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How To Use Your Laptop as a Media Center PC

media-center-laptop— What Microsoft, Apple and Dell don’t want you to know about computers and your TV.

It’s been years since the Media Center PC trend started — but it’s just not catching on for “regular people” because very few want to spend hundreds (or thousands) of dollars on a second computer/TV setup, and there’s little information on setting one up yourself (for non-AV geeks, anyway). Here’s how you can use a TV as a monitor for your laptop — to use Netflix Watch Instantly, Blockbuster OnDemand, Amazon Video On Demand, or iTunes Movie Rentals (without buying the Apple iTV box)  — instead of watching on a 12″ laptop screen.

You Need:

  • TV/LCD Monitor – I use the Syntax Olevia 37″ LCD HD-Ready Monitor
  • Laptop – I use a Dell Inspiron 710m
  • VGA monitor cable (male to male) – You might already have this if you have a lot of extra computer cords, it’s just the cord that hooks a monitor to a computer (usually has blue ends and is less than $10 on Amazon).
  • Wireless Mouse/keyboard – I need to buy a wireless mouse/keyboard, but for now I’m just using a regular mouse.

How To:

  1. Plug the VGA cable into the back of your TV monitor and connect the other end to your laptop.
  2. Turn on the TV and change the “source” or “input” function to VGA or a similar function, (also called RGB on some TV/monitors).
  3. OPTIONAL: Set up a new User Account on your laptop. By setting up a new account, you can have 2 different profiles (so the TV profile won’t switch to standby etc), so you don’t have to always be changing your laptop display settings. Open the ‘User Accounts’ settings. (Start>Control Panel>User Accounts) Click on “Create a new account” and name it Media PC, TV, or whatever you want.
  4. On your laptop, go to the “Graphics Properties” (Right click on the Desktop)>’Graphics Properties…’ and change the Display Device Settings. While most laptops will probably vary in this area, you’re basically just changing the display option from ‘Notebook’ to ‘Monitor’ and then changing the Screen Resolution to best fit your TV size/settings.
  5. You should now be able to see whatever is on your laptop screen on your TV. If not, try scrolling through the TV “Source” functions again and/or logging off/on your laptop.
  6. Change the Power settings on your laptop. Right click on the Desktop>Properties. Click on the ‘Screensaver’ tab and then “Power” under ‘Monitor Power.’ Under the “Advanced” tab there should be ‘Power button’ options to edit. Make sure you change “When I close the lid of my portable computer:” to “Do Nothing” (so your computer doesn’t shut down when you close the lid to watch on your TV). Make sure you plug your laptop in, so the battery doesn’t run low while you’re watching.
  7. For sound: if you have a home theater speaker system, connect an input/output cord from your laptop to the receiver. If you don’t already have a home theater system, you can just use regular computer speakers (plug into the headphones jack), or just use the sound on your laptop (not recommended as a long-term strategy!)

hulu-arrested-developmentNow that you have that all hooked up, head over to Hulu to watch Arrested Development etc, actually use the 5 frees hours of Watch Instantly time on your Netflix account this month, download a movie from Blockbuster/MovieLink or Amazon Video On Demand, install iTunes and buy a movie, or just browse pictures and listen to music on your computer.

Did you give it a try? Do share!


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