a HTPC (home theater PC) is what you want. There are two options/routes you can go with this.
First option, a little more expensive, but less cost monthly, is you purchase a bran new OEM pc from Dell, Gateway, HP, Velocity Micro, ect..., but get one that supports cable card tuners.
So what you'll get is a Vista Media Center PC, running Vista Home Premium, you'll get one or two cable card tuners with said system, which gets you access to the "premium" channels.
The whole issue you have is that getting access to the premium channels are the hard part.
Once you get the vista media center PC up and running, each of the other TV's in your home will have Media Center Extenders, via an Xbox 360, Linksys DMA 2100 or 2200 (the 2200 has a dvd drive in it as well for local dvd playback), Dlink DSM-750, HP media smart connect are just a few examples of some media center extenders.
If you look around you can get the Linksys DMA 2100 for as little as $100
#4 isn't possible with media center extenders, as they are quite limited on its codec support, but there are websites where you can put in youtube links, and it'll convert the flv to wmv, mpeg4, ect... which then would support the extenders.
My questions are?
1. Can a cable card be used to record ALL of my TV content and distribute it wherever, and is it necessary?
yes cable card CAN be used to record exactly what you get now with your cable boxes, however you will NOT get video on demand, or pay per view with current implementation of cable card as it is only 1-way.
2. Is a Vista PC with Vista Media Center that has the ATI cable card tuner a viable option for my needs, since it will record all content and use the cable card on a PC. I would then just distribute it with a media extender, Xbox, Linksys, Dlink etc... A very low cost, and convenient solution if it works that well.
I have all that cept the cable card, I can't justify purchasing a OEM pc just to get cable card, but I've got a 10 tuner Vista Media center system up and running right now, 2 digital QAM tuners via hd homerun, 4 ATSC, and 4 NTSC SD tuners.
I have two linksys DMA 2100's, and an xbox 360 for extenders, and all three work flawlessly.
3. Do any of the other options the Dvico TViX Products offer a decent User Interface like the Media Extenders, cause its one thing to get all this great content but it entirely different to take it to a TV and be able to access it elegantly through the same remote I use for everything else.
There is SageTV and the SageTV HD extender, that is your next best bet, however the only option of getting "premium" channels (ie HBO, ect..) is either via the Hauppauge HD PVR tuner which still requires a monthly charge to HD cable box, as the HD PVR is a component video capture box so you still need a cable box feeding the system, just don't need as many of them.
There is also the R5000HD mod via nextcom wireless: http://www.nextcomwireless.com/R5000/home.htm
but again an expensive solution.
with the HD PVR solution you'd need to purchase two of those tuner boxes, and then rent two HD cable boxes, so your not getting away with lessening the monthly cable box rental fee's.
two cable card rental fee's for comcast here in Minneapolis is $14/month, two HD cable boxes would be twice that.
My budget is def no more than $5k and I want ease of use, which is why I have really been leaning towards the Extender.
Thanks in advance for any suggestions you might have.
If you have $5k to spend then your easily within range of a Media Center PC solution.
here are some good blog/reads about Ed Bott's experience with Vista media Center, cable cards, and extenders:http://www.edbott.com/weblog/?p=2144http://www.edbott.com/weblog/?p=2132http://www.edbott.com/weblog/?p=2131http://www.edbott.com/weblog/?p=2127http://www.edbott.com/weblog/?p=2126http://www.edbott.com/weblog/?p=2149
read those they'll give you a good idea/feeling about his setup and how well it's working for him.
hope this helps,