Living Room

A Media Center PC in your living room needs to play nice with your existing entertainment system

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A Media Center PC designed to pull full-time duty in your living room needs to play nice with your existing entertainment system, both aesthetically-with a sleek horizontal case that disguises its PC-ness-and with high-quality video outputs for connecting it to your TV, such as DVI or component video, and a digital-audio port for piping surround sound to your receiver. Speaking of sound, the familiar whir of computer fans in desktop machines is unacceptable when savoring the subtleties of a jazz piano solo or straining to hear whispered dialogue in a movie, so a good living-room PC will employ silencing technology such as large, slow-turning fans or a special case-often an added, but worthwhile, cost.

1. The Silent One: Niveus Rainier
The Rainier uses no internal fans at all, relying instead on its unique finned case to dissipate heat. The company even had ATI design a fanless version of the 9600XT graphics card. The silence comes at a golden price, however, especially considering the unit´s middle-of-the-road specs. Niveus also offers several more-expensive models with HDTV tuners and similar cases.

2. The Well-Rounded Workhorse: HP Digital Entertainment Center z545-b
The z545-b has everything you´d expect in a high-end receiver-DVI, VGA, component-video out, optical-audio out, dual TV tuners and an FM tuner-but adds integrated 802.11g wireless networking and an extra two channels of sound for a full 7.1-channel surround system. Included software lets you pause and replay live FM radio.

3. The TV Buff: Alienware DHS 5 Series
Serious TV watchers will appreciate the 5 Series´s optional three tuners, so you can have picture-in-picture while you record another show. For gamers, there´s drop-in installation and loading, which automatically optimizes the game for your system. And Raid 1 real-time backup technology reconstructs your movies and music if the hard drive is damaged.