One final -- and really good, I think -- piece that got cut from Wired's How To issue...
You have no more than two eyes, ears, and thumbs with which to confront an ever-growing medusa of media -- slithering out cable TV, satellite radio, online games, Internet video, and much more. But multitasking products can keep a media center manageable. These five components provide the most digital distraction in the least amount of space.
LCD or Plasma flat panel TV
Cost: $1500 (32-inch LCD) - $10,000 (60-inch plasma)
Why: A flat panel is the slimmest means to a fat HDTV picture.
Options: LCD and plasma both look great. But LCD provides full HD resolution (1280 by 720 pixels or greater) even at smaller sizes, like the minimum 32 inches needed for a livingroom. Plasma first hits true HD at 50-inch screens; and around that size, plasma is far more economical than LCD. Either TV type can be wall-mounted or placed on a stand.
Tips: Make sure to get a panel with at least two HDMI ports, which use the thinnest cables to carry the highest-quality digital video and audio signals.
Combination DVR and HDTV cable/satellite receiver
Cost: $35 - $100 per month
Why: Cable and satellite are the only ways to reliably get HDTV, and they provide the most options. Free, antenna-based service is spotty; depending on location, and at best includes only traditional networks, like ABC and PBS. And because of copyright concerns, the only way to record cable or satellite HDTV is if the receiver and recorder are together in a sealed box, typically rented from the provider.
Options: A few companies, such as LG, are offering HDTVs with built-in cable tuners and DVRs that allow you to eliminate one box from the A/V rack.
Tips: Because of bandwidth and licensing issues, satellite doesn’t offer network TV channels in most locations, so you have to get them from antenna service, if you can. Digital cable always includes network TV.
Home theater in a box (HTiB) audio system
Cost: $300 - $2,000
Why: This is the cheapest, simplest, and most compact way to get a big sound system. Most come with a slim combination unit containing a multi-disc CD/DVD player, digital amplifier, and AM/FM radio tuner.
Options: Some HTiBs include built-in satellite radio receivers (subscription required) and wireless transmitters that eliminate the need to string wires to the rear surround-sound speakers.
Tip: Be sure to get an HTiB with HDMI output to deliver top-quality video to the TV and digital inputs to accept surround-sound audio from sources like the cable or satellite receiver.
Cost: $800 - $4000
Why: Computers are providing ever more forms of entertainment you can't easily get anywhere else, including video downloads, and streaming music services. They also provide the best way to consolidate music via downloads or ripped CDs. And though not exactly legal, software for ripping DVDs to the hard drive is easy to find online. You can also view all your digital photos in high-def.
Options: If you're a gamer, you may have to go for a high-end PC. Average Media Center PCs or Macs may not have enough graphics power. If gaming PCs are too pricey for you, get a low-cost console like the Xbox 360.
Tips: To best fit the entertainment rack, get a low-profile system: the Apple Mac mini or component-style media PCs like the HP DEC z558 or Sony VAIO XL2. These systems also have digital audio and video outputs.
Universal Remote Control
Why: You'll quickly go mad juggling a pile of remotes. Universals either already contain or can easily be programmed with codes for all your A/V gear. (Even many PCs have remotes now.)
Options: Prices vary dramatically - from simple get-the-job done units to massive control panels that resemble tablet PCs. You'll probably want to avoid both extremes.
Tip: Look for models that provide "activity" or "macro" capabilities that perform several operations with one click. For example, selecting "Movie," might turn on the audio system, DVD player, and TV while selecting all the right inputs and outputs.