HDTV tunerWhen we last left our Windows Media Center PC, we had just added more memory and a video card. We closed up the box and rebooted, just to make sure all is well. So what's next? Well, at the rock-bottom price of $650, our base WMCE system didn't come with a TV tuner of any type, so we'll be adding one and then working on the configuration.

For an HDTV tuner card, we had to go with a PCI card, since that's the only expansion slot we have left. Like many others, we settled on the ATI HDTV Wonder card, which we picked up for $99, bringing our total system cost to $947. This is the last basic component we need, so we've met our budgetary goal. Let's get that card installed so we can start watching some HDTV!

Catch the next steps after the jump.

The ATI HDTV Wonder card is simple to install and has the basics for what we need. At this price, it can only tune in free over-the-air digital programming, although it has an analog NTSC tuner in addition to its ATSC tuner. Keep in mind that within a year, we should see CableCard support for Windows Media Center, so the expectation is that we'll be able to upgrade this card in the future.

Aside from the card, ATI also includes a RF remote-control as well as a USB receiver for the remote. I did test the remote and it works well. However, the remote is really geared towards ATI's media software and we're not using that for this project since our goal is to use Windows Media Center. Additionally, the Xbox 360 Media Extender only works with Windows Media Center for television viewing, so ATI's software isn't an option for us.

HDTV Wonder board

To install the card, we simply unscrew the two hand-tightened screws on the back of our Gateway case and we place the unit on its right side. We follow the same procedure as before by removing the metal cover next to the empty slot and then we simply insert the ATI tuner card. Once the card is in place, we secure it with the single screw that we removed from the blank cover and then close up the case. This pic from the back shows the finished work.

HDTV tuner installed

You can see that the ATI HDTV Wonder gives us inputs for unencrypted cable as well as our OTA digital television feed. Additionally, there is an AV-in port for other standard inputs, such as composite feeds, but we're goin' digital baby! We won't be using them for this project, but they're a nice-to-have.

Once we insert the power cord and boot-up, we have some drivers to install. Use the included CD with the ATI card and you should be all set. I should point out that I typically run Windows Update after installing any new hardware, just to ensure that I have any updates needed. You could also check with your manufacturers website, but I personally prefer to let Microsoft do the work if possible.

Once the computer recognizes all of the new hardware and the drivers are installed, we can configure Windows Media Center for television viewing. Or can we? Here's where it gets interesting: you see, Windows Media Center requires at least one NTSC (or analog) tuner in order to configure the television settings. Although the HDTV Wonder card has both an NTSC and an ATSC tuner, only the digital tuner appears to work with Windows Media Center.

So do we get this card to work with Windows Media Center or do we end up returning the card and potentially breaking our budget? Tune in to the next installment of our project to find out if we're stuck in a customer service line or we find a way to fake Windows Media Center out and use the ATI HDTV Wonder card!