radio or digital video recorder. Many of these are computers which have addition hardware and software to gain the ability to do these tasks. Think of what a DVR is. Have you ever opened one up before? Itís basically a computer on the inside. You could buy a DVR, or you can have a PC that can do the same thing, with the added feature of being able to do everything a computer can do. What sets most DVRs apart from computer based media centers is the robustness of the computer. Most DVRs donít have radio options or the ability to share recorded shows.
You may have an old PC sitting in the corner, but donít know what you need for a media center. That PC should work as a solid base provided it isnít too old. If you are building a PC from scratch, then here are a few pointers to follow to help you build a lean, mean, encoding machine.
For the main components, CPU, motherboard, and RAM, you donít need top of the line. I would recommend a Pentium 4 for the CPU. Sure, you can spend hundreds of dollars on the newest CPU, but you wonít get a lot of use out of it. The older Pentium 4, in the mid 1 GHz to 2 GHz range, will work fine and should be reasonably priced. A solid motherboard will suffice; if itís a brand name it will work fine, just look for built-in Ethernet or even gigabit Ethernet if you have the hardware for that. The amount of memory you will need depends on the OS and software you will be using later. If youíre using XP as the OS, I would highly recommend at least 512 MB of RAM.
Next we will tackle the hard drives and CD/DVD burners. This is where you should spend a little extra money. The TV recordings will eat up GBs fast. On the top quality setting, you could eat up a gigabyte an hour. A decent 200GB hard drive is a solid starting point. You could get a cheap 40 GB hard drive, but you wonít get a lot of video on it after you install the operating system and software. You can pick up a 200 + GB hard drive for fairly cheap now.
For optical devices I would get a Dual Layer DVD Burner. Once you record your video to your media center, you will want to transfer it for storage or to be used on a DVD player. I threw the dual layer in there for the future. With dual layer you can fit twice as much data onto a DVD as you can with a single layer DVD. The drive wonít cost that much more, but currently dual layer discs cost roughly $3 each. The price will come down, and until then you can use single layer discs.
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