Some have asked for screen shots of my do it yourself Media PC (and TV) in action, so here you go. This should give you just a taste of what a full featured Media computer can do.
Above you see a favorite movie of mine "Bottle Shock", streaming in HD from Netflix inside of Windows Media Center.
Lots more here, sit back and enjoy my "Brag book" of pictures...
Let me start first with a picture of the whole system
Here is the front, with my media components (what is left of them) below my TV:
I wish I'd taken a before I "cut the cord" shot. If I had, you'd see a Comcast DVR, Oppo Digital DVD player, Slingbox AV, and Logitech Squeezebox Classic. I also had an aging VCR for childrens' videos that we no longer used. When I got rid of all of that and replaced them with my Media PC, I had enough room to put my Center channel speaker back (in storage until now). Now I only have a Media PC, a receiver (shown at right), and a Wii. I love to reduce clutter and complexity!
For those with sharp eyes, you will notice a box set of Toy Story 1 and 2 between my Media PC and receiver. I needed something to support the weight of the center channel speaker (and I am a big Pixar fan).
If you are curious about my audio, I only have a "3.1" speaker setup (Left, Center, Right and Subwoofer). Why no rear speakers, you ask? Well, when we remodeled I forgot to run speaker wires for the rear channels (oops). Running wires on the floor/walls around the room isn't an option for obvious reasons.
A look behind my TV to show you the (reduced) cable clutter:
Now this isn't very pretty and I've made only a minimal attempt to neatly route cables. Since I got rid of all of those other components, I could even get by with one power strip. Again, I wish I had taken a "before" shot, but it was easily 2 or 3 times worse. There were piles of cables back there, some of which weren't even used!
Not only has reducing the number of components cleaned up the cable nightmare, but now my TV only has to switch between two video sources (Wii and Media PC). Simpler is almost always better!
Keep in mind that our Wii is easily responsible for 1/3 of these cables. We have a Wii, Wii remote charger, Rockband kit, 2 Wii guitars, Wii sensor bar, A/V cables, etc. However, the Wii is so much fun I'm not complaining.
Windows Media Center (main menu)
Windows Media Center (TV guide)
Windows Media Center (Recorded TV)
Windows Media Center (Playing HD TV)
Windows Media Center (Playing a DVD disc)
Windows Media Center (Built-in chess game)
My WMC plugins (for BluRay playback, resolution switching, Orb)
Netflix (from within Windows Media Center)
Netflix (Browse by category)
Netflix (search w/onscreen keyboard - nice!)
Netflix (about to play HD title)
Netflix (chapter selection within a title, very fast!)
Netflix (playing HD content, look at that sharp text!)
Zinc.tv browser (via Firefox plugin)
Media Player (remote streaming from a shared folder, AVI file)
VLC (remote streaming from a shared folder, full DVD ISO image, with menus)
PowerDVD8 (playing a full Bluray ISO image, with menus)
Windows Media Center screen saver (really cool)
SqueezeSlave Audio Streaming Client
Ok, so this last one is really boring... however, it is supposed to be. This is just a command window that runs SqueezeSlave, my audio streaming client. Since it runs with my TV off, no GUI is needed. It does accept keyboard commands so you can do rudimentary playback control. Most of the time I control the playback via a more convenient browser, or via my iPhone.
Congratulations for making this far!