Build Your Own Media Center PC - Part 3 - Video Cards

There are two different paths to choose when considering video cards for your home theater PC. You can either use two cards, a separate graphics card and a TV tuner card. Or, purchasing a combination TV tuner / graphics card will also work. Most of the home theater software applications recommend using two separate cards, including many of the official Media Center configurations from OEM computer makers.

If your system looks anything like mine did before I started assembling a home theater setup, you probably already have a solid graphics card installed. Anything with at least 32MB of video RAM leaves you prepared for virtually all home theater PC applications. You still need TV tuner capability to perform tasks like recording television, playing TV shows on your computer, and in some cases, playing back video from your computer on your TV. The standalone TV tuner card most recommended by personal video recorder applications (PVR) is the Hauppauge WinTV-PVR 250. In addition to TV recording and playback, this card is great for converting old VHS tapes to DVD. The card includes a remote and is available for somewhere in the neighborhood of US $129.

Hauppauge WinTV-PVR 250

The Hauppauge WinTV-PVR 350 and WinTV-PVR USB are also solid alternatives, but be careful of some of the lower-end Hauppauge models, which may produce less desirable results.

Pinnacle PCTV also represents a reasonable standalone solution.

All-in-one solutions introduce some configuration issues with a few software products, but have the advantage of taking up only one PCI slot in your computer. I personally use an ATI All-In-Wonder Radeon 8500DV card in one of my systems. While this isn't the latest card from the All-In-Wonder line, it continues to perform nicely for both video capture and general purpose video applications. The 8500DV includes 64MB of video RAM, offers support for several types of video input and output, and handles TV tuning nicely. One of the newer All-In-Wonder cards will have to suffice, since this particular model has been discontinued. The All-In-Wonder 9600 PRO or 9700 PRO should suffice, without forcing you to bet the farm on a new video card.

All links appearing here go to Amazon because after including shipping at other vendors, the Amazon price was cheaper than several others I checked.