By Columnist
msnbc.com
updated 10/26/2006 4:57:31 PM ET 2006-10-26T20:57:31

Isaac Luria from the University of Florida writes in to ask about a new feature from Sirius satellite radio:

Sirius just started offering a higher bandwidth version of their service over the Internet. They claim it is “CD quality” but their website has no details or tech specs about it. I can’t imagine they are truly streaming audio over the internet at CD bitrates. What’s the deal with this?

Sirius has rolled out a new offering called Sirius Internet Radio. They say it is a CD-quality, high bandwidth service for online listening via your computer. The feeds run at four times the bit-rate of their standard online streaming — which comes out to as much as 128kbps for the music channels. I’m not sure I would call that CD-quality but it is an improvement.

What you need to know is that this online service is in to your regular Sirius satellite service. In other words, what that means is it’s not free. Their current online streaming offering (feeds up to 32kbps) is free with your monthly satellite subscription.

Patrick Reilly, Sirius Senior V.P. of Communications told me that if you’re a first-time subscriber to Sirius you’d pay the standard $12.95 a month to listen online. But if you’re already a Sirius subscriber and also wanted to get the new, high-bandwidth SIR service, you could subscribe for an additional $6.99 a month.

Sirius introduced 75 Internet-only SIR channels — including SIR-quality feeds of The Howard Stern Show and Stern’s two 24/7 channels for free Oct. 25. There were so many fans calling in to Mr. Stern's show this morning, from all over the world, that their phone system was overloaded and shut down.

I've been able to preview the new service for the past week and I'm happy to report that it sounds a whole lot better than their usual online streams — and also their normal satellite service. Music quality is much improved.  

Jeff of Douglasville, Ga. wants to know:

Is it possible to put (Windows) Media Center on a computer that did not ship with it?

To answer to your question simply, no.  You can't buy an installation disk for Windows XP Media Center.  It's not Microsoft's intention to sell individual copies to end users.

Windows Media Center edition always comes already installed on hardware (desktops, laptops, and what Microsoft calls living room PCs) designed expressly to run the OS. 

That’s a good thing — because most hardware could probably run the software — but a machine designed expressly for Media Center use will run it much better.

Finally,Sam Bracy of Joelton, Tennessee wants me to answer this simple question:

Can you name all the home theater bells & whistles?  I want to fully equip the new one I plan to install.

I could probably spend the next week or two telling you all the things you might want to purchase to outfit your new home theater properly. 

You need to decide on what kind of TV you want — the type (Plasma, LCD, projection, direct-view), the size (26-inch?  108-inch?) and decide on your maximum spending limit before you do anything else.  Then you need to choose your video components (DVD, HD-DVD, BluRay, SlingBox, VCR, DVR or even computer).  And don’t forget the audio portion (amplifiers, processors, tuners and speakers (5.1 or 6.1 or 7.1 channels).

Then there’s the question of where the components are placed (special shelving, equipment racks or stuff it all in a cabinet) plus all the wires, doo-dads and gizmos you need to hook everything together and get them working correctly.

You could do all this for a few thousand dollars — or a few hundred thousand dollars.  After seeing some of the offerings at the recent CEDIA show in Denver I suspect there are a lot of people who are spending lots of their hard-earned money on home theaters.

My suggestion to you is do your homework researching what you want online. Ask questions in local retail stores.  Set a spending limit — then be ready to go at least 10 percent over that limit.  You would do the same if you were buying a car. These days it’s easy to spend more on your home theater system.

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