Senior associate editor
While we've spilled a lot of ink (or pushed a lot of pixels) about Intel's Viiv platform, details of the platform requirements tend to make people's eyes glaze over, and we still get a lot of questions along the lines of, "So, do I need to get a Viiv PC for my living room?"
While having a Viiv sticker means the system in question has an Intel dual-core CPU and the Media Center Edition of Windows, you can opt to buy a living-room PC with a wide variety of different components and still achieve multimedia nirvana.
After all, most of the early Viiv systems we looked at were fairly ordinary, midlevel computers, and their non-Viiv predecessors, or closely configured alternatives with AMD processors, would work just as well. For example, the HP m7260n is a good choice for an all-around media-friendly computer, and it's virtually identical to the Viiv-flavored HP m7360n.
Meanwhile, if you want to skip out on the whole Intel/Microsoft scene altogether, the new Mac Mini is an increasingly popular option. Its video-output quality won't compete with the best Media Center PCs, but the user-friendly Front Row media application makes it a snap to get your home theater hooked up for everything except TV recording.