Choosing an TV Tuner

Mark says, I want to buy a TV tuner card for my home PC. What feature should I be looking for? Will I need to increase the RAM on my system (currently 512 MB)?
If you don’t have an immediate need for the tuner, my best advice is to wait until CableCARD tuners start shipping around the end of this year. Current TV Tuner solutions require a convoluted wiring scheme to make using a remote control with the TV tuner and cable guide on the computer feasible because you still need a digital cable box in the mix. The remote functionality is necessary for both changing channels for viewing and using PVR software to record shows. CableCARD integrates the digital cable box function into the TV tuner, making everything work seamlessly. If what you’re looking for is an immediate solution for recording shows, you can find a number of reasonably priced options to carry you through the end of the year. Before deciding on a specific TV Tuner, you need to decide how you want to use it.

SageTV

SageTV provides a clean program guide for easy navigation and scheduling. Of the media center apps I’ve tested, it performs better at avoiding duplicate recordings than almost any competitor, which is important if you record series. A recommend feature (not unlike the one found on Tivo consoles) supports intelligent recording and scheduling to find shows you might like based on your existing recording preferences. MPEG-2 is the default recording format, but more space efficient MPEG-4 and DivX options are also supported if you use a compatible tuner card. I personally prefer the SageTV search experience to anything currently on the market (although I’m still a Windows Media Center Edition user on a fulltime basis). Scheduling locates recordable programming based on favorite shows, actors and categories through an intuitive process. Over-the-air HD support is standard, with theoretically unlimited tuner support (you’ll run out of open ports before SageTV hits a limit. For video playback, both TV output and playback on PCs in your home network are supported using SageTV. Hardware SageTV extenders provide support similar to Windows MCE Extender support. A 15-day free trial is available. [Windows 9x/2k/XP $19.95/$79.95]

Xbox 360 Wireless Networking

There’s some confusion around the appropriate steps to take in adding an Xbox 360 to a home network with optimal results. In an ideal universe, connecting an Xbox 360 with a wired connection is the best course of action. Wired connections generally guarantee close to 100Mbps per machine across a local area network. Wireless networking is significantly less reliable, with things like cordless phones and microwave ovens operating on the same frequency as the 802.11b and 802.11g standards.
802.11a is the standard Microsoft is recommending, but it’s not necessary. My own home network is segmented with an Xbox 360 on one 802.11g access point and all other wireless devices are on a second 802.11g access point. My wired Media Center successfully streams the 1080p HD content available from Microsoft’s WMV HD Showcase without any hiccups.
If you currently live in an 802.11b wireless network world, it’s definitely time to upgrade. 802.11b results in lousy streaming of audio using Windows Media Connect and most of the existing hardware won’t support the WPA security standard you should be using to protect your network. If you live in a house like mine, with one portable machine stuck with onboard 802.11b, you definitely want to segment your 802.11b traffic from the Xbox 360 802.11g traffic to prevent a slowdown in gaming or streaming performance.
Read on for tips on segmenting your wireless network

CALIBUG HDTV

eHomeUpgrade tipped me off to this sweet little HDTV calibration tool. It’s a standard sized USB keychain drive loaded with all the test signal patterns required to effectively calibrate almost any HDTV. You need HD component output or the equivalent using an optional SVGA to HDTV component video converter and a video card capable of 1280×720 or 1920×1080 output to make calibration work properly, but the package of Calibug and converter is considerably less than buying off-the-shelf calibration gear. If you’ve ever watched a poorly calibrated HDTV and then seen the difference after calibration, you know why this matters. The software in Calibug automatically runs when you plug it in to a USB port on your PC, meaning no installation is required. Configuration supports both 720p and 1080i resolutions. In addition to HDTV calibration, Calibug supports calibration for lower resolution monitors and televisions as well. It includes a handful of additional features like nostalgic test patterns from the early days of television. A Swiss Army Knife version is also available. This is the kind of gadget that makes both a functional tool and holiday gift for the geek who already owns everything.