Two weeks ago, I pulled together a Media PC.
This has been a long-term ambition. I’ve always wanted to have a PC as the centre of all my media. To use it as a radio, TV, stereo system, CD player, DVD player, etc.
I finally did it, for just under 1000 pounds.
At the centre of the setup is my 42″ Plasma TV (LG 42PC1D). I was debating between a plasma and LCD TV. The differences, as I understand them, are:
- Plasma TVs have a higher contrast ratio. My LG 42PC1D has a 10000:1 contrast ratio. An LG 42LC2D has a 1100:1 contrast ratio. The Plasma TV is also brighter (1500cd/m2) than the LCD TV (500cd/m2).
- Plasma TVs are cheaper for a given size. A 42″ LCD TV costs about 5-20% more.
- LCD TVs are lighter. The only reason this matters for me is if I carry the TV back home to India. But the shipping costs are exhorbitant anyway. So I’d be better off leaving the TV behind. And the weight becomes irrelevant.
- LCD TVs consume less power. And my power bill is quite high. But I replaced most of the bulbs in our house with energy-efficient ones. Hopefully it will balance out.
- LCD TVs work better with computers. If you leave an image on a plasma TV for a long time, it burns on the screen. Screensavers become a must.
I finally picked the Plasma TV, but it was a borderline decision.
The TV is hooked to a Cyberhome DVD player with DivX and a Freeview receiver. The DVD player lets me watch DivX movies I download as torrents. The Freeview player gives me over 40 free channels for casual viewing. (I don’t watch enough TV to need Sky TV.)
I bought an Intel Pentium III Tower that I bought on eBay. This is my “media PC”. I hooked this up to my TV (which has a PC input), a pair of Bose Mediamate speakers (a gift from my brother-in-law) with excellent sound response, and a Labtec webcam.
Two other components I bought were wireless: a Microsoft wireless keyboard and mouse to control the system from my sofa, and a Linksys cordless Skype phone (with a speakerphone), so that I could hold videoconferences on Skype while on the sofa.
Having set this up, I’m truly beginning to appreciate the convenience of wireless appliances. Right now, I can do any of the above things without gettin up from my sofa. My laptop, phone and wireless keyboard are always just a hand’s reach away! Here are some of the things I’ve been doing (wirelessly):
- Videoconferencing. I leave the computer on permanently. My parents or in-laws call me on Skype. The cordless phone rings. I can answer Skype calls directly from the phone. When I pick up the call, the webcam turns on automatically. We can sit on the sofa and speak, while they see us. I can turn on the TV and see them through their webcam. It’s a full-fledged wireless video-conference setup.
- Listening to radio. I use my laptop to connect wirelessly to my media PC using Remote Desktop, start up WinAmp, and pick a Shoutcast channel (which has a decent tamil channel list). The sound comes through the Bose speakers connected to the media PC, and I can control the volume from any room, using my laptop.
- Listening to MP3s. Ditto, except I turn on a playlist on WinAmp.
- Watching online videos. I turn on the TV, use my wireless keyboard, and connect to Google Video. Most of the time, I watch recent tamil movies or Google Techtalks.
- Watching TV. (Live from BD and ShareVDO being some choices.)
- Watching movies. I actually use “low tech” to do this. I record DivX files I download on to a DVD, and play them through my DVD player (which recognises DivX). On those occasions that I download WMV files, I play them through the computer.
With this setup, it’s easy to do more cool things, like a Truman-show like broadcast (which Justin.TV already does).