Approximate Purchase Date: within the next 3 weeks (Would like to take advantage of any Black Friday/Cyber Mon./Christmas Deals)
Budget Range: $400-600 Before Rebates (I'm willing to consider rebates the community feels are consistently reliable)
System Usage from Most to Least Important: Gaming (SWTOR, Skyrim), Streaming Netflix/hulu/Pandora (General HTPC usage might be more common), Ripping & Compressing BR/DVDs
Parts Not Required: Keyboard, Mouse, Monitor, Speakers, OS, DVD-RW Drive, possibly the storage Hard drive (Esp. If I find some good BF Deals)
Preferred Website(s) for Parts: No real preference, Newegg.com, Amazon.com, or any other known reliable eTailer, (also there is a Microcenter approx. 1hr away)
Country: US of A
Parts Preferences: by brand or type: No preference
Overclocking: No (Maybe if it is a novice/intermediate level task, See below)
SLI or Crossfire: Maybe (As a future upgrade perhaps? See below)
Monitor Resolution: 1920x1080 (42" LCD TV)
I haven't built a PC in nearly ten years, since prior to my military enlistment. In that time I've tried to regularly check this site and it's forums to keep moderately up to date on some of the tech changes. I'm not afraid to put forth effort in researching overclocking methods, but it's not something with which I feel 100% comfortable.
I plan on using this as my main PC, which I'll connect to my television in the living room. It'll be used to watch movies daily with periodic bouts of MMO addictions when I'm on break from nursing school. The absolute best in graphics abilities isn't necessary but I'd like it to meet min. gaming requirements as long as possible since I don't splurge on myself often. Ideally I'd like to put in one good graphics card and have the option to add a second one (SLI or XFIRE) in a year or so to stretch out the system's gaming abilities. No other preferences really come to mind (though I suppose I'd prefer a case that was as low profile as possible, but that comes far second to other parts & general savings).
Finally, I really want to thank anyone and everyone who reads/responds to this. In all the years I've lurked on this site, I've generally found it to be one of the best communities on the web, filled with honest individuals who put forth tremendous effort to help one another and to freely share knowledge. Many thanks to everyone who has unknowingly taught me so much over the years!
Processor: The Phenom 2 Heka is OEM, meaning it doesn't come with a cooler. Which is why the Cooler Master Hyper 212+ is listed. The cooler should allow a few mutiplier/bin jumps in the BIOS to allow the X3 720 to run at 3.2Ghz+. And there is always the possibility that you could unlock the 4th core. For gaming at the moment, 3 cores are solid and should continue being relevant for a couple of years yet. If a little dirty work in the BIOS scares you away, the X4 960T mentioned above or the X4 955 would be good alternatives.
Motherboard: Going with a 990X or 990FX based board means you'll be able to do CrossFire or SLI somewhere down the line. The problem with the 970 boards is that if they have a second PCIe slot, it is usually limited to 4x transfers which Toms has shown significantly gimps a CrossFire setup and NVidia disables SLI altogether in that configuration. Obviously, being an AM3+ board, it will be able to support the Piledriver processors when they are released. (Hopefully, they'll be more competitive than AMD's recently released Bulldozer architecture)
Memory: 2 4GB sticks leaves you room to expand to 16GB in the future. G.Skill is a solid brand with life-time warranties and fairly effective preinstalled heat spreaders.
PSU: PSU is where a lot of builders skimp (myself included) and it comes back to bite you. While the unit is expensive, it should give you the future proofing you need for CrossFire or SLI and should do so efficiently and quietly. You can always go with a $40 or $50 PSU, but when it burns out after a few months, you'll regret not spending a little more up front. Antec, Seasonic, and Corsair are a few other reliable brands.
Case: Considering you're going to be using it attached to a television, I'd imagine it's going to be out in the open a little bit and probably needn't be particularly gaudy. The NZXT Source is simple yet elegant. It should be quiet and inconspicuous while offering plenty of room and cooling options.
GPU: This is really personal opinion and price driven. The 6870 offers good performance at that price, but Nvidia's GTX 560's are also solid performers for a similar price. It really comes down to features. AMD has Eyefinity (3+ Monitor Setups) and HD3D (3D like a theater) while Nvidia has Surround and 3D Vision.
Basically, to kind of fit your budget, I'd look at:
Nvidia GTX 460, 560, or 470
AMD Radeon 6850, 6870, 6950 1GB