Okay, I have the 1600 and just to clarify, the HD is only over the ATSC hd network and you will need an antenna to receive those signals, as which point it will be free. The MCE 500 is NOT vista 64 bit compatible so if that matters dont get it. The 1600 is a great tuner, however if you don't plan on getting an ATSC antenna you might as well get the dual tuner mce 500 (unless you have a 64 bit version of windows).
In any case windows media center is fantastic and pretty much everything and more I could ever ask for from Microsoft. If you don't use it, start using it. People will likely mention ATI and they are fine tuners, but they have crappy support and like the 1600 the HD is only over the air ATSC. Ati's tuners have less compatibility with vista as well, my old TV wonder pro RCE does not support vista in any way shape or form so i was forced to buy a new tuner. I bought the 500 first, realised it wouldn't work with vista 64 bit and exchanged for the 1600, haven't looked back since due to the fact the 1600 is a fantastic little card. On board mpeg decoder/encoder lets me multitask like a mofo without the computer even wincing. As far as I know ATI is still software based on its encoding thus you will need to download that program EVERY SINGLE TIME you update ati's software. I've been burned by ati and now that I have the 1600 I can see how nice and pleasant tv can be on a computer.
-Get the 500 mce if you dont have a 64 bit OS of Windows
-Get the 1600 if you for sure want to buy an ATSC antenna (about 40 bucks) Remember you can only do one at a time, its either analog OR ATSC, you cant just change channels on your regular cable and expect it to be HD, you need to switch to the ATSC mode and watch whatever channels you get in your area.
- With the 500 mce you can have a program recording (WMC will record your favorite shows) and watch another show at the same time due to scheduling conflicts (WMC will inform you of this otherwise). If there were drivers for my OS I would have stuck with the 500.
EDIT: There IS drivers for 64 bit Vista now, so you dont need to consider that an issue (my bad)
DVICO offers a TV tuner with QAM. You can get your unencrypted HD channels with no antenna. They also support dual tuner setups as well. Lets say you have a USB tuner and you have an internal or even 2 internal tuners. It works pretty well on XP but the software sure has its flaws on vista.
I own the Fusion 5 USB and it plays HD without skipping a beat and I can record, pause, rewind on my digital channels.
the 500 will record any 2 non set top(cable box) box channels. OR
you can run the set top box to one of the tuners to record but will need to have the box on and on the right channel. There are irblaster(some use a wire from box to blaster others have there own ir transmitter you place near the box) devices that one can use to let the computer handle turning on the box and changing the channel as well.
it looks like that kit you mentioned up top came with one(but they only say receiver not receiver with emitter so i would call and ask). I have not used it(have one sitting in a closet somewhere from hp) but they are supposed to be easy to use.
Here is a picture of the emitter
you computer acts just like a remote. it looks like the 1600 comes with one built into the card.