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Move Media to the Big Screen: Via Laptop

It Doesn’t Take Much, Just Use What You’ve Got

By now, many of us have at least one notebook. But while the luckier (or wealthier) among us have sweet widescreen units with subwoofers and cutting-edge graphics, even a four-year-old clunker can provide a decent media experience in your living room. Need proof? We’ll show you how it is done.

Check out our FIC MB02, a nearly five-year-old Centrino unit with only the most basic audio and video capabilities, a single-core Pentium M processor, and a 60 GB hard drive. With five years of data, applications, and plenty of media piled in, 60 GB gets to feel pretty small, which is why we brought in a 320 GB USB-based external hard drive stocked with lots of extra photos, video, and audio.

Every PC-to-TV solution has its pros and cons. The good news with a notebook is that you probably own the product already, which makes it cheaper than any other solution. Moreover, PC software gives you more flexibility than any other option. No matter how you want to play your media, you probably already have a few applications you’ve grown to love.

On the downside, notebooks are not necessarily the best way to shuttle music and pictures to your big screen if you want the process to be seamless and attractive. You’ll likely be plugging and unplugging it regularly for use elsewhere, leaving a big gap in your home theater shelves. However, a docking station can help. You may even want to invest in dedicated furniture for your home-theater laptop, which can add cost to this scenario.

Notebook placement in your home theater can be awkward and unsightly without just the right furniture and cable lengths may need to be much longer than usual. Not least of all there is the question of whether you’re going to want a wireless keyboard and mouse so that you can control the laptop from across the room…and where to put those peripherals when you’re done.

For the task of moving media to your TV, a laptop is unnecessarily complex–honestly, it’s overkill from a hardware standpoint –but it gives you many more options when it comes to managing your media collections and how you want to experience them.


  • frozenlead
    First, I don't expect DisplayPort to become commonplace, seeing that as it's only on Apple notebooks, and because generally only Apple displays carry them. HDMI is a much better option at the time being, and I think DisplayPort will be ousted by it.

    On another note, I don't recommend anyone tying a cable around another cable. That's an excellent way to get the connector to break or the leads inside of it to stop functioning due to a cable "memory". (you've all been victim of it at some point...for example, your headphones don't output the left/right side anymore, but if you jiggle the wire near the connector they work)
  • photoguru
    Your signal loss numbers are way too conservative because I constantly run longer lengths without any real loss. Unless your entertainment room is over 50 ft (which would mean you're lame for not spending as much on your equipment as you did on the room) you're fine with most cables.

    The same people who say a VGA cable can't be 100 ft also say that a $120 3' HDMI Monster cable will make a noticeable difference over a $10 one. It's almost all marketing... surprise... your 24k gold plated connectors are seated in the same steel ports that almost every component you own uses. I just want to kick people in the nuts when they go off about gold connectors.
  • Say you are running a laptop with a pentium 4m processor and a vid card not capable of running 720p or 1080p content. Is there an easy solution to this? Is there a hardware accelerator for mpeg4 content that can be added to a laptop via usb or pcmcia? Thanks

  • stingraysteve
    Have tried like heck to get the audio out of my laptop to talk to my reciever using the shared headphone-SP/DIF port of my Toshiba M305D-S4830 (mono 1/8) in to Dgital coax (RCA) of my Sony STR-G500. Thought doing it that way would keep the signal digital all the way to he reciever. Really frustrating as I have gone into "Sound and enabled and unenabled devices. No Go. I can't really get much info on the whole SP/DIF thing anywhere.
  • royw2
    For media center software, check out While originally developed for the xbox, it now supports windows, linux, mac, and atv. Also there is a live CD version if you just want to check it out without installing.

    One of the real nice advantages of xbmc is it's support for getting your media from where ever it resides (NAS, CIFS, uPNP,...).
  • zodiacfml
    i might try that xbmc, my old xbox is just gathering dust.
  • Dan Dar3
    xbmc works great on old Xbox, but you'll need a moded one, check the faq.

    As royw2 said, try the XBMC on Windows, it's a great media center application, add a remote control and you'll never leave your couch :-)
  • ogmosic
    Are there any suggestions on Living Room Remotes for the laptop? I recently purchured a Zapstream remote but have been having tons of problems. i even tried to use it with XBMC. only works halp the time. my modded XBOX still works the best.