| ||Make a PC-to-TV Connection|
by Dinos Lambropoulos
TV shows and movies are finally joining the party that began when music downloads shook up the digital media scene a few years ago.
During the past few months, companies like Amazon and Apple began selling downloadable movies and TV shows, while longtime players like Movielink and CinemaNow expanded their offerings.
If you've already started taking advantage of these services—or if you're thinking about trying them—you might have run into a practical problem: Most of us like to watch movies and shows on a television while relaxing in the living room, not on a computer monitor while seated at a desk in the den.
One solution is to connect your PC to your TV. This tech tip will give you a broad overview of what it takes to connect a computer to a TV to watch your downloaded movies and shows. We'll end with a brief introduction to an alternative: network media devices like the recently introduced Apple TV.
|And because there's a lot more to this topic than we can cover in this article, we'll also give you some links you can follow to explore more on your own.
Check Your Equipment
You might not know it, but your computer may have a port designed for TV connections. A lot of Windows and Mac systems do. When you set up the connection, the TV essentially becomes the computer's monitor. Here's how to get started:
1.Check your computer's video outputs: The newest computers have DVI or HDMI ports, which you can connect directly to the new generation of digital flat-panel TVs. Being digital, these are the highest quality outputs. Other common video output types, from highest to lowest in terms of video quality, are component, S-video, and composite/RCA. If your computer is older or more basic, it may have just a standard VGA monitor output. Refer to your computer's manual if you're not sure what types of video outputs you have.
2.Check your TV's video inputs: Newer TVs have DVI or HDMI connectors. Older sets have component, S-Video, composite/RCA, or RF/coaxial connectors. Again, your TV's manual will tell you.
Still not sure what you have? Check out this photo gallery of different connectors.
Cables, Adapters, and More
If your computer and TV each have the same type of port, it's a straightforward job. All you need to do is buy the right cable from a local electronics store or on the Web.
But there's a chance your TV and computer don't have matching ports. That might not be a problem, though. Chances are you can buy an adapter to make the connection.
There are lots of possible adapter options, from cables to converter boxes, and they vary widely in price. So, it's a good idea to spend some time searching the Web (a good search would be something along the lines of "connect vga to composite" or "vga composite adapter").
And what if your TV's video inputs are already in use? For example, you might already have a cable box or satellite receiver connected to your TV. Most newer TVs have multiple video inputs that you can switch using the TV's remote (check your manual). If your TV doesn't, or if all the inputs are in use, one possible option is to buy an A/V switchbox. Again, searching the Web to find out what will work with the inputs you have is highly recommended.
Configuring Your Display Settings
After you make your video connection, your computer may automatically detect the new display (you'll know it's been detected if you see an image on your television). But in some cases, you may need to tell your computer to recognize the new display.
The procedure for this will vary depending on your hardware, but in general, here's how to access your display settings:
Setting Up Your Sound
- Windows XP and Vista: In XP's Control Panel, select Appearance and Themes, then Display. In Vista's Control Panel, select Appearance and Personalization, then Personalization, and then Display Settings.
- Mac OS X: Open System Preferences and double-click Displays.
Since you'll want to hear as well as see your movies and TV shows, you need to set up an audio connection, too. This is almost always separate from your video connection. Start by deciding on a device for sound output. Here are three common options:
- Connect directly to your TV: This might be an option if you don't have a sound system set up in your living room and you normally use your TV's built-in speakers while watching TV. Many TVs have audio inputs that you can connect your computer to.
- Connect a set of computer speakers: These days, the speaker systems that come with computers are often quite good. If you have a good set of computer speakers, you could move them into the living room to use with your TV-connected computer.
- Connect to an A/V receiver or amplifier: This is usually the best option if you want the highest sound quality. Amps and receivers have auxiliary inputs that you can use to connect your computer to.
Next, find out what type of audio output your computer uses. Here are the most common:
Deciding on Software
- Analog: Usually labeled "Line Out," "Speaker Out," or something similar. The most common output, this one is usually a 1/8" stereo mini jack, like those you see in portable music players.
Many, if not most, computers have an analog sound output. To connect an analog output to a TV or receiver/amplifier, you'll typically need a cable with a 1/8" stereo mini plug on one end and two RCA connectors on the other. If you're using computer speakers, the cables you need to make an analog connection are included.
- Digital (also known as S/PDIF): This is a digital connection that generally provides better sound than analog. The cable you'll need will be either "coaxial" or "optical"; check your computer's manual if you're not sure. To use your computer's digital output, you'll typically need an A/V receiver or amplifier that accepts a digital input, or a set of computer speakers with a digital input.
Once your computer is displaying its desktop on your TV, it's time to decide how you want to control your media viewing experience. The first step is choosing the software you want to use to play and control video.
- Media players: You can always use the same software you normally use on your computer, like Windows Media Player, Apple iTunes, or any other similar program. This will work best if you plan to use a keyboard and mouse as your input device (see the next section).
- Media front-ends: Another option is to use what's often called a media "front-end." A front-end is a program that lets you control your computer's media functions using a menu display similar to what you find on DVDs, with larger fonts and other features that make navigation from across a room easier. Front-ends also lend themselves to using remote controls (see the next section).
If you have Windows XP Media Center Edition or Windows Vista Home Premium or Ultimate, you already have a front-end: Windows Media Center. On Mac OS X, check to see whether you have Apple's Front Row already installed on your system (it's included with new iMacs, for example).
If you don't have a front-end, there are many available. For Windows, MediaPortal is a good free option, while SageTV is a popular commercial option. On Mac OS X, you can try the commercial MediaCentral. For other options, browse this extensive list of front-ends.
Once you've decided what software you'd like to use, it's time to decide how you want to control video playback from your couch.
Another TV-to-PC Option: Network Media Devices
- Keyboards: One option is a wireless keyboard. There are keyboards and mice from Apple, Microsoft, and other manufacturers. Many wireless keyboards use Bluetooth or infrared wireless technology. Of course, if you're on a budget and don't mind the wires, you could use your existing wired keyboard and mouse instead, and simply add extension cables if you need to.
- Remotes: If you'd rather use a remote control, things get a little more complex. Unless you use a remote that was included with your computer specifically for controlling digital media, your options are limited.
Makers of Windows XP Media Center Edition PCs include remotes with their computers (unfortunately, these remotes aren't sold separately at retail). If you'd rather use a front-end other than Windows Media Center on a Media Center PC, many other front-ends (like MediaPortal) also support Media Center remotes. Remotes that work with the Windows Vista version of Windows Media Center are expected to come on the market this year.
On the Apple side, an Apple Remote comes with most newer Macs. You can use that remote to control Front Row. Other front-ends like iTheater and MediaCentral also support the Apple Remote.
Going through the steps of connecting a PC directly to a TV isn't for everybody. If you 're not interested in going through these rigors of setting up a connection, you can buy a device that will pull video and other media from your PC over your home network and display it on your TV. These devices are often called network media devices.
While these devices are generally much easier to set up than direct PC-to-TV connections, they do have some gotchas. For one, there's a good chance you'll end up spending more money than you would with a direct PC-to-TV setup. And since they tend to rely on a fast, stable home network to work best, you'll need to set up a home network (if you don't already have one) or possibly upgrade your existing network if you don't get the results you want.
Let's look at two popular options, again from Microsoft and Apple.
- Microsoft Xbox 360: You can use an Xbox 360 gaming console to stream video from certain PCs. The Xbox 360 includes Media Center Extender technology to accomplish this. The catch is that you'll need a PC running either Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 or Windows Vista (Home Premium or Ultimate Edition). Microsoft has a good collection of video tutorials showing the setup process step-by-step.
- Apple: Apple TV is a set-top box you can use with a computer running the free iTunes software (v7.1 or later). That means it works with either Mac OS X (v10.3.9, or 10.4.8 or later) or Windows XP SP-2/Vista.
With Apple TV, you can stream video from your computer to your TV over your home network. Apple TV offers a second option, too: Synchronize video from your computer to Apple TV's built-in hard disk (again, via your home network), and play the video directly from the Apple TV's box. You control it all with the included Apple remote.
It's important to note that Apple TV supports only enhanced-definition or high-definition TVs that have HDMI, DVI, or component video inputs. The Apple TV support site has a variety of setup and troubleshooting information, including a downloadable copy of the unit's manual.
Another group of devices to consider falls under Intel's new Viiv media platform and includes the Netgear EVA700 Digital Entertainer.
As you may have guessed by now, this is a topic you can dive into pretty deeply if you want to. Here are some good sites that will help you in your research: