PC or Mac as a home entertainment center

I have an old computer and I’m thinking of replacing it with a computer, either Mac or PC, as an entertainment center.

In this day and age, it seems a bit silly to buy a HDTV, when you can buy a computer and monitor to achieve the same results. But, I have a couple of problems.

First, I subscribe to DISH, which I like. Is it possible to route DISH to an iMac or a PC?

Second, if I use the new computer for primary TV viewing, how can my children still access the internet and software for educational purposes while the significant other and I watch TV. I do have a wireless network and other PCs (not Mac).

This appeals to me because I don’t need a big-screen TV, but I do want HD and Blu-Ray capability.

So, if I buy the new computer, either PC or iMac, how do I get to view my DISH shows through DISH’s VCR while allowing other computers on the network to do their tasks?


So my question is, what are my best alternatives

Currently Macs don’t do BluRay. It isn’t even clear when or if they will. Considering Steve Jobs sits on the board of Disney (and has a very sizable stockholding) you may or may not regard this as slightly strange. Sadly (writing as a Mac user) the answer is currently that the evil empire (aka Microsoft) is the only useful platform if you want access to a wide range of well integrated codecs and general support for building a HTPC (home theatre pc.) But beware. It isn’t an off the self solution. If you have to ask about sharing your Internet connection, you almost certainly will be very seriously frustrated trying to get a HTPC working.

Personally, I tend to think this is all a symptom that the whole mess is still far from mature. One of the issues continues to be copyright, and digital rights management. That and competing fifedoms of content delivery. One school of thought is that the market will stay like this until one dominant player jumps in and upsets things enough that everyone has to get sensible or lose out.
Who that player is is unclear. Apple are the one usually mentioned, but one suspects that even they are reluctant to jump in just yet. The AppleTV product continues to be described as a “hobby” product. As in, it is a hobby for Apple to play with. A lot of pundits suspect that it will content distribution control that will make a big player jump in. The iTunes store, and its success, is why Apple is always mentioned. Until something like this happens don’t expect an integrated, easy to use, off the self HTPC solution. Rather, expect pain, and much reading of web sites and forums telling you how to get it to work. For many of my colleages who have built up HTPC systems, one often suspects that the journey is the reward. They seem to spend as much time fiddling with their systems as actually watching. A few die hard fanatics build up atop Linux. But the lack of codec support seems to be a significant issue here.

So to answer the question. Buy a seperate known good TV solution. If you really want, you could share the monitor with a PC (most monitors have a range of inputs), but stay away from using the PC as the TV replacement. For any pay for view content, there will no no viable mechanism to get the signal to the PC anyway.

At this point, screens are pretty much screens. Assuming you’re going at least 30", there’s not a lot of price difference between a monitor and a full-on HDTV. If you aren’t going bigger, there still just isn’t that much difference these days.

Not easily. Your best bet is to just use the one of the other HDMI inputs most monitors will have these days, and the computer won’t touch it at all.

This confuses me. What you do on this computer won’t affect other computers on the network at all. All of your computers, including this one, connect to the router, which connects to your modem and the internet. Also, as I see on preview has been mentioned, Macs don’t do Blu-ray at all.

I think he wants to watch tv while the kids surf the net both off of the same CPU, (Not the same network)

I haven’t owned what anyone would describe as a “TV” in about four years. I have used XP Media Center instead, and just moved to Windows 7 Media Center. And that doesn’t mean I have been stuck watching a monitor screen. My computer plugs into a HD projector, located behind a 60" diagonal screen.

My TV tuner (four, actually), are PCI cards in the PC. Two of my tuners are digital, one pulling HD signals over the air, the other pulling clear QAM signals off my cable provider. The other two tuners are analog, and one is pulling analog signals off my (digital) cable, the other is pulling analog signals that pass through my HD cable box. This setup permits me to watch one programs live, and record and up to three other shows. And I don’t pay any monthly fees (beyond my cable provider). I could easily replace my HD cable box with a Dish satellite box.

But I agree with Francis Vaughan. It takes time, research, and effort to get it all configured and keep it running. It isn’t all that consumer friendly, at least if you aren’t quite advanced in personal computing skills.

It is possible to for you and the SO to watch a TV show on the computer, and have the kids online. But that starts to get complicated (using extenders, or hacking the system to permit simultaneous users through RDP), and you clearly will need another display device. You can route and control Dish through a computer, and use the computer as a Dish DVR. There are limitations though - for example, you wouldn’t be able to record shows in through the Dish service.

Frankly, if you have to ask the question, it probably isn’t the right solution for you and your family. And Silophant’s point is valid - there really is little difference in price or capability between an LCD monitor and an LCD TV these days.

We got a Dell PC for a multimedia PC. For a while, we tried Linux, but it simply didn’t work. We now have Windows 7, and are pretty happy with it. Pretty good considering that the other five computers we have in the house are all Macs.

Then again, we ordered a $350 PC and ended up paying about $600 for it (including shipping) once we upgraded the processor, the memory, etc. In the end, it doesn’t even have a digital video output.

If I had to do it over again, I’d pay another $50 and get an Mac Mini. Mac Minis have the digital video output. They have built in BlueTooth that works with keyboards and mice (you want wireless mice and keyboards). The wireless Logictech (which is one of the best) is simply not as good as BlueTooth. You can use BlueTooth as a remote, and there’s an iPhone App that lets you use your iPhone as a remote.

The MacMini also is extremely compact too, and doesn’t take up a lot of room.

The Mac Mini doesn’t take an internal tuner, but we ended up with a USB tuner card anyway. (Another stupid mistake: I ordered the low profile because I thought it’ll take up less room. Instead, you just can’t get a tuner card that fits.)

However, I think the big question is which computer are you more comfortable with, and whether or not you’ll use your new TV/Computer as a computer. If we had gotten an Mac Mini, we’d be using our TV as a computer more. However, because we’re Mac people and the TV is Windows 7, we’re simply more comfortable using our Macs.

I think the Mac Mini would make an excellent media center, but so will almost any PC capable of running Windows 7. In the end, both cost more or less the same (Make sure your PC has digital out!).

If you have a Mac Mini, you can use any HDTV with HMDI output as a screen and it’ll work great. PCs can be a bit more difficult. We have a 32" PC monitor on ours because it was cheaper than an HDTV screen, However, now HDTV sets are cheaper.

BlueRay looks like it may be the LaserDisk of the 21st century. Downloaded media seems to be the wave of the future. If BlueRay is important to you, get an HDTV with built in BlueRay player or a PC with built in BlueRay. However, right now it looks like a BlueRay player on a PC will cost you about $100 more which is quite a lot when you talk about a machine that starts at about $400.

If you get a Mac Mini and want to play BlueRay, you can simply get a HDTV with built in BlueRay player. Heck, it might be cheaper getting an HDTV with BlueRay than paying extra to get the BlueRay player in your PC. If you have an XBox, you already have a BlueRay player. In fact, some people bought the XBox solely for the BlueRay player. (For a while, it was cheaper than a stand alone BlueRay player).

Get a good antenna. A good place is Denny’s Antenna Service. He runs a small shop, but he’s entirely honest. Go to http://www.dtv.gov/ or http://www.antennaweb.org/ to help choose the type of Antenna you need. (Denny has links to both sites).

Then say goodbye to your cable TV. (But maybe not to the cable company. You need better than DSL speeds to watch Internet TV, and the only option maybe your cable company’s Internet service. At least you’ll still save $60 - $100 per month not getting their cable TV service. One more option. T-Mobile@Home is $10/month for VOIP phone service. If you have your phone through your Cable TV company, that’s already a VOIP phone.)

All of your responses have been extremely helpful. I think I knew which direction I needed to go and you have confirmed my suspicions.

I bought a HP Pavilion Slimline (model S5160f) a few months ago. It came with a TV tuner & Blu-ray. I have a computer monitor connected via DVI & use the HDMI output to connect my HDTV. The computer sees the HDTV as an extension of my desktop. I can open Windows Media Center, Netflix, Hulu Desktop, or the Blu-ray player & drag it to the HDTV, leaving the computer monitor free for other use.

My prior computer was a 2000 model HP w/Windows ME. That probably makes me easy to impress, but I am impressed.


Which direction did you end up going?