Although there have been some bumps in the road, the transition has been fairly smooth and in order to help out anyone making the same transition; whether it be to save money or to ‘think different’, I thought I would share some things you should know before going out and attempting to stream from a PC to an HDTV.
These tips are meant to give you an initial overview of what it takes to stream audio and video from your PC to your HDTV. Depending on your actual viewing habits and goals there may be one way that is better than another, so these tips are just general guidelines to turn your PC into a streaming machine!
1. All Content Is Not Created The Same
HD is a bit of a ‘catch-all’ term for ‘High Definition’. Unfortunately, there is no industry ‘HD’ standard. In fact, ‘HD’ is a term that has started appearing in a bunch of industries – from ‘HD’ Sunglasses to ‘HD’ radio.
When speaking in terms of television, HD is usually considered 720p, 1080i and 1080p. The 720 & 1080 refers to the lines of resolution included in the picture. P/I stands for Progressive & Interlaced. Progressive scans the line in order while Interlaced means the lines are scanned in every other row. 1080p is the ‘top dog’ of the HDTV world and most newer television sets do support it, while older ones may support only 1080i or 720p.
When a site says that it streams in ‘HD’, it may not be in one of these resolutions but may in fact be lower. Look for the 720p/1080i/1080p for ‘true’ HD – YouTube and Vimeo are two sites that do let you know their resolution and both are 720p. Offline media will be viewed at the resolution of the file – DVD resolution is 480p/i (depending on the player & source) and Blu-ray movies are usually 1080p, the ‘HD’ gold standard and the best you will get online or off, for now. The new AppleTV is a 720p device.
Many web streams are actually somewhere along a DVD or lower in regards to quality. Don’t expect everything to look sharp and crisp on your HDTV, especially if it is a stream from the web. Web streams are compressed much more when compared to their offline video rivals.
2. Almost Any PC Can Stream To An HDTV
Almost any PC can be used to stream content to an HDTV. You need to consider 2 things — what the PC or Mac can output and what signal format the TV can use as an input.
Most new HDTVs are HDMI and you may also see DVI inputs. PCs will have a DVI input usually and they are starting to come out with HDMI output as well. You may even see older TVs with VGA input, and in this case you use the same type of cable that you used on older monitors. Any of the connecting methods will work as long as you have the same connector on both sides. A ‘dirty secret’ with many new TVs is that they are basically a fancy, large monitor with a few more features added on. PCs hook right into them and they display images great – as good or nicer than a Cable Box or DVR.
The resolution should be auto-detected through EDID. EDID is the protocol monitors and computers use to talk to each other and let each other know what the maximum resolution and refresh rate that should be used. Some older televisions will only support 1024×768 (roughly 720p, with some stretching) but newer ones will go higher. The maximum resolution should be listed in the owner’s manual, check there to see the resolution that you should be outputted to the TV. Anything above 1080 in the 2nd number will be 1080p. Computers output Progressive only.
Speed is a concern when playing back content, specifically HD content. Look for at least a dual-core system and a decent graphics card. This can go anywhere from the Acer Revo desktop (which I use) to the latest Intel i7 8-core CPU monster. The CPU or GPU needs to handle the decompressing of the content and if you are planning on doing a lot of HD video you will need to make sure your CPU is up to the task. Lately the GPU is also handing a lot of this decompression, with standards such as Nvidia’s CUDA extensions helping to make it less CPU intensive.
Coming Soon: Part 2 – Software & More
Look for part 2 of this serious to learn more about software to make the most out of your HTPC and also some other things you should know about streaming video from your PC to your HDTV!
Image Credit : Sam Catchesides