Turn Your PC Into a Home Theater

Category: Television

If you have a decent computer, why buy a home theater system that can cost thousands? For a lot less money, I'll show you how to convert your PC into an awesome home theater system at about the quarter of the price...

Build a Home Theater PC

Build Your Own Home Theater PC

Ready to turn your home computer into a home theater system? You'll need to spend a little money on some hardware upgrades. I suggest a a monitor that's big enough to make your movies look good, a Blu-ray drive that can also play your DVDs and CDs, and some awesome speakers. You can also add a special keyboard designed for home theater features, a video card capable of handling HD displays, and a TV tuner card so you can watch live TV on your PC.

Here are some recommendations for the components you'll need to upgrade, and your options for doing it on a budget -- or going all out.

Monitors for Your Home Theater PC

Let's start off with your monitor. Replace your standard clunky display with an HD monitor so you can watch movies and TV shows in glorious high-definition clarity. You'll be able to see the blades of grass on the ball field, and every detail in your favorite movies.

Samsung has a whole line to choose from. This company knows what it's doing when it comes to providing a decent product at a decent price. Their 22-inch Samsung 2232SW provides a full 1920x1080 resolution, a 16:9 aspect ratio and the bonus of a Custom Key for instant access to picture optimization. This monitor will set you back a modest US$209, but the first time you see the difference, you'll agree it was well worth the price.

If you have a bit more to spend, remember that bigger is better when it comes to home theater. Sony's 26-inch BRAVIA M Series LCD Flat Panel HDTV is compact at a size of 26.5 x 20 x 9.5 inches and features advanced contrast enhancer, an ATSC/NTSC tuner with QAM and their acclaimed Engine 2 digital video processing. Recently reduced, this display will cost you US$549.

Pioneer Elite Pro-101FD monitor Want to go top of the line? Check out Pioneer's Elite Signature Series 50-inch Class HD Monitor. This display is way past average with an IP control for set-up, self-diagnostics and configuration. There are menus for settings and adjustments and an exhorbitant price of US$4500.

Upgrade to Blu-ray?

If you plan to watch Blu-ray movies, you'll need to swap out your CD/DVD player with one that can read Blu-ray discs. The LG GGC-H20L Combo Blu-ray/HD/DVD/CD Player with DVD/CD Burner (about US$120) or the Plextor PX-310SA Combo Blu-ray/DVD/CD Player with DVD/CD Burner (about US$150) will both do the job.

If you want a drive that can also burn Blu-ray discs, check out the Sony BWU-300S (about US$400) which can play Blu-ray/DVD/CD discs and also burn all three types.

Home Theater Speaker Systems

Logitech speakers Now that you have a fine picture, it's time to improve your sound as well. Logitech has a great surround sound system that can fit into your budget for around US$299. The Z Cinéma Advanced Surround Sound System consists of only 2 satellite speakers and a subwoofer. Their TruSurround HD includes dialog enhancement, digital crossover EQ and a simple USB connection.

If you are limited in space, but still want that improved sound, Polk has a patented SDA Surround Technology incorporated in their one piece, 42-inch SurroundBar. The system works by replacing acoustic position location information with their correct surround sound info from the original recording. You'll pay about $350 for the SurroundBar, so shop around for the best deal.

Other Home Theater Upgrades

There are even keyboards specifically designed for Home Theater PCs. A basic one is the Microsoft Digital Media Pro at $29.99. With simplicity in mind, there are customizable hot keys for accessing your music, videos and programs with one touch. Included is their intuitive Zoom for a closer look at details, such as film credits that seem to get smaller all the time.

Popcorn maker Home Theater software will complete your system. There are many out there from which to choose, but why not opt for free? MediaPortal allows you to watch and store DVDs, music and videos, and as a bonus, can schedule and record live TV. If your Windows system includes Media Center, you might want to try that as well.

If you're serious about settling down in front of your home theater system with a bucket of buttery popcorn, you should think about upgrading your video card. Pick one that has DVI and HDMI outputs, so it can interface with your HD monitor without sacrificing clarity or resolution. (My article on Buying an HD TV has pictures of just all the common cables and connectors that'll you'll encounter when dealing with audio and video components.)

While you're at it, toss in a TV tuner card, so you can pick up live HD television programming. See my article for help with adding an HD TV tuner to your computer.

Adding some additional memory (RAM) will help, especially if you've currently got 1MB or less installed. Read Adding Memory for help in choosing and installing RAM memory.

Pre-built Home Theater Computers

If your computer is too old to support HD media without spending a lot of money, or you'd just rather not spend a lot of time on hardware and software upgrades, consider buying a pre-built media center system.

Dell has just released a Studio Special Edition Laptop. It has a 15.4" HD display, an Intel Core Duo processor, Windows Vista, multi-media keys, and an optional backlit keyboard. It features a built-in Blu-ray player, HDMI and Ethernet connections, surround sound and is both Bluetooth and Wifi capable. The laptop comes at a price of $799.00 after an $80.00 instant rebate.

HP has a desktop for the media obsessed. At a price starting at $699, the HP Pavilion Elite m9500t series is a powerful entertainment hub that's ready for multimedia applications. It's great for music and high-def movies, and with the optional tuner and personal video recorder (PVR) software, it essentially turns your PC into a TV.

If you are more of the Mac type, look into their Mac Pro that has a Quad-Core Intel Xeon processor, 3GB of memory and up to 4TB hard drive storage, starting at US$2499. It comes with the NVIDIA GeForce GT120 graphics card, or you can upgrade to the ATI Radeon HD 4870 for greater video performance. Add a 30-inch Apple Cinema HD Display (US$1799) and you have a computer for those who not only want to watch media, but make it. Apple's Final Cut Studio is practically a standard for media editing, so good that it was used in the movie "Benjamin Button."

Almost every company makes a computer that can give you a decent home theater experience, so if your computer is more than a couple of years old, this is probably the way to go. Current economic conditions have made electronics more affordable than ever, so the bargains are out there.

Do you have a home theater computer setup? Post a comment below with your comments and questions...

 
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Most recent comments on "Turn Your PC Into a Home Theater"

Posted by:

Jay Taylor
13 Mar 2009

Hello Bob,

Yes, I have a home theater set up and agree with you. The value of the HTPC is tremendous. I recently cancelled my Dish Network service and now capture all of my entertainment experience to OTA (over the air) and online viewing. Saves me about $120 per month...money well appreciated in the current economic climate.

I also happen to work in the industry defining and enabling h/w platforms for this segment. H/W has come a long way and makes the HTPC a very viable platform for today's entertainment needs.

Regards,

Java Jack (aka Jay Taylor)


Posted by:

null man
16 Mar 2009

I currently have an older 800MZ desktop with 1 GB of ram and a Phillips Surround sound system.

My concern is the processing speed and RAM of the computer. Is this enough horsepower to turn this into a Home Theatre?

EDITOR'S NOTE: If you can play movies without video stutter now, it should be okay.


Posted by:

Richard
17 Mar 2009

Bob have you reviewed linuxmce yet? Its awesome.

Check out this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dPWzLtsvw-U

Richard


Posted by:

Prabhod
25 Apr 2009

I have an amazing home theater system which I put together from components I found around shops in the city I live.
First of all I have a Philips Cineos 26 inch HDTV for a monitor. Then I have a 6.1 sound system comprising of a Bose 2 speakers + subwoofer. 2 Dell speakers from my computer and my TV's 2 speakers.
Turning to my computer I have the AMD ATHLON 2.6 processor
with an amazing 8 GB of RAM , dual NVIDIA GEFORCE 8800 graphics cards crossfired for maximum output.
And finally Windows Vista Ultimate on one of the 160 GB HDD's and Windows Xp Professional on the other 160 GB HDD


Posted by:

john ewing
11 Aug 2009

A question on your article: if I go with the HP e9500t for $850 (couldnt find $699 - is there something I'm missing?), do all of the upgrades you mention samsung monitor, blu-ray, tuner, media portal, media pro, hd tuner work with it. Im not a pro in integrating, so I might have to get back to you.

john


Posted by:

torrent search engine
12 Mar 2010

You just gave me a great idea. Thanks for the post, it's really helpful. Anyways, apart from work, you must want to relax a bit and listen to nice music. So you can find it at music search engine Enjoy!


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