Home PCs have been around for decades, in bedrooms, dens or just stuck wherever there's room for a desk.
But in the last couple of years, the role of the lowly desktop has changed through the addition of peripherals like MP3 players, digital cameras and all manner of audio and video content sucked up from the Web.
We want to enjoy this media-capturing technology with others, whether it's listening to a new Final Fantasy song, watching Stephen Colbert's speech to the White House Press Association one more time or treating your relatives to an envy-inducing slide show of your trip to Mexico.
These days, crouching around someone's computer monitor just ain't cutting it.
That's why the next generation of PCs are designed to be hooked up to your living room TV so you can keep your ass on the couch. They even come equipped with remotes.
A Microsoft demo recently showed off the new Windows XP Media Center, a computer pre-loaded with an interface to access all of your digital stuff, and all the right ports to allow you to plug right into your TV and sound system.
It also has a TV tuner allowing you to watch regular cable channels and a hard drive that takes the place of a personal video recorder, VCR, even a DVD player.
Hook it up to your cable and it's just like flipping through a digital TV menu, only with the recording functions built in. These functions are way enhanced, particularly for movies, as it scans through the next 14 days of programming to track down every possible flick on any channel while downloading the DVD box cover art to allow you to select from a graphic display.
If you don't want to keep a chunky PC box in your living room, the Media Center can also connect via a network cable with the Xbox 360, allowing the gaming system to double as a separate hub to stream your content onscreen.
Microsoft is not the only one producing this sort of set-up: hacker hobbyists have been doing this for years. Take Dragon-Cyber, a programmer and computer hobbyist who has souped up the living room of his Forest Hill apartment. His set-up is a steal.
"I took an Xbox here and it's hooked up to an old computer I basically made from scrap parts, running the Linux operating system," said Dragon-Cyber (not his real name).
Dragon-Cyber takes me through a display of the box's functions. It looks pretty close to the latest Microsoft version. Of course, his set-up took "no less than three illegal acts" to get going.
"This is a hobby. It's like owning a Ford Model T and polishing pistons on the weekend. But the advantage is you're not limited to what Microsoft is willing to provide for you," Dragon-Cyber says, scrolling through menu after menu of media options. "And you basically are leveraging the power of an Internet full of nerds."
Dragon-Cyber's beef with Bill Gates isn't limited to the lack of choice. As he explains it, the new Media Center PCs are designed to squeeze more money out of the consumer.
"The current Xbox 360 can stream photos and music from an old Windows XP computer that you have, like, in your bedroom. But the Xbox 360 can't stream video on a Windows XP computer," he says.
"Microsoft just decided that if you want to stream video, you need to buy the Windows Media Center operating system. And it doesn't sell Media Center in stores. You have to buy it installed on a PC that you get from a PC manufacturer."
According to Barry Zeidenberg of Microsoft's entertainment and devices team, limitations such as this are made just to keep a consistent product.
"Right now we wanted to provide a guaranteed experience right out of the box," Zeidenberg explains. "That's why we kept it so just PC manufacturers can make it. Most people want to just make sure everything works - and it works perfectly."
Meanwhile, the hacker's patchwork system seems to be able to run video, like last night's Daily Show, just fine.
But it's not just the hardware that's causing complaints. Companies like Microsoft seem more than willing to play ball with big media content producers when it comes to issues of copyright. And this is something that could bite potential customers in the ass.
"Some shows have flags incorporated into the bits so you can't copy them or view them on the Media Center," says Zeidenberg. "There isn't a lot of content that has that; but there are a few instances. So someone buying a Media Center PC shouldn't expect that to happen very often, but it could."
It's this "could" that gets computer-science Cassandras like Dragon-Cyber crying: copyright continues to be an issue for anyone interested in digital media.
While only a few of us can assemble home-entertainment hot-rods, those who can give us something to consider before we open up another Window.