Building Your Home Theater Around the PC


All you need to do is add a set of quality amplified computer speakers to your small form factor PC. The sound cards in available small form factor PCs can accommodate Dolby decoding for movies, and surround-sound outputs are also available. If you're more demanding, you can always add a Creative Audigy 2 ZS sound card. Then, the only limits will be the possibilities of your screening room and your desires. If you can't install rear speakers, a 2.1 system will do. But obviously it's better to go with surround sound. We recommend, for example, the Logitech Z-5300, which will fill a fair-sized living room with sound. You'll be impressed by the quality of reproduction and the bass - both essential for a true film-viewing experience. To get similar quality with a dedicated sound system, you'd have to spend a lot more.


Your setup is now ready to use. The small form factor PC is connected to the speakers and to the video projector. A mouse and keyboard are connected, but you won't be using them. Once the small form factor PC is powered up and Media Center is loaded, the interface appears on the screen. The remote control lets you select channels, program recordings and play DVD movies or any of the digital content stored on the PC. This can be photos, MP3 music files or personal video. All you need to do is decide how to copy the content from your working PC. You can obviously burn it to CDs and DVDs and transfer it that way, but the most efficient way is to connect the small form factor PC via a network - preferably wirelessly with an 802.11 or Wi-Fi connection. To do that, all you need is to install a Wi-Fi module on both computers. Then, you can transfer your content just by dragging and dropping in Windows, or else leave it where it is and read it directly via the network. For photos, you can also use your digital camera's memory card if the small form factor PC has a card reader.

Shopping List

For those of you who don't want to build your own small form factor PC, here's a shopping list to give the shop that will be putting your computer together. We've chosen the components we feel are best suited, but the model and brands can vary depending on availability.

  • Intel Celeron 4 processor, 2.4 GHz, 533 MHz bus
  • 512 MB of PC 2700 or 3200 DDR memory
  • Brand-name DVD player
  • Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 120 GB hard disk
  • Entry-level graphics card, without fan, with DVI output, ATI or NVIDIA chipset
  • Pinnacle PCTV Media Center 100i