Before you purchase or build that HTPC you need to understand the requirements for top end CPU and Video cards. This is a great article showing these requirements.
"The one thing to remember is that current generation of video processing hardware featuring AVIVO and PureVideo HD only provide hardware assisted acceleration of H.264 decoding; 'assisted' because they only handle part of the decoding process, which means that you still need to pack a pretty powerful processor in order to achieve smooth H.264 playback on a PC."
"While this article isn't an AVIVO vs. PureVideo debate, we will look at some general aspects of performance differences between the two technologies as it stands at the moment. We chose the Radeon X1650 XT and GeForce 7600 GT for this article because they represent the mid-range GPU today, and are technically in the same class as each other. In our tests, the GeForce 7600 GT appears to be the card better suited for HD playback compared to the Radeon X1650 XT. On low bitrate H.264 movies and low overhead formats like VC-1, the GeForce 7600 GT manages to offer better performance because PureVideo HD scales with GPU core clock speeds. It is apparent that the Radeon X1650 XT is unable to handle 1080i/p video as well as the GeForce 7600 GT because of AVIVO's method of video processing on ATI's GPU. Generally speaking, you would need a Radeon X1800 and above class card to match H.264 decoding performance with a 500MHz GeForce 7 series PureVideo HD video processor. In this respect, NVIDIA's PureVideo HD has the upper hand purely in terms of price/performance over ATI's AVIVO if you're sourcing for a card just for a Blu-ray/HD DVD entertainment system."
Cyberlink PowerDVD 6.5 HD DVD Edition
Virtual Trip Yoazkura - HD DVD sampler, H.264 encoding at 1080i
True Blue - HD DVD sampler, H.264 encoding at 1080i
Swordfish - HD DVD movie, VC-1 encoding at 1080p
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Yes, these cards are still works-in-progress. Nothing you will want to use once the real hardware decode solution is shipping. Hardware assist means your CPU is still flying near the limit.
The HTPC concept also requires a H.264/VC-1 hardware encoder.
You know there is a perfectly good reason why neither of these formats is exactly "awesome" right now. Most people aren't going to purchase a new system just to watch movies on their computer. A few people are likely to get the PS3 or 360 for HD playback... but until people can walk into a store and buy a stand alone HD or BR player for less than $200 mass uptake won't happen.