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Set up the ultimate home theater PCFrom configuring your PC to choosing the right accessories, Sharon Vaknin shows you what you need to turn your PC into the ultimate TV companion.
If your ideal setup box could play things like Netflix and YouTube, stream music from the web, and even let you access your own media files, you already own it. Today, I'll show you how to turn your PC into the hub of your media center experience. From my couch, I can play YouTube videos, stream Pandora and hear it throughout my home theater system, or access music and movies I already have on my drive. There are lots of ways to rig a PC-to-TV setup but here's what we want. We need it to be wireless. We don't want any wires between the couch and the TV. It needs to be easy to navigate from a distance, and you need to be able to easily access all the videos and music you want. First things first, let's hook this up to the TV. Pick a spot where the USB ports are visible and there's easy access to the CD drive if you plan on using it. Depending on your PC's output, you might need a Mini DisplayPort to HDMI cable which also caries audio, or you might go with DVI to HDMI. Take a look at your computer's video out port to find out which cable you need. If your computer doesn't have HDMI or Mini DisplayPort out which both carry audio, you'll need this audio cable connecting your PC to your TV. So, that's working, but before I can head to the couch, there are a couple more things I need to tweak on my PC. First, I'll set it so that my PC doesn't go to sleep when I close the lid. I'll also make sure my display settings are set to duplicate the display, and I'll play around with the resolution settings until I find the one that best displays my desktop on the TV. Finally, I've got Ethernet right here, so I'll set up a direct connection between my network and laptop. You'll be doing a lot of video streaming so having this direct hook up will make that playback really smooth. This looks pretty good, but my laptop's over there, my couch is over here and I need a way to control the setup from a distance wirelessly. This full-size Logitech keyboard is one option. It's got a keyboard on one side and a touchpad on the other. Good if you think you'll be doing a lot of typing or just want the real estate of this touch pad. The thing is once you're done with this, you don't want a huge keyboard crowding the coffee table, but the best and the cutest option is this handheld Qwerty keyboard with a built-in touchpad. If you've ever had one of those slide out smartphones like the Sidekick, you'll like this design. There are a few versions of the Favi SmartStick Keyboard starting at about 25 bucks. This one is great because it's got backlit keys and they can also be used to control game consoles. To set it up with your computer, plug the wireless receiver into a USB port and you're set. With the hardware set up, the last thing I need to do is to make the computer easier to navigate from a distance. Right now, all I see is a bunch of tiny text and a pointer that I've already lost track of, that's where a program called Plex comes in. The free Plex media center is a TV friendly interface that lets you cue things up like Netflix, YouTube videos, or even media on your PC. It's a full screen program, designed to be controlled from a distance with a remote control, or a keyboard. I've already set it up to access music and movies I have on my computer's hard drive. I've also added a bunch of channels like YouTube, Vimeo and even CNet TV. Since I have my handy keyboard, it's super easy to find something to watch, like on Vimeo. So like, the video quality-- HD please-- and sit back, relax, and enjoy. Obviously, there are a lot of ways to set this up. If you wanna know more about the accessories I used, some of your other options or how to set up Plex, see my full written guide on howto.cnet.com. And don't be shy about hitting me up on twitter with any of your questions along the way. For CNet.com, I'm Sharon Bachmann.
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