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You finally got an HDTV almost a decade after they first appeared on store shelves, but are you really going to keep your DVD VCR combo player? It’s time to move into the new generation. Your neighbor wont stop bragging about his $400 Blu-ray and how the quality cannot be matched and how it has Netflix built in. Here’s an alternative with unlimited possibilities.
When I purchased my 42″ LCD 1080p HDTV I didn’t feel like purchasing a bunch of equipment to go along with it. Being somewhat greedy I did want to unlock all the capabilities of this awesome living room appliance. Friends of mine were connecting their laptops through the HDMI cable to watch a movie here and there and then disconnecting it when they were done. I wanted something more permanent. While their setup was something new and amazing to me, I did not like the cable dragged across the room and then waiting for them to get it hooked up.
I got on craigslist and started looking at used computers for sale in attempt to save a few dollars after making a large purchase. I found a laptop with a dual core processor, 4GB of DDR2 RAM, and a 320GB hard drive. The person selling it was only asking for $50. Why so cheap? The screen was broken off of it. PERFECT. To my surprise there were many functional laptops with cosmetic issues or broken screens being sold for very cheap. Most laptops with broken screens will still work perfectly, all you have to do is connect it to an external monitor, which is exactly what I set out to do.
Make sure you know what connections your TV accepts and what connection outputs the computer or laptop has available before purchasing (VGA, HDMI, DVI.) The best is HDMI, which handles the audio and video in one cable. HDMI cables can be expensive, take a look on eBay or big box stores like Fry’s Electronics for the best deals. Don’t let a sales associate trick you into thinking the $100 Monster Cable is light years better than the generic $20 cable. Monster Cables are better, but they are not five times better, which is what the price difference would indicate.
I purchased the $50 laptop that had the specs of a $700 laptop. One of the best deals I’ve ever found, and there are many equivalent deals out there as most people are scared to buy a ‘broken’ product. Do a little research and know what you are getting and you’ll most likely be fine. I already had some great M-Audio studio speakers, I connected these to the laptop through a USB audio interface, which acts just like an audio receiver. The audio interface will do audio in/out, it’s powered through the USB cable to the laptop, there are many options for these online or even at Guitar Center. Many can be purchased for under $100.
The home theater PC is almost complete. We have the laptop connected to the TV via HDMI, we have the USB audio interface connected to the laptop, and speakers connected to the interface. But what about a remote? There’s a couple of options here. You can buy wireless keyboard/mouse combos, blue tooth keyboards with a mouse touch pad, or even wireless remotes that are specifically made for controlling a PC/laptop. I went the free route; my iPhone! Most smart phones have a selection of apps that can act as a remote to your computer over a shared WIFI signal. I got the app on my phone then downloaded the corresponding software to the laptop so they could connect with little set up. My remote app has a keyboard, a mouse pad, volume control, play, pause, stop, etc. It is awesome.
There it is folks, a fully functional, permanent setup, that looks sleek and works great in my living room. I have Hulu, Netflix, Pandora, YouTube, etc all on the big screen. With a broadband connection these will all stream in high def. Anything else that comes out in upcoming months I’ll have access to as well. When your neighbor brags about Netflix on his Blu-ray player just nod and say ‘I have everything.