All computers are 'media centers'. This is an advertising phrase coined to flog more to the unwary.
All you need is a decent sound card although I use on-board sound. Decent speakers are very important (Creative gets my vote but there are plenty to choose from). Rip your CDs into Windows Media Player. Get BBC radio in your favourites and another Net station (Live 365 for instance click here). A TV adapter card is usual, although I cannot understand why anuyone wants to watch TV on a computer screen and a DVD drive. Voila! a media center.
...and it matters not one whit whether you use Intel or AMD. Personally I would go for the cheaper option and spend more on the speakers. 800Mhz processor plus is needed but you will not be processing large amounts of info unless you start video-editing. I used to use a 350Mhz compuer and Photoshop 6, without any problems although as much RAM as possible will help.
"A TV adapter card is usual, although I cannot understand why anuyone wants to watch TV on a computer screen and a DVD drive."
You're right, no-one wants to. What you want to do is connect the media centre PC to a TV and use it like a giant monitor.
My 'media centre PC' is nothing special. It's an Athlon 2000+ with 512MB RAM, onboard sound, and a cheap-and-nasty Hauppauge WinTV PCI card. It lives in the front room, so speakers aren't an issue - connect it to your hi-fi! As I say, it uses the TV as a monitor, this is perfectly usable with s-video and nice big fonts. :)
The WinTV card doesn't have a hardware encoder, so I need a reasonably beefy processor to do it all in software. You can get a better TV card with hardware encoding (the Hauppauge PVR series are good), and use a slower processor instead. This makes it possible to use a tiny Mini-ITX machine if you want, or a Mac Mini.
I use MythTV (click here) on the machine, which handles recording TV, playback of DVD / movies / music, Web, RSS feeds etc. Storage for TV recordings is the only issue, with my 80GB drive there isn't that much room (a half-hour TV show takes up about 350MB on my system). A future project is to move the system to a smaller drive, then add an extra drive for local storage of TV episodes.
Personally I use a normal case and hide it behind the sofa, but you might want to look at a nice slim case which would fit in with your hi-fi equipment, DVD player, NTL box, etc. Hiper (click here) cases are particularly nice.
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