A computer nowadays will be cheaper and more versatile as a media center than anything. (When considering buying a stand-alone DVD-burner, amplifier, tuner and all other media-related)
How far along is it, you ask. With a little handywork, you can have absolutely anything media-related in one box:
- Digital TV
- Blu-Ray playback and burning
- Surround Sound that will make your neighbours angry
- Internet phone system
- Answering machine for calls
- Instant messages
- Storage for all things media-related
- Game station (emulators are found for most any game console, so with a media-PC with sufficient power, you can usually play any console game.)
- iPod/MP3/MP4-player dock
- Office machine
- The list can go on further
If you really want to, you can have everything you want to, in one box. Even a monitor. There are several people that have made media-center PCs, or media-servers with a built-in screen (only 7" though, and no HD), and integrated speakers. That's space-saving in the extreme. If you are one of the non-converts to CD (you have vinyls), you can even play that on a media-PC. You'll need an external turntable though.
With computers, usually the only limitations you will encounter is the size of your wallet, knowledge of the possibilities, and knowledge of how to make it all work together.
To give you a clue as to how expensive this would be, I can give you my setup with my pricetag: Server with 3,5TB space, 1GB RAM, Core2Duo 1.6GHz and built-in surround sound on motherboard - apx $1200
Media-PC with 1TB space, 2GB RAM, Core2Duo 2.4GHz, Digital TV-card, screen card, and built-in surround sound on the motherboard - apx $1000
These are self-built machines, and it isn't hard to do. You will have to read a few manuals though (Ouch!). Upside is that you get exactly what you want, how you want it.
You might now be thinking about how it would look like with a giant PC in your living room, but my guess is that you're thinking about a tower PC-cabinet such as this: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8913510@N02/2682242978/
But there are possibilities other than tower, such as: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8913510@N02/2682243068/
(These are only examples, there are a plethora of others to choose from)
Basically, the question here is: How much money do you have, and what do you want it to do? Luckily, if you find that you currently don't have enough money to buy/make a computer capable of everything you want it to, you can always expand it later on.
My recommendations for this:
- A lot of space. Harddrives are cheap.
- At least 2GB RAM (even if you choose to use a Linux distro, which usually don't have as high hardware requirements as Windows).
- Blu-Ray burner.
- Motherboard with at least 5.1 surround sound (or a dedicated soundcard) and FireWire (for downloading videos from your video camera and hook up external devices since it's faster than USB).
- Videocard with at least 256MB, support for OpenGL and DirectX, and DVI-port (with an adapter cable, you have an HDMI-out port)
- Fastest possible processor you can afford.
- HTPC, Mini-ITX or Micro-ATX cabinet (these are most likely to be living room-/girlfriend-/wife-friendly)
A computer can be a media center, is my conclusion here. It isn't just a component in a media center, it IS the media center. And you don't have to have several remotes to do things. With the proper software on the PC, a child able to read or old enough to recognize pictures and use a mouse properly will know how to use it. You also get rid of the "How do I watch a DVD-movie from the DVD-player connected to the TV-tuner that's connected to the amplifier that's connected to the speakers and TV?"
If you have any questions about what to get, ask. I cannot tell you where to get it unless you're from Norway, but I, and others here, can give you more specific names to google at least.