Unfortunately, the only way to get the Media Center Edition of Windows is to buy a new computer, but it’s simple and inexpensive to add any or all of the key benefits–the large-type 10-foot menus, remote control and TV-recording capability–to an existing desktop or laptop computer with one of these aftermarket add-ons. (If you’d like to create a PC from scratch that has these features, see “Build Your Own HTPC” in How 2.0.)
1. Snapstream Firefly Remote
Snapstream instantly makes your PC couch-potato-friendly with its well-designed remote and customizable onscreen menu software. Out of the box you get music, photo, video and DVD playback, but you can easily configure the remote to control other media players as well, including Musicmatch Jukebox and iTunes. Snapstream’s Beyond TV software ($70) provides a free onscreen program guide, plus recording and pause/rewind capabilities when used with a compatible TV tuner card, such as the Hauppauge PVR-250BTV ($90), also available on Snapstream’s Web site.
2. Pinnacle MediaCenter 100e
For laptop owners (or those who don’t want to open their desktop PC case lest the digital magic leak out), Pinnacle’s external USB tuner box lets your computer receive broadcast or cable TV. It also has S-video and composite-video inputs for importing footage from a VCR or digital-video recorder. $130; pinnaclesys.com
3. Logitech MediaPlay Cordless Mouse
Run it across your desk, and it’s a first-class cordless mouse. Pick
it up, though, and it transforms into a wireless remote control for your PC, with backlit buttons for play, pause, forward, back and
volume control. The included software provides a full-screen interface for music, pictures, video and Musicmatch Internet radio.
4. ATI HDTV Wonder
With a TV tuner card that supports both over-the-air high-definition and standard-definition broadcasts, an easy-to-use remote and free electronic program guide for TV listings, ATI delivers a complete home-entertainment package (the company even throws in an HD tabletop antenna). You get TiVo-style pause/ rewind capabilities, and you can record shows
broadcast in standard
or high definition and burn them to DVD with the included software.