The most basic way to integrate your PC with your home theater is by simply finding a way to connect your PC or Laptop to your home theater system. To do this, check to see if your HDTV has a VGA (PC monitor) input connection, if not you also have an option to purchase a device, such as a USB-to-HMDI or VGA-to-HDMI converter that can also a PC to be connected to an HDTV. In addition, to connect the audio from your PC to your home theater system, check to see if your PC has an audio output connection that can be connected to your TV or to your home theater receiver. This may require an adapter plug as well.
If you are able to connect both video and audio of your PC to your TV and home theater system in this fashion, you can then use your PC's internet access to capability to watch internet or store images and video on your TV and listen to the audio through either your TV speakers or home theater speakers.
If you also have either Dolby Digital or DTS bitstream or decoding capabilities on your PC, you may be able access the full surround sound capabilities when playing DVDs on your PC two possible ways:
1. If your PC has multi-channel outputs for a powered PC surround sound speaker system you can enjoy a basic home theater sound experience.
2. If your PC also has an optical digital audio output, you can connect it to a digital optical input on an AV receiver and enjoy a fuller home theater experience available in your PC via a standard home theater system.
The downside to this setup is that you need to have the PC, TV, and home theater system all in the same room, in close proximity. You also are depending on the capabilities of your PC's video card to send good-quality images to your HDTV, which does not always deliver the best result, especially on a large screen.
Media Center PCs
If your PC is one of the new units that run on Microsoft's XP Media Center Edition operating system, you may have everything you need to make your PC a centerpiece of your home theater system, including an onboard TV tuner with provisions for connecting your cable or antenna, an onboard Digital video recorder for recording TV programs and other video sources to your hard drive for viewing or copying to DVD or CD later, and even S-video and composite video inputs for importing video from your VCR or analog camcorder.
Digital Entertainment Centers
If don't like the idea of a PC desktop tower taking up residence in the same room with your TV and audio system, you might consider the new Digital Entertainment Center concept being advanced by HP and some other PC makers. The units are still fully-functional PCs where the innards of the traditional PC are combined with the Media Center Hardware (TV tuner, CD/DVD reader/writer, digital and analog video/audio inputs/outputs), as well as needed software components, and placed in a cabinet that looks somewhat like a standard home theater receiver, making the PC design more pleasing in a home theater setup. However, in most cases you will need to add a surround sound amplifier (or a combination of amplifiers) to complete the home theater audio setup.
So - Now you can bring that PC out of the shadows of your computer room and exploit all of its potential as part of your home theater system.
For additional information on this, check out additional articles, including a look at the Windows XP Media Center XP Operating System, from Sal Prince, About Guide for Digital Video Recording: Media Center PCs and Home Theater PC suggestions compiled by Mark Kyrnin, About.com Guide for PC Hardware.
Also, if you are interested in building a dedicated Home Theater PC from the ground-up, check out Mark Kyrnin's Do-it-Yourself Guide.
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