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Using TVs for Media Playing

Just as PCs are best suited for detail work such as general computing, TVs are best for media playing for a number of reasons and some surprising new ones.

On the most basic level, you probably have at least one good TV, perhaps several, that you can put to work as displays connected directly to your PCs’ display cards or to media extenders. This keeps the cost of your home entertainment network down because you are using equipment you already have—in a brand new way.

Lowest Cost Media Viewing Solution

PC monitors, especially flat panel LCDs, are still pretty expensive when compared to TVs. A 20-inch computer LCD monitor is at least $1000 compared to at 20-inch TV, which can be purchased for as little as $100.

Traditional TVs, which are cathode ray tube (CRT) displays, have a very low resolution of 320x240 pixels and are not good when used as a display for general computing. Figure 3.6 shows the difference between the same website viewed on a TV (left) and a standard computer monitor (right).

Figure 3.6

Figure 3.6 The same website displays differently on a TV (left) and a computer monitor (right).

The TV image is small (320x240 pixels), and also the image is blurry and hard to read. The computer image has a much higher resolution (for example, 1024x768 pixels, and often much higher depending on your video card and monitor) and is extremely sharp. TV displays were never intended for computing applications, and because standard TV images are so low in resolution, regardless of which display they are viewed on, TV images are low quality by their very nature.

That applies to TV as we have known it for the last 50 years. Recent changes to TV broadcasting and display technology are changing all of that. Digital TV broadcasts in high definition are changing the quality of TV images and TV monitors. If you are using an HDTV tuner card, and if you plan to use a computer monitor for viewing HDTV, you need a video card and a computer monitor that can display the full HDTV resolution of 1920x1080 or better.

If you’ve been to just about any electronics store lately, you’ve no doubt been dazzled by a whole new generation of high-resolution flat panel TVs that come in plasma and LCD varieties. Flat panel screens are the future of TV, and the great news is that not only are they incredible TVs, but they also make great computer monitors. Figure 3.7 shows one of the new flat panel plasma TVs in action.

Figure 3.7

Figure 3.7 A Gateway flat panel plasma TV works great for viewing TV or computer applications.

Plasma and LCD TVs are essentially the same technology as LCD computer monitors. Many on the market today can function either as a TV or as a computer monitor. Even when one is functioning as a TV hooked to the TV-out connector of your computer’s display card, it has such a high quality image that it can be used to view computer applications.

In a home with plasma or LCD flat panel TVs, you can freely mix both media viewing and computer applications on the same display. Remember to use a screen saver (most media extenders and DVD players feature them) because plasma and LCD TVs are subject to "burn in" if you keep the same image on the screen for long periods of time.

Listening to Music with TVs

A TV can also be a good device for listening to music. Because TVs have their own speakers, it might be good enough for music, but chances are it’s not.

If you are using a TV connected to a media extender, you might want to consider connecting the audio-out connectors on the media extender to a set of powered speakers (or a home stereo if you prefer). Connect the video-out connector to the TV. This setup provides you with a perfect combination of picture and sound.

Some TVs have audio-out connections of their own, which allow you to connect the TV’s audio directly to a set of powered speakers or a home stereo. If this is the case, you can use those connectors. Connect the audio-out from the media extender to the audio-in of the TV. Then, connect the audio-out connectors on the TV to the speakers or stereo.

In a home entertainment network configuration, you select music and control it using either a TV or computer monitor, so it’s good to begin thinking of music as something you control with a visual interface.

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