Integrating PC-Based Gaming into Your Home Theater

Although most people think of console gaming as something you do in the living room (or home theater room) and PC gaming as something you do in the home office or at a desk somewhere, in fact PC-based games do have a role in the home theater.

Gaming on the PC has evolved over the years to be as sophisticated, fast, and graphics-rich as console gaming. In fact, if you want the ultimate in gaming machines, the no-holds-barred, polygon-generating king of the hill, you need to look at a PC, not a console. And you can much more easily network with a PC than a console; you have to try hard to find a PC these days without a modem, an Ethernet port, and a dozen other ways to connect to other devices and networks.

Purpose-built gaming consoles make the most sense for most people in a home theater. They're ready to go out of the box; with Plug-and-Play, they're simple to connect, set up, and play. Most PCs, on the other hand, need some serious tweaking to do gaming in a home theater environment (using the surround sound system and television/monitor of your home theater). So keep that in mind.

Upgrading to Windows XP Media Center

To most easily get your PC involved in your home theater, go out and buy an entirely new PC — one that uses Microsoft's new Windows XP Media Center Edition operating system.

Media Center brings together the PC and the TV (and other home theater components). It's been designed from the ground up as both an operating system and a set of PC hardware that lets you easily connect the PC to your home entertainment gear. You probably need to buy a new PC that includes some hardware specifically designed around the new operating system that gets this new PC-to-TV connection going.

Media Center Edition PCs usually include the following extra (or enhanced) components, compared to a regular PC:

  • A graphics card (or controller): This component has a TV-out connection that uses an S-video or composite video (RCA) plug to connect into your TV or home theater receiver.
  • A sound board: Can output surround sound using Dolby Digital 5.1.
  • A remote control: Lets you sit on the couch and click away at your PC.

To transform a Media Center PC into a full-fledged member of your home theater, you need only the cables to plug things together and, of course, the games and controllers that you want to play with.

Rolling your own gaming PC

You don't need to get an XP Media Center PC to get your PC games hooked into your home theater. You can hook your computer into your home theater — but this connection may take a bit more PC expertise than just buying a new PC specially designed for such use.

You need just a couple of things to set up your PC as a part of your home theater:

  • A graphics card: You need one that can connect to a television and display properly on the television (meaning it can output the right resolution for your particular TV).
  • A sound card: This card needs to connect to your home theater receiver using either analog (RCA) jacks or a digital connection, and it has to provide the receiver with analog Dolby Pro Logic or (preferably) Dolby Digital signals.
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