February 5, 2010

Connect a Computer to Your TV

I have an older computer in my living room hooked up to our big screen TV.   The computer is hooked to the TV via an HDMI connector and its got a wireless internet connection.   I can stream TV via Hulu.com and watch videos via Netflix online.    I can surf the web, play video games and look at digital photos.  I've got a wireless keyboard with a built in mouse pointer so that I can control the computer from the comfort of the couch.   Since I already had the computer it didn't cost me anything to buy the system and I paid under $100 for the parts to hook it up.  If you have an older computer that you aren't using then setting it up in your living room to connect it to your TV can be a fairly inexpensive way to get internet video in your living room.

Note: Connecting your computer to your TV will require some basic computer know how.   This article isn't meant to be a complete guide but more of a basic idea.  

Hooking the computer to the TV takes a few connections. You need video, audio, internet plus a way to control the computer.

Video connection
If your computer and TV both have HDMI connectors then you've got it easy. You can just get an HDMI cable and plug it right into your HDTV.   Some computers like mine have what is called a DVI connector.  For those you can get a HDMI to DVI connector. Your TV might have a VGA connector and if it does then that also makes it easy as that is the standard video output from computers so you can just get a longish VGA-VGA cable.   If you don't have any connections on the computer that match your TV then you could get a new video card.  Cards nowadays seem to come with HDMI pretty standard and you can get a new card with HDMI for as little as $30.    The tricky part for me was getting the video resolution set at the right dimensions so it would display property on my TV. 

Audio connection
Generally HDMI can carry audio but the output from your computer likely doesn't carry the audio on the HDMI.    So you'll have to connect the audio separately.  If you have any other connector like DVI or VGA then you'll need to connect the audio too.   You can do that with a cable adapter that splits a 1/8" jack output on your computer to a red & black RCA connector pair.   I have the audio connected to my stereo system.   You may be able to route the audio straight to the TV.   This isn't the best quality audio in the world  but it works.   Newer computers than mine may have better audio connections built in.  Or if you really value higher quality audio signal you can spend a few bucks and get a sound card with an digital output port like an optical port.  Such cards are on Newegg for as little as $10.

Wireless internet
It is probably easiest to setup wireless internet.   A USB wireless network adapter plugs straight into a USB port on your computer and lets you get wireless network access.   The adapters can be bought for $20 or less nowadays.   If you don't have wireless internet or prefer to save some money you could also use a long ethernet cable.   A 50' cable is as little as $7 on Newegg.   However the wired cable may be a hassle depending on where your network hub is versus your TV setup.  I had a wired network connection for a while but I had to snake the cable across a couple rooms and kept tripping over it.

Keyboard & mouse

If you hook up a computer to your TV you could just use a standard old keyboard & mouse connected directly to your computer.  But you'll have to be able to put the keyboard and mouse on a surface that you can use them on.  In my front room theres no good spot for a computer setup with keyboard and mouse.   I prefer a wireless RF keyboard with built in mouse.   This lets me use the computer from the comfort of my couch.   I bought a wireless keyboard with built in joystick style mouse for around $40.  It connects via a USB and sues RF wireless.

Total cost to hook up a computer to TV to act as an entertainment server :  less than $75 or as little as $10.

To take my old computer and turn it into a media center to hook up to my big screen TV today I'd need just four items.   My shopping list on Newegg would be:
Wireless USB network adapter = $17
Wireless RF keyboard = $33
6' HDMI to DVI cable = $6
6' audio adapter cable = $4
With shipping & handling to my home the total cost comes out to $72 and change.

You could do without the wireless keyboard and wireless internet and get it set up with ethernet cable and standard keyboard & mouse plugged into the computer.   That would make your minimum costs at around $10-$15 for the audio & video cables.

Build a DVR

With the addition of a TV tuner for your computer you can also use your computer as a DVR.   A decent TV tuner like the Hauppage WinTV HVR-1250 can be bought for under $50.  (Note this particular card is PCI-Express and may not be compatible with older computers.)   With this kind of card you can watch and record live TV on your computer.   A computer TV tuner will handle over the air broadcasts or plain cable signals pretty handily, but it might be capable to decode new digital cable or satellite TV signals.

Other ways to get computer or internet feeds on your TV.

Maybe you don't have an old computer or maybe you just don't want a big old computer sitting in your living room.

Network media server

You can also serve video and audio from your computer via a accessory devices like the Hauppage mediaMVP.    The device connects to your network and then hooks to your TV.  Using it you can watch video and listen to music on your TV.   Cost is about $130.   I haven't used this device or anything like it myself  and this is just an example of such devices out there.  

Game consoles.    Xbox and PS3 let you stream Netflix to your TV.   This is an easy way to watch Netflix.     You can also get things like Youtube on Wii or PS3 consoles.

Mac Mini.   If you're going to buy a full fledged computer with the intention of hooking it to your TV then the Mac Mini may be a good choice.   You can get a mini for $600.   Here is a guide for connecting a mini to your TV.

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