TV Tuner confusion...

My summer project is to rebuild my computer and add PVR functionality. Here are the current specs:

AMD Athlon-64 3200+
ATi X700 Pro AGP GPU w/256MB DDR3 RAM
Creative Labs X-Fi Sound Card

In the process of the upgrade, I want to add another HDD, a DVD+-RW, and a new PSU.

But the thing I need help with is the TV tuner - that is, I don't know which to get. I'm going to add Windows Media Center to it along the way, as I hear all the software that comes with tuner cards is terrible.

I want something with a built in MPEG-2 encoder AND decoder. I'd prefer to get a Hauppage, as everyone says stay away from ATi's tuners.

The 350 model has a hardware encoder and decoder. It doesn't list support for Windows MCE.

The 500 model has only an encoder, but supports MCE.

That's rather infuriating, really. Sure, I can encode in MPEG-2, but can't play it. Huh?

The other option is nVIDIA's latest tuner (Dual TV MCE), and I haven't heard much about it so far. It's got both encoding and decoding and MCE support, but I don't want to get that without a solid review, as I've heard both good and bad things about nVIDIA's older tuners.

Anyone have any advice?
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  1. ummmm, your worried about what???
    I'm not sure I'd be worried about the decode. If you currently have a 3200+, this is plenty of power to decode a mpeg2 stream. The first DVD (mpeg2) I watched on a computer was powered by a P2 @ 300MHz with 384MBs of ram and a 4MB ATI AGP video card. (the movie was resident evil btw, it never hicuped once.) It played just fine on my 21" monitor. Your current computer is LIGHTYEARS beyond my old POS, it shouldn't have any issues decoding an mpg2 stream. You do want to make sure it supports your os, and I would get one that can encode on the card.
  2. The thing about it is that without at least a software MPEG2 decoder, you can't watch the encoded video (as far as I know). I know nVIDIA sells software to go with their GPUs to pull this off, but to my knowledge ATi does not. I'm fairly certain MCE doesn't come with a built in software MPEG2 decoder. Hence the trouble.

    Now, there could be (and most likely is) something I'm missing here that renders all of this moot, which is why I'm asking. My knowledge in this area is FAR from what I would like it to be. The trouble is that finding reviews of tuner cards is difficult (I just now found one that said an ATi-based card has higher quality than the Hauppage, but no word on stability) and finding the missing bits of information I need is even more frustrating.

    The reason I was looking into the nVIDIA card was the potential to have everything I want:

    Hardware encode/decode
    Two tuners in one card
    Good image quality
    Works with MCE

    But, I'd like to read a couple real reviews on it that say the imagine quality is up to par, and so far I haven't seen any real in depth reviews on it.
  3. I've heard nothing but good things about the hauppague cards. I have an AIW and the software encoder really kills options of 3rd party apps. I'm actually very interrested in trying out the new ati card even though I hear it's a little slow with changing channels.
  4. I have a DVico Fusion HDTV DVB-T plus, been a good card for me.

    Anything that I have recorded in MPEG format has played back through windows media player or Nero's media player.
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