It is actually pretty simple, and the steps below are definitely optional. You can use your normal PC desktop, mouse and keyboard while your PC is hooked up to your TV; but the 2 tips below will actually make the viewing pleasurable.
Software Makes the Experience
Sure you can hook up your plain desktop to your HDTV and have a huge monitor. But the UI is what really sets apart your PC from any regular hack and turns it into a true ‘HTPC’, or Home Theater PC.
A few software programs really dominate in this area, they are covered below.
Windows Media Center
I bet you already have this available if you have Windows 7 installed. Any version of Windows 7 above ‘Starter’ and ‘Home Basic’ has Windows Media Center installed by default. Launch it by going to Start -> All Programs -> Windows Media Center.
Windows Media Center, or WMC, has a beautiful 10-foot interface which is just another way of saying that it is readable 10 feet away from the screen. You can view movies stored on your computer, watch Netflix movies from it, and do .
Windows Media Center also supports TV Tuners and some other hardware applications.
Boxee is an free up and coming application that works as a platform for content publishers and app developers to extend. It includes a great 10-foot interface and a compelling array of television and movie shows. It can stream from dozens of sources online or play local media.
Some Boxee apps include Pandora radio, Netflix, MLB.TV and YouTube. And that is on top of the Movie, Music and TV library. We use it daily in our house and I would highly recommend it. Boxee is based on XBMC which is another piece of great software, if not as ready for prime time as Boxee.
These software packages are built to replace a DVR functionality. All three of them record video at set times, have guides built in, and offer different solutions for watching television on a PC.
MythTV is free and primarily Linux based but it is possible to compile it on Windows if you should be so inclined. It is also open source and although it has a lot more flexibility, it is less refined than some other choices.
SageTV and BeyondTV are both commercial software package that replace your DVR and work wonderfully. I have used BeyondTV personally since about 2004, however their last software update was June 2009 and I think they are focusing more on commercial applications. SageTV is a worthy replacement, and I have heard good things about it. If compiling your own binaries are not your cup of tea, then SageTV is worth a look.
Don’t Forget the Remote
The final piece to the puzzle is how you will remotely control your PC. There are a few options in this regard. I personally use the Snapstream Firefly remote which is an X10-based piece of equipment and uses RF which does not require line of sight. Some PCs come with a remote, you can use them as well.
Logitech Harmony remotes are also a great option for your PC. They are expensive, but control not only your PC but also other components and are a good ‘all in one’ remote.
A great free option if you have an iPhone is the Logitech Touch Mouse. You install a server on your computer, and then use your phone to connect to the computer and remotely control the mouse and keyboard. It has worked great for me and I would highly recommend it for anyone with an HTPC and an iPhone/Touch.
The Ultimate PC Streaming Setup
Using your PC to stream video or audio to your HDTV is really pretty simple to do with a little configuration. The media experience you get from an HTPC is much more fulfilling than watching normal television programming, which is mostly a one-way affair. Much content is available online either free or from legal sources such as iTunes or Amazon Video On Demand, and you will find it much cheaper than a cable subscription.
Share your HTPC setups with us, and let us know any hints or tricks you have for setting one up!