At some point, you've probably considered hooking your computer up to your TV. Maybe you even purchased a video cable, only to realize that being hunched over your computer and tethered to the TV is far from the awesome setup you had in mind.
Hooking up your computer to your TV can be as simple or as complex as you want. A basic setup lets you stream the occasional Web video, while a more advanced rig lets you access movie and music files from computers across your home network.
But the most brag-worthy home theater PCs (HTPCs) include all the right elements: carefully chosen hardware, proper display settings, ergonomic accessories, and software that turns your PC into a set-top box.
Choosing a PC
It all starts with the PC. An out-of-use laptop or desktop is the ideal candidate for your HTPC, since it can be stationed in your media center along with the rest of your home theater equipment. Alternatively, you can use a roving laptop that gets put into HTPC mode when you plunk down onto the couch after work.
In the end, what really matters are the guts of your computer. An old PC is fine, but one that's too elderly will leave you with a laggy interface and inconsistent video streaming.
When you choose (or build) your HTPC, aim for these minimum system configurations:
A Windows XP SP3 PC with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor 2.4GHz or better
At least 2GB RAM
HDMI- or Mini DisplayPort-out
A Windows XP SP3 PC with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor 1.6GHz or better
At least 512MB RAM
A Macintosh computer with an Intel Core Duo processor 1.6GHz or better
At least 1GB of RAM
Mac OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.3 or newer
Next: Find out which cables are best for hooking your PC up to your TV.