In the last installment of Supercharge your PC we covered the various channel options available for your in-home entertainment center. In this segment we’re going to show the most versatile way to access all of that content on your large TV screen and surround-sound system.
Putting the content onto your TV
First off you can start by connecting a suitable computer, i.e. the HTPC, to your existing setup. You can in fact replace all your media sources, (except for the DTH set-top box if you need one). You’ll need a suitable remote control or wireless keyboard and mouse set, along with software such as the Media Center that’s included with every copy of Windows Vista/7 Home Premium edition and above. Free alternatives for users of all types of computer include XBMC (www.xbmc.org) or its social-media-savvy derivative, Boxee (www.boxee.tv). We’ll talk more about setting up a killer HTPC in a bit, but here are some alternatives in case you don’t want a bulky computer in your living room.
High-end TVs: Many TVs themselves come with USB and networking features, though these aren’t very sophisticated. Format support isn’t always guaranteed, but it’s the cleanest solution with no boxes and wires. Check what formats your TV supports carefully if this is a purchase decision maker for you.
DTH boxes: The one area where most HTPC alternatives fail is recording. DTH boxes might not offer very much, and you’re still largely constrained by their schedules, but at least you can set your shows to record and then watch them at leisure later, skipping through ads.
Game consoles: Both the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 are superb media center devices, with support for local and network-based media playback and Web-enabled features. Audio and video quality are more than acceptable, with support for all the important standards. The PS3 has the added advantage of a Blu-ray drive, while the Xbox integrates nicely with Windows Media Center.
Connected DVD/BD players: Most DVD players today come with USB ports for playing digital files, and almost all Blu-ray players come with wired and/or wireless Internet access. BD-Live utilizes your Internet connection to deliver interactive content while you’re watching a movie, which is an added dimension as well.
USB/network media players/Apple TV: These little devices, rapidly growing in popularity, simply decode digital audio and video and output it to your TV screen. They come in all shapes and sizes, most with support for memory cards, HD output, and simple interfaces. Some come with built -in hard drives, but USB ports are standard fare. The high-end varieties all support wired and wireless networking to stream content from your PCs, networked storage, and of course dozens of online services. If you already have a router at home, one of these plus a NAS device are incredibly convenient together. Examples include the Western Digital WDTV series, Asus’ O’play, and Amkette’s FlashTV. One variant on this is the Apple TV, which comes with local storage and a network connection. It’s easy enough to use, but without an Indian iTunes store, over half its potential is untappable.
Standalone PCs: You might even be perfectly happy with nothing but a standalone PC, especially one with a suitably large HD LCD monitor. This might actually be a great option for cramped apartments, but you won’t get the joy of kicking back in front of a huge screen and proper sound system.