The notion of PCs in the living room might still sound a bit ludicrous (after all, who wants to reboot the TV?), but two interesting trends emerged in 2003 that will eventually make living room-based computing as obvious and necessary as the refrigerator is to your kitchen. Consider the many PCs based on Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004, the excellent Windows version with bundled DVR, photo viewing, music playing, and online services capabilities. Numerous Media Center PCs are available from a variety of PC makers, but I recommend HP's line of Pavillion Media Center PCs ($1300 to $2000), which offer speedy Pentium 4 processors, 6-in-1 media readers, and front-mounted ports for attaching digital and analog video and audio sources. For notebook computers, look at the innovative Toshiba Satellite Media Center PCs, which ship in 15" ($2100) and 17" ($2800) versions. The 17" monster is perhaps the ultimate college dorm-room system and can replace a bevy of other devices.
Another big trend in TV/PC integration is a new market for LCD TVs that you can also use as PC monitors. The best of the lot are the widescreen models, such as the excellent Dell W1700 LCD TV ($700), which features a stunning 17" display, DVI-D and VGA ports, integrated speakers, and even includes a DVI-D cable—an extra cost for most LCD TVs. Market leader Viewsonic also makes a wide range of LCD TVs, including the nicely designed Viewsonic N1700w ($700), with a similar widescreen display, integrated speakers but, alas, no DVI-D cable.
Finally, although the emerging market of set-top boxes that connect to your PC is just starting to get interesting, I can recommend one device now. (Expect this list to grow dramatically by next year.) The PRISMIQ MediaPlayer ($250) is basically a set-top box with Ethernet and wireless connections that let you pull multimedia content such as photos, music, and digital video from your PC and consume it on TV sets in a more comfortable setting elsewhere in the home. You can also use the device to stream Internet radio, browse the Web, and perform Instant Messaging (IM) with friends. Optionally, you can purchase a wireless keyboard ($50) and remote control ($20) for the device.