How To Add a Home Theater PC to Your Existing TV
Several years ago, the notion of a PC in the living room was derided as companies such as Gateway and Compaq released bulky, expensive computers with no clear purpose. That was before phenomena such as the Web, MP3, DVDs, and digital video recording rose to prominence, however. Now, those companies and others—ranging from Sony to SonicBlue—have released set-top boxes that include MP3 jukeboxes (either with or without local storage), DVD capabilities, video games, digital video recording, Internet radio, CD burning, and Web surfing. However, there are often additional charges associated with these devices, such as WebTV's or TiVo's monthly fee. And they often have limitations such as a reliance on dialup, no way to upgrade, or HomePNA connections instead of standard Ethernet.
For well under the price of many of these devices you can add a slim, fast, multifunction PC to your television. This home theater PC will surf the Web using your existing ISP; or use your broadband connection, rip, store, and record thousands of MP3s (or any other PC-compatible sound format such as WMA); and not only play video DVDs, but multimedia titles and a wide array of video games.
For our chassis, we chose BookPC, a bare-bones system from PC Chips. Its slim enclosure includes a floppy and optical drive. The BookPC is available in a few different configurations, but use the black chassis to match most home theater components. This model has a bonus—a built-in DVD drive and included WinDVD software. The BookPC can be mounted horizontally or vertically, just like Sony's sleek PlayStation 2, but the package even includes the vertical stand.
For those experienced with building a PC from components, the BookPC offers a tight but simple working environment. Purchase and install a Socket 370 processor from 300 to 533 MHz, a standard 3.5[dp] hard disk, and a standard SDRAM DIMM. You'll also need a copy of Windows 98, which the BookPC CD-ROM requires because it contains the drivers for all its circuitry. (Sorry, Linux fans.) The BookPC contains ports for stereo speakers and an S-Video link to your television, as well as an IR receiver for its included wireless keyboard with integrated pointing device. And 100Base-T Ethernet allows an easy connection to your home network or broadband connection. For those still living in a dialup world, a 56K modem is also integrated.