PCs ARE SLOWLY creeping into every room of the house, particularly the living room, where home-theater PCs (HTPCs) have become popular among enthusiasts seeking to integrate multiple audiovisual devices into a single system. Personal video recording (PVR) features have also become an increasingly popular feature for HTPCs, a trend that has not gone unnoticed. Microsoft recently eased licensing restrictions on its Windows XP Media Center Edition operating system to allow any system builder to purchase the OS. However, Media Center Edition still has strict video requirements. To take full advantage of MCE's features, a system requires a TV tuner with hardware MPEG2 encoding and a DirectX 9-compatible graphics card.
DirectX 9-class graphics cards have been available for some time, but a year ago, hardware MPEG2 TV tuners were only widely available from Hauppauge. This situation changed recently with the release of ATI's TV Wonder Elite and NVIDIA's NVTV, both of which offer hardware MPEG2 encoding. Hauppauge has also been busy revising and expanding its PVR lineup with products specifically designed for Media Center Edition 2005. But which hardware MPEG2 TV tuner reigns supreme? We've rounded up ATI's TV Wonder Elite, NVIDIA's NVTV, and Hauppauge's PVR-150MCE-l.p to find out.