How to set up the ultimate home theater PC
Hooking things up
If your PC will be stationed in your media center, carefully consider its placement. Aside from fitting it alongside the other components in your cabinet, make sure there's...
- Plenty of "breathing room" -- there should be plenty of air circulation to allow the PC to stay cool
- Access to DVD drive (optional) -- if you'll be using your PC as a DVD player, make sure there's clearance for the disk tray
- Visibility of USB ports -- You should be able to see the USB ports from your couch
Many dream of a completely wireless setup where the TV mirrors the PC display wirelessly through some magical contraption. Unsurprisingly, a few companies have developed products that let you wirelessly mirror your PC, but they're hardly reliable. In fact, the only wireless -- albeit expensive -- solution is a Mac coupled with an Apple TV, mirroring via AirPlay.
For now, toss out the idea of a wireless video connection in favor of a very stable, high-quality hard-wired video and network connection. This section will help you decide which cables to choose, and the advantages of each connection.
This part is simple, and all depends on the type of video output your PC is equipped with. Find out more about your PC's video output, and which cable you'll need for your HDTV:
HDMI: Accepted as the standard for high-definition video, HDMI-out has trickled into many Windows PCs on the market, offering high-def video- and audio-out.
High-speed HDMI (note that this is different from a standard HDMI cable) can transmit 1080p, 4K, and "deep color" video. Even if you don't care for extras like deep color, high-speed HDMI cables are about the same price as standard, so grab one anyway. And, please, don't empty your wallet for a name-brand HDMI cable -- they're essentially all the same.
Mini DisplayPort (MDP): Though MDP was initially popularized by Apple, the open-source video format is slowly being adopted by other PC makers like Lenovo and Dell -- it's even integrated in Microsoft's Surface Pro. It offers HD video quality up to 2,560x1,600 pixels, and can carry audio. And like HDMI, it can also do 4K and deep color.
If your PC has a Mini DisplayPort, grab a Mini DisplayPort-to-HDMI cable, like this one from Monoprice.
DVI: A longtime PC video standard, your computer's DVI output paired with a dual-link DVI-to-HDMI cable will render crisp video on your TV. For the technical folks, dual-link DVI offers a maximum resolution of 2,560x1,600 pixels and can transfer data at up to 9.9Gbps. In layman's terms: you'll be able to transmit full HDMI with a DVI-to-HDMI cable.
Though its video quality easily matches MDP and HDMI, DVI does not carry audio. You'll need an additional audio cable (check out your options below).
Audio cables (maybe)
When working with a DVI or pre-2010 MacBoook MDP output, you'll need an audio-out cable to go along with it. You can transmit audio to your TV (or receiver) with one of three types of connections: a headphone jack (1/8-inch), coaxial, or optical.
The headphone jack is the standard across all PCs and transmits an analog signal, while coaxial and optical offer a digital connection. Audiophiles will certainly notice the difference between analog and digital, but the vast majority of people will be plenty happy with the 1/8-inch hookup.
To hook up your PC to your TV via the headphone jack, grab a mini-to-RCA cable in the length you need.
Because you'll probably be streaming a lot of high-def video, it's crucial that you set up a direct Ethernet line to your HTPC. Even if you don't plan on stationing it in your media center, have an Ethernet connection handy for your laptop.
If the router is farther away and that's just not possible, don't throw in the towel -- a solid Wi-Fi network and speedy Internet connection will do. You might experience some delayed buffering here and there, but it'll still do the job.
Next: Adjust your computer settings to mirror your desktop in HD.
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