You likely already use your TV as a great source for entertainment. You probably also use your computer for a large amount of entertainment. With the combination of a properly configured computer and your TV, you can unleash so much more potential for entertainment and make everything so much easier to access.
Entertainment system will include
At the center of your entertainment system is going to be your TV. I of course would strongly recommend an HDTV to those that can afford it. Also, while size isn’t the only important factor in the quality of an HDTV, I do have to say, bigger is better. For this setup we’ll assume that you have an HDTV that supports HDMI input.
As I mentioned, that TV is great and all, but we’re going to use a computer to make it do so much more for you. So that brings us to the computer you’re going to want. I would strongly recommend a Windows 7 based PC that includes Media Center. If you don’t know what Media Center is, we’ll get to that. The computer should also have a nice video card to ensure that your computer can play high quality HD content without stuttering or being slow. You’ll want to make sure this video card has a built in HDMI port with audio support. This will make it as easy as possible to connect the computer to the HDTV. Also, it usually doesn’t cost much to add a Blu-Ray compatible drive to a computer and it is definitely worth the cash. If you haven’t used Blu-Ray on your HDTV you’re missing out on a true movie watching experience.
In addition to the TV and the Computer you’ll want to make sure you get a Media Center compatible remote for the computer. This will allow you to control everything we’ll install on the computer from the comfort of your couch.
Software and set up
As I mentioned you’ll want to run Media Center on the computer. This will be the base of everything we do on the PC. The reason for this is that it has an interface designed to be controlled with the Media Center remote so you don’t have to have a mouse and keyboard on your lap while doing all of this.
In addition to that you’ll want to install the Netflix Media Center plugin. This will give you access to all of Netflix’s streaming catalog right through media center. This way you can browse, search, and watch anything that Netflix has available. Netflix does require a subscription in order to have access to the streaming material, but it is definitely worth it to have access to all sorts of movies and TV shows instantly.
Another one you’ll want to install is the Hulu desktop application. This application gives you access to the same free streaming content that is found on their website, but it will also work with the media center remote. Hulu does not install itself into the Media Center application, but we can still make it work. You’ll want to use a program like Media Center Studio. Media Center Studio is a free program you can download that will let you make changes to the Media Center menu. Using this you can add a launcher icon for Hulu. Then you can launch Hulu Desktop from Media Center and when you quit the Hulu program it will bring you back.
Media Center does not come with built in support for Blu-Ray movies. If your computer came with a Blu-Ray drive it may have also come with a plugin to add support to Media Center for that. If not, you’ll need to purchase one. There are lots of options available online. Just whatever you purchase, make sure it includes a Windows 7 Media Center compatible plug in. This will ensure that you can control your Blu-Ray movies with that same remote and without having to leave the Media Center software.
The last real step for configuring your computer is to copy your music, video, and photo libraries over to the computer. Assuming the music and videos aren’t protected by non-WMC compatible DRM you will be able to listen to and view any of those files through the Media Center software.
Connect PC without HDMI
Some of you may already have a PC you want to use, or have just picked one up on some killer deal only to find it doesn’t have HDMI. Fear not, you can still connect it to the HDMI port on the TV, with some work. Your options are varied. First you can install a new video card in the computer that has HDMI. This is the best option for older computers that could stand to have an upgraded video card anyway.
Another option is to use a DVI to HDMI cable from any computer that has a DVI video port on it. This will get the video to your TV with no problems at all. Be warned though, that DVI ports do not output audio so you’ll have to run separate audio cables. Hopefully your TV has an input next to one of the HDMI ports on the TV to allow for that.
If your TV has a VGA input, you can simply use a VGA to VGA cable from the VGA port on the computer to the TV. This will work great in most cases. Some TVs don’t support full 1080p through the VGA port, however, so be cautious of that. Also, VGA doesn’t carry audio either so you’ll need to run separate audio cables in this situation also.
Let’s say you’ve got VGA on your computer, but you need to go to HDMI on the TV. You can use a VGA to HDMI signal converter to convert from the analog format to the digital, allowing you to use the full 1080p input of the HDMI port. These converters will generally support sound conversion to put it on the HDMI line which can help a lot in setting it up.
Just whatever you do, DO NOT purchase a VGA to HDMI cable. Those things have been floating all over the web, but they are a scam. VGA is an analog signal and HDMI is digital and you cannot just use a cable to convert from one to the other. If you purchase a cable like that you’ll really just be wasting your money.
Once you have your TV, PC, and remote all connected you’ll be all set to enjoy all these forms of entertainment from a single device. We’re talking viewing Hulu, Netflix, Blu-Rays, DVDs, listening to MP3s, stored video files, pictures and much more all from one device, and all from the comfort of your couch. I have personally been running a set up like the one described here for about 3 years, and it is continually improving as new sources of media come out. This is the ultimate home entertainment device.