With laptop hardware getting cheaper and more powerful, older laptops are being phased out simply because they cannot be upgraded to meet the requirements of newer operating systems and other software. These outdated laptops either have no resale value nor can they be donated because they are practically useless for newer software. So what do you do with these laptops? We have covered numerous options on how to turn your older PC or laptops into standalone machines that run as basic file servers, proxy servers, routers, media streamers, torrent clients and download hubs. This time we give you another alternative of converting it into an additional television with which you can watch, record or pause live TV and use it in your kids room, bedroom, study area or your kitchen, All you would require is your old laptop in working condition and loaded with an operating system and a USB TV tuner.
In this workshop, we have featured an old HP Pavilion DV4000 laptop which has a configuration of Intel Centrino 1.7 MHz, 80 GB of storage, 512 MB of RAM, 15.4-inch LCD display and a DVD combo drive. Upgrades for the hard drive and RAM are either not available or are too expensive. This makes the laptop suitable only for Windows XP with basic facilities for surfing the internet, office documentation and media playback. Hence, using this PC as a TV which can additionally function as a media player for local and streaming music and videos is the best option. For this workshop we made use of Hauppauge WinTV-HVR 900 USB TV Stick costing around Rs 4,800 (available online at www.accessinfoworld.com). The TV tuner is capable of receiving DVB-T and Analog TV and is also compatible with Windows Media Center. You can also use basic USB tuners costing around Rs 1,200 or purchase a second hand one to save on cost.
USB with cable on a stick
Firstly, to get the laptop running in the best possible speed, we need to format the internal storage and reinstall an operating system from scratch. In our case we have used Windows XP with SP3. You can make do with any Linux distribution or Microsoft Windows 7 provided you have all drivers in place and compatible hardware to meet the requirements. Once the operating system is installed, install all drivers and setup the laptop as per your requirement. Configure the network (Wi-fi or Ethernet) if you want to use it for internet streaming too. Next, plug in the USB TV tuner and install the drivers that came along with it. Once done, connect the TV tuner with your cable TV or DTH set-top-box connections accordingly. Tune in and set all channels (if you are using an analog cable connection). Now that you have setup the TV on your laptop, it is time to find a suitable place and keep it or wall mount it in your room if you have a 180-degree foldout laptop. There, you now have a 15-inch LCD TV at the meager cost of a USB TV tuner.
Mediamote for iPhone and Win-Remote for Android
Advanced users can take this workshop to the next level too. You can open the laptop completely, disconnect the LCD screen and the motherboard properly, create a unique slim and wall-mountable and fix the entire circuitry inside the chassis with the LCD fixed on the front area. The keyboard, optical drive, hard drive and battery can be completely disconnected to make the product lighter, slimmer and more energy efficient. With this stripped-off configuration, you can run a live operating system such as XBMC or Ubuntu straight off a USB pen drive and watch TV, surf the internet or play movies from the network or an external USB storage. You can also use a wireless mouse and keyboard for controlling the entire unit. Windows users can also make use of the Windows Media Center to have an excellent HTPC unit and connect the VGA out to an existing LCD monitor. If your laptop’s configuration is little better, you can also convert it into an HTPC for your living room.
Windows media center remote – Android and vmcMote – iPhone app
You can connect the VGA or HDMI port (if available) on your laptop to your LCD TV or projector. You can also use a standard Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone or a smartphone such as an Android or an iPhone which can connect to your laptop wirelessly and make use of an app for controlling your media player. Windows Media Center can also be controlled similarly. ‘Windows Media Center Remote’ and ‘Win-Remote’ are some examples Android applications and ‘Mediamote’ and ‘vmcMote’ for iPhone available in the market.
Finally, you can also use this workshop for family video conferencing in your living room by additionally connecting a webcam. So finally, you have created a basic HTPC using an old useless laptop.
Note: if you want to use Windows Media Center, make sure your TV Tuner is compatible for complete functionality.