Until recently, getting Windows Media Center Edition (MCE) on your PC has been pretty difficult. You either had to buy a brand-new PC, costing hundreds or even thousands of pounds, or you needed friends in high places who could slide you an illegitimate system integrator's copy in exchange for some Queen's heads.
Thankfully, Microsoft has now made it possible to get MCE'd up without breaking the bank or risking prison. You can now buy the full version of Windows XP Media Center Edition from sites such as komplett.co.uk for around £85. Of course, you'll still need a compatible TV tuner card and MCE remote, such as those in the £161 WinTV-PVR 150 Media Center Kit from Hauppauge.
The tuner is an analogue internal PCI model with an FM radio tuner, and S-video and composite video inputs. You'll have to buy all the cables separately, but it comes with an infrared passthrough cable so you can control your Sky set-top box.
If you don't already have MCE, we think it's definitely worth investing in. Microsoft has recently announced an update to the software's Online Spotlight section, where you can access a tonne of third party services and software directly from the main Media Center screen.
Content providers now include Musicbrigade, which offers over 4,000 new and classic music videos; Reuters, which provides continuously updated news and sports; and CinemaNow, which has over 1,200 movies available on demand.
If you're looking for a PC-related project to carry out in between turkey sandwiches this Christmas, this comes highly recommended. -RR