You've probably spent a lot of money on your music and video library, so you'll want to protect that investment. New CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray discs aren't cheap, yet it's surprisingly easy to damage them - especially if your lounge room is filled with the pitter patter of tiny feet and sticky fingers.
We've all got into the habit of ripping CDs to our computers and stashing away the original disc for safekeeping, but you might want to take the same precautions with your movies. You can spend a few thousand dollars building yourself a full blown high-def media centre with a Blu-ray drive, terabytes of storage and twin HDTV tuners, but you don't have to set the bar so high if you're just looking to play DVDs. You could build a decent DVD jukebox for well under the $1,000 mark, perhaps much less if you're just modifying an existing computer.
Which components are most important?
When building a DVD jukebox you don't need to worry too much about grunt. Your money is better spent on a quiet power supply, a quiet heatsink for your CPU and some quiet case fans.
You might want to drop in a big hard drive as well, unless you'll be storing your movies on a network drive. You'll also want to spend $50 on an MCE remote control and USB receiver. If you're already using a universal remote, you can leave the el cheapo MCE remote in the box.
|Media playback in Windows 7: ther MPEG-2 codec required to watch DVDs is preinstalled in Windows 7
If your television has a VGA input you might get away with using an old graphics card - remember it doesn't need to output 1080p if you're just watching 576p DVDs. Anything that does a good job of MPEG-2 hardware decoding should suffice.
If your television doesn't have a VGA input you'll need to think about upgrading your graphics card (perhaps to a fanless model with a HDMI/DVI output and/or video breakout box with component video). You certainly don't need the latest gaming card, just something that will do a good job of MPEG-2 hardware decoding.
If you're building a new PC you might even find the motherboard's integrated graphics chip is up to the task. Remember we're not talking about Blu-ray or HDTV and we're not talking about the grunt required to record two HD streams at once. We're just talking about DVD playback.
Building on top of Windows Media Centre edition, or not
If you're running a media centre edition of Windows then a lot of the work is already done. If it's XP you'll need to install software like WinDVD or PowerDVD in order to get the MPEG-2 codec required to watch DVDs, but the codec is preinstalled in Vista and Windows 7. If you're not running a media centre edition of Windows, take a look at third party media centre interfaces such as XBMC and Media Portal.
Playing discs purchased overseas
Now for the secret ingredient - AnyDVD. AnyDVD disables the region coding on DVDs, so you can play imported DVDs bought on Amazon. With the click on a button, lets you rip the entire purchased DVD to your hard drive - even the menus. There's no extra compression added, so the result looks just as sharp as the original DVD. There's even a Blu-ray compatible version, AnyDVD HD.
The final step is to dip into the media centre settings and set it to watch the folder you're ripping DVDs to. You might even want to install a BitTorrent client like uTorrent, schedule some automatic downloads via RSS, and set the media centre software to watch that folder as well for your favourite vodcasts and the like. Now you can easily access all your content using nothing but the remote control, while your precious DVDs stay safe and sound in the cupboard.
Also in this series, Picking the Perfect Home Entertainment Box:
Prt 7: Is Foxtel Download worth getting excited about?
Part 6: Is interference destroying your digital lounge room?
Part 5: Do you need a Freeview sticker?
Part 4: What's the best way to record your favourite shows?
Part 3: Networking your TV, PVR, console, set top box
Part 2: Creating a P2P season pass
Part 1: Internet video on the PS3
Buying a TV? Also see our series How to Pick a Great Flat Screen TV, And Not Get Sucked In By Marketing Hype