Turning your old computer into a media center for your TV
There are a whole lot of things you do on your computer. You listen to music, watch videos and watch endless amounts of videos on YouTube. You already have your video and music library downloaded on to your computer; you already have a myriad of pictures on your hard-drive.
But wouldn’t it be nicer if there was a way to easily corral all of your contents into one easy way to interface on the big screen of your TV? Enjoy your media library from the comforts of your couch?
There are devices that can help you configure your TV into a media center like the Apple TV. But if you don’t want to spend too much money on an overpriced device, we have a way for you to set up your own media center.
The things you will require for setting up a good working media center would be an LCD TV that has an HDMI port or an analog composite port. An HDMI port looks like a flatter USB port whereas composite ports are three circular ports, one yellow, one red and one white. You’ll require an old laptop or desktop with an HDMI port and an active Wi-Fi connection for Internet streaming. You’ll also need an Android Phone to act as a remote for your media center. You can build one without an internet connection as well, but you will need a Wi-Fi router to help your phone and laptop communicate with each other. And finally, to connect your computer with your TV, you shall require an HDMI to HDMI cable if your TV is HDMI compatible. If not, you can look for an HDMI to Component cable. These cables aren’t very expensive and can be found at electronics stores in New Road or Bishal Bazaar (I got my HDMI to HDMI cable for about Rs.500 at Bishal Bazar).
After you’ve collected all the hardware required for your media center, you’ll need a media center application on your computer to give you that TV-friendly interface with big fonts and pictures to help viewing from your couch easier. If you’re running Windows 7 Home Premium or above, then you already have a media center to work with. If not, there are plenty of free alternatives on the Internet, like Plex Media Center or XBMC. If you’re running Windows 7 Home Premium, then Microsoft has already bundled your system with the Windows Media Center to work with.
After you have your hardware and software ready, we can begin the building process. Start by connecting your computer to your TV with the cable you brought. Your TV should recognize your computer automatically. If it doesn’t, try the HDMI or Video option on your TV and reconnect your cable. Once the two devices synchronize, you should see your desktop on your TV screen. Now open your Media Center and set it up by following the on screen wizard, point it to all your videos and music and wait until it scans. After the scanning is done, your media center is ready for use.
Now that your media center is set up, you need a remote to control it with from the comforts of your couch. To set up a remote, you need an Android Phone and install it with a free application called, myRemote by Viclabs. This remote control software is designed to work flawlessly with Windows Media Center and even has a very appealing interface. If you aren’t using Windows Media Center, you may want to try out Gmote 2.0 as an alternative. But this application may work or may not work with different media centers. You may have to do a little bit of digging around on Google for media centers other than Windows Media Center.
To set up myRemote, you need to first install its desktop version on your desktop computer and install it. Once installed, the myRemote icon should appear on your system tray along with your battery and Wi-Fi status, and right-clicking the icon will provide you with an IP address. Now install the Android version of myRemote on your cellphone and input the IP address that the desktop version of myRemote provided onto your phone. This will sync your computer and phone. But keep in mind that both of these devices, your phone and your computer need to be connected to the same Wi-Fi router to work. Once done, your cellphone remote is ready.
After about five minutes of work, sit back and enjoy your multimedia library on your big-screen TV. You can break out from the media center prison and use your own TV as a big monitor as well, to design or just browse the internet.