Your Home Theatre… But Wireless

Not all of us can afford a Home Theatre PC so if you’ve wanted to link your computer and your big screen & sound, here’s how.

Recently, I wrote about Home Theatre PCs and the basic principles of how you design one. In case you weren’t able to sit through the 10 page read that it was, I’ll just fill you in now (for all of you whom did, please ignore the following paragraph).

A Home Theatre PC – or HTPC – is a computer designed to blend into your home theatre environment, that allows you to watch and capture TV, enjoy DVDs and other optical mediums (like Blu-ray), play video games, surf the web, and do everything you otherwise would enjoy on your computer but from your sofa or living room just like you would with any other home theatre appliance.

One of the problems associated with an HTPC though is that of cost. Ask yourself the following:

How much are you willing to spend?

Well, there is another solution in case you don’t want to spend all that time building a computer for your living room. You can use your existing computers and a network infrastructure to transmit music & videos without needing to lug your desktop or laptop into another room.

We’re going to look at a few products by Linksys to show just how you can accomplish this.

First up, do you have a laptop or a desktop: whatever you have, make sure it’s running Windows Vista. While I won’t get into the loaded opinion piece of whether I think Windows Vista is any good, it is good for media centers and you’ll need it if you want to transmit video from your computer to your TV several rooms apart. You will for this setup, anyway.

If you’ve got a laptop from the past few years, it’s likely that it’s loaded with a version of 802.11’s wireless networking. Whether you’re running versions a, b, or g, you’ll at least have some form of wireless connectivity. What you might not have, however, is a network to link it to.

That can be solved with the Linksys WRT160N Wireless N Broadband Router, a network appliance that’ll let you connect your wired home network – if you have one – and branch out using the draft N protocol, giving you speeds of up to 300Mbps, a third of what Gigabit Ethernet does. As it happens, I know that a lot of businesses still use 10/100 connections and this is effectively up to 3 times as fast as that, a speed never before thought about in home wireless connectivity until now.

It helps that the router is slick and easy to set up, but you’ll also need something to plug it into, say that of a laptop or a desktop. Now we’ve already said that if you’ve got a laptop, you’ll probably have WiFi built in, but not draft N standard. You’ll be able to connect in just fine with the other standards, but if you want to actually use those third-of-a-Gigabit speeds, you’re going to need a way to connect. Linksys make both types of laptop expansion cards to link you to the router so there’s no excuse there. Both the WEC600N Express Card solution and WPC300N will be able to connect you to it. And yes, before you ask, there are many other products from other companies that will let you link yourself up to a wireless network, I’m just working with what’s in front of me at the moment.

Likewise, if you have a desktop, it’s just a matter of either upgrading your computer with a PCI draft N card like the WMP300N or using a USB WiFi N connector and away you go.

Connecting is easy and once you’ve got a bit of a wireless network structure working around your house, we can move onto the fun stuff: the entertainment.

Let’s say that you want to watch some of those home movies you just edited on your computer but you’re not sure how you get them across. Well, plug in a Media Centre Extender.

What’s what? You don’t know what a Media Center Extender is?

Well, it’s actually very simple. A Media Center Extender is exactly what it sounds like it might be: a device that lets you extend your Media Center over distances without needing to worry about anything. Devices like the DMA2200 include built-in software that will let your Windows Vista Media Center connect to it directly so you can control what you watch on your computer while you’re sitting in the other room holding the remote.

Also included in the Linksys Media Center Extender is an upscaling DVD player, an addition which is now making its way into pretty much every DVD player sold and will make your DVD collection look just that much better on newer high definition TVs.

The back is loaded with connectivity – whether you’re planning to use HDMI, component, or RCA – and allows you to use either your old fashioned wired network that you might have had until you read this article or one of those new fandangled “draft N wireless networks” I mentioned not so many paragraphs ago. The DMA2200 has three antennas sticking out the back so it can receive all of your music and video on the fly making it one of the easiest ways to link your home computer with your TV.

There is but one small catch.
Ah, “the catch”. You knew there would be one. It could never be THAT easy.

Well, it’s actually still fairly easy as the catch depends entirely on the version of Windows Vista you’re running. If you happen to be working with Windows Vista Home Premium or Windows Vista Ultimate, you’re in luck as your computer is already set up with Windows Media Center. But if you have Windows Vista Home or Business, you’ll need to move to one of the aforementioned versions running Media Center to get this setup to work.

Running with a Media Center Extender can often make your home theatre complete. While building an HTPC is very rewarding, it can also be a thorn in people’s backside.

Which would you prefer?