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Tag Archives: media centre PC.

Controlling your media centre PC

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Controlling your computer from the couch is half the challenge when building a media centre PC.

Last month we looked at setting up a media centre PC, but there’s still work to be done. The key to a great media centre is the ability to control it from your couch as easily as you control your other home entertainment gear.

The first thing you’ll want to do is set your media centre to automatically log in to Windows when it boots up. You might also want to configure the media centre interface to launch automatically, so you’re ready to go.

As for controlling the computer from afar, there’s more than one way to skin this cat. The obvious solution is to opt for a wireless keyboard and mouse, but these can be rather cumbersome to use while reclining on the couch. A wireless trackball makes life slightly easier, but you might be better served by a lounge room-friendly keyboard with a built-in pointing device. There are a few to choose from, such as Logitech’s Wireless Touch Keyboard K400. You’ll find also smaller keyboards which fit in the palm of your hand, such as Logitech’s diNovo Mini and Kogan’s Android Wireless Keyboard and Trackpad. As an added bonus, these tiny keyboards work with both a PC and a PlayStation 3.

Once your media centre is up and running smoothly you shouldn’t need to rely on a keyboard and mouse very often (unless you’re watching online video in a browser). Rather than invest in a physical keyboard to keep in the lounge room, a better option might be to install a remote control app on a smartphone or tablet.

Take a look at Hipporemote for iOS or mkRemote for Android, two apps which let you use your touchscreen device as a keyboard and mouse for your computer. These apps are much faster and less cumbersome than full desktop sharing. For the times when you do need to see the desktop remotely, it might be easier to control your media centre from a notebook using a service such as Logmein. You’ll also find a Logmein Ignition app for Android and iOS, offering desktop sharing from handheld devices.

Like I said, once everything is running smoothly, you should be able to drive the Media Centre interface using a standard remote control rather than a keyboard and mouse. You’ll pick up an MCE remote kit for around $50. The remote control might be cheap and nasty, but don’t worry because we’re more interested in the USB RF receiver that comes with it.

Plug the RF receiver into your media centre and you can now drive the MCE interface with the supplied remote or a universal remote control. Look for a universal remote which lets you execute multiple commands with one button press. For example you might want to fire up the media centre, turn on the television, change the channel and power up your surround sound with a single button press.

Once you’ve abandoned the keyboard in favour of a universal remote, it’s much easier to sit back and enjoy the show.


Turn Your Computer Into The Ultimate Lounge Room Companion

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With a little effort you can turn a humble PC into the one entertainment box to rule them all.

Computers don’t have to be boring beige boxes which stay hidden away in the study. These days you’ll find a range of sleek home theatre PC cases, designed to look at home alongside your television and run whisper quiet.

If you’re not looking to build a new computer from scratch, you can give your existing PC a lounge room-friendly makeover. If your primary concern is noise, swap out noisy case fans for quiet alternatives from the likes of Antec, Zalman and Acousti.

Remember, fans are for cooling and heat is the mortal enemy of PC stability. Silent fans tend to be larger so they can spin slower but still move a large volume of air. Look for variable speed control and take extra care if you’re putting your computer inside an AV cabinet with limited airflow.

Silencing your computer and managing heat is a matter of trial and error, particularly if you’re using a cramped desktop case rather than a roomy tower case. With your case fans muted you might find that the fan on your CPU, power supply or graphics card is now the loudest component. Switching to a quiet or fanless heatsink for your CPU is the next most economical move, after which you might consider a silent power supply.

Keeping the heat down lets the remaining fans in your PC run slower and thus quieter. Tying down loose cables helps improve airflow, as does removing the covers over unused PCI slots. Vibration is another source of noise, so use rubber washers to install the fans, hard drive and optical drive.

Next consider how you’ll connect to your television. Many new processors feature an integrated graphics chip with built in MPEG2/4 hardware decoding, which is important for smooth playback. If you’re looking at Intel’s Sandy Bridge chips, opt for HD 3000 graphics (rather than HD 2000) and a motherboard with an HDMI output.

If you need to add a graphics card for the hardware decoding, AV outputs and extra grunt, you don’t need as much grunt as a high-end gaming machine. Opt for mid-range graphics card with a heat sink rather than a fan, but keep in mind the heat sink might cover the adjacent PCIe slot. Many graphics cards come with AV adaptors for connecting to component, composite and s-video inputs on your television.

If you want to watch and record free-to-air television you’ll need a digital TV tuner. Opt for dual high-def tuners so you can record two shows at once and watch all the new channels (you can downscale them to standard-def if you don’t own a high-def television). Assuming you have a spare motherboard slot, internal TV tuners generally feature stronger tuners than USB sticks. Try to get the tuner as far away from your other components as possible, to avoid interference and heat issues which can cause reception problems.

With the hardware in place, next time we’ll look at configuring the software on your media centre PC.


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