Some consumers consider a 21” LCD TV to be the perfect size: for TV viewing and for use as a computer monitor. Some take it one step further: they integrate their 21” LCD TV with a home theater PC. It’s easier than you think, and a home theater PC setup lets you access any media files like digital image files, audio files, and videos. You can also watch your favorite television shows or DVDs, and you can even use the 21” LCD TV as a computer monitor. It’s no surprise, then, that some consumers feel a 21” LCD TV is one of the most versatile screen sizes available.
If you watch digital TV on your 21” LCD TV, you could be already taking advantage of the possibilities of Digital Video Recorders (DVR) or TiVo. You can go one step farther; integrating your 21” LCD TV with a home theater PC setup is the ultimate in versatility. And it’s not that hard – here are a few ways available to you.
1. Buy a PC with the Media Center version of Windows XP and make sure it has a TV tuner card capable of capturing digital signals from your cable or satellite box. Once it’s installed, it works just like a DVR. You won’t need to buy a high-end PC to integrate with your 21” LCD TV if you just want to record and play shows and movies – if you also want to play graphics-intensive video games, you may need a more expensive PC with greater graphics capability. Just make sure you get plenty of memory.
2. Upgrade your PC. You can buy a copy of Microsoft’s operating system with Media Center. Frequently it comes bundled with a TV tuner card you’ll also need. If you have decent computer skills you can handle the installation fairly easily and your 21” LCD TV home theater PC setup will be running in no time.
3. If you don’t want to upgrade to a new operating system, a number of software companies produce applications that perform the same chores as Media Center does. A few are available as freeware, but the features they offer tend to be limited. You’ll still need to factor in the cost of a TV tuner card – a TV tuner card won’t be included with the freeware.
Once you’ve decided how to set up your computer, you can integrate it into your home theater system so your 21” LCD TV can handle the video feed you send to it. A 21” unit is ideal for this purpose; sets that are larger sometimes deliver reduced image quality when the TV signal is sent through the computer.
How you send the signal to your TV is the main hurdle to overcome. There are many different audio and video options for joining the two; the method you choose will obviously depend on the inputs and outputs available on both your PC and your TV. Older, standard-definition LCD TVs will have, at a minimum, a composite-video connection (a yellow video connection that's usually accompanied by red and white stereo audio jacks). Hopefully, it will also provide an S-Video port. Newer 21” LCD TVs should provide component inputs, and more advanced 21” LCD TVs that are HDTV capable will supply DVI or HDMI inputs. If you haven’t purchased a 21” LCD TV yet, try to find a model with DVI or HDMI inputs.
Once your computer is connected to your 21” TV you can use Media Center to keep track of your media files and handle your DVR recording needs. If you want to record TV without using Media Center, similar products on the market can do the job. For example, SnapStream's Beyond TV comes bundled with many TV tuner cards, so if you're building a home theater or upgrading a machine you already own, you might end up with a copy by default. And you can take a further step and add the Beyond Media program for organizing photo, music, and other media files, and it does pretty much everything Media Center does. Beyond TV doesn't support every TV tuner card on the market, so check the hardware specs for your 21” LCD TV before you install it.
Even if you have no interest in recording TV programs, you can still use programs like Windows Media Player, iTunes, and PowerDVD to manage your preexisting media library using software you already have.
Whichever option you choose, make sure you have plenty of hard disk space; once you start recording television programs or watching your home videos on your 21” LCD TV, you'll find you need all the space you can get. And due to its increased versatility, you’ll find your 21” LCD TV is an even bigger part of your home entertainment system.