Despite what Microsoft may tell you, you don't need Media Center in order to watch TV on your computer, or use it like a multimedia hub. There are two keys to doing this:

* TV Tuner. It used to be a requirement that media Center PCs came with a TV tuner card preinstalled, but in an effort to reduce the initial cost, most now lack them. In addition, Media Center PCs tend to be quite picky about which cards they'll accept. Just check out the TV tuners available from your local electronics store and pick out one in your price range. I like the Hauppauge brand cards the best for overall bang for the buck, followed by ATI's cards. PCI are the most common and will cost around $70, but if you have a laptop you'll want a USB tuner. (They cost a little more and are not quite as good, but they get the job done.) Just remember that the quality will not be as high as a DVD recorder, so don't expect archival-quality.

* Almost all tuners come with the software required to record and watch the programming. However, Hauppauge's could be better and ATI's software truly sucks. (Sorry, but I suddenly felt like my new computer had a 5-year-old processor and 10-year-old operating system.) Thus, I recommend the free software GB-PVR, which is a little difficult to set up but will reward you later with a great viewing experience. Another good one is BeyondTV, but it costs $70 after a free trial.

Just make sure you ask about the product first, or that the store has a consumer-friendly return policy, as some tuners and software have difficulties with satellite, such as changing the channels or viewing higher-numbered channels.

Hope this helps,
John