1. The obvious -- which brand(s) would you recommend?
In your case, mostly the Victorinox Forschner "Rosewood" line." You can get better knives, but they'll cost more.
2. How many knives should I get for starters and what types (Chef's, boning, paring, etc.)?
Four or five. 8" - 10" chefs. 10" slicer. 8 - 10-1/2" bread. 6" Petty and/or parer(s) whose length(s) depends on whether or not you get a petty. In addition, you'll also want kitchen shears, as well as something for non-food uses like opening packages and cutting string, etc.
I find that a petty covers filleting, boning, paring, and all the other medium and short knife tasks. That doesn't mean you will or should.
I often recommend purchasing a better chefs than the rest of the knives. Whether or not that's a good idea for you is still up in the air. We'll talk more and it will become clear whether it's better to dump the dough now or hold off for awhile. If you go with a thin Japanese chef's -- good idea -- you'll also want something to handle tasks which might chip your "gyuto."
It's nice to have wonderful knives, for sure. However, great knives will not make you a better cook -- not in the slightest. Good, sharp knives will allow you to do things you otherwise couldn't, speed things along, and up the fun quotient. But you need the skills to use the tools and those don't come in the box. And let me add, that any dull knife is a dull knife; it doesn't matter how wonderful it was when it was sharp.
3. Which do you prefer: High-carbon-steel or stainless steel?
"High carbon" is a bit of a misnomer, in that all it means is that the steel alloy contains 0.50% carbon or more as do many stainless knife alloys. And, as long as we're doing terminology, there's a range of stain resistance where different levels and different compositions get different terms. "Stainless" means the alloy has at least 13% chromium, which in turn means it will be very stain and rust resistant. There's also "stain resistant," "stain free," "semi-stainless" and other terms which may or may not have specific meanings. We use the term "carbon" mostly to differentiate it from alloys which were formulated for some degree of stain resistance.
Anyway, I like both. Non-stainless is not for everyone and probably not for you. While carbon doesn't actually take much more care than stainless, it wants it NOW. At this stage of the game you probably don't want the complication. Later, when you've developed some good knife habits and have learned to sharpen you can re-evaluate.
Carbon has the reputation of getting sharper and being easier to get sharp. Neither is anywhere near as true as it used to be. Carbon does tend to feel better on the stones, but that's kind of low on the priority list isn't it?
4. Are knives with ergonomic handles any better than those with more "traditional" handles?
As a rule, the more weirdly "ergonomic" the handle, the less comfortable it usually is and the more it's going to hurt over time. There are exceptions for individual hands and certain designs. For now, go with standard handles.
One of the many joys of Forschners are their very comfortable (standard) handles.
5. What exactly is a Santoku knife and are they good for beginners like me?
A santoku is a modern Japanese design merging some aspects of the western chef's knife with the nakiri. In practice, it's a shorter chef's knife and especially useful for those who won't develop the grip to use a 10" chef's.
If you want one you should have one. Whether or not I like them for my own cooking shouldn't matter to you.
6. Are there any knife sharpeners (hand or machine) that you would recommend?
Yes. Quite a few. We're not quite there yet, but I usually recommend either a combi water-stone and a ceramic "steel;" a basic set of oil stones and a ceramic steel; or an appropriate (to your knives) Chef's Choice electric.
There are also a very few good tool and jig gags, such as the Edge Pro.
While useful for some purposes -- pocket knives, for instance -- I can't recommend "V" stick gags like the Spyderco Sharpmaker for kitchen knives, because they have trouble getting an adequate edge and take forever to get there.
Just about everything else is wholly inadequate for one reason or another.
7. Do you have any recommendations for cutting boards (wood/plastic, any specific brand)?
Wood. Only and always wood.
The best boards are end-grain up. I particularly favor "Boardsmith," and Boos. Those are some expensive boards though and there are plenty of other good boards available for less. It's not just a question of what you want for your knives but how you want to decorate your kitchen.
Hope this helps,