Make Your PC a Man-Cave Media Center

Your Windows 7-powered PC is equipped to anchor an awesome entertainment center. Here's everything else you need.

By Rick Broida, PC World |  Software, home entertainment, Windows Media Center

Suitable software is another requirement. Both Corel WinDVD Pro 2010 ($60) and CyberLink PowerDVD 9 Ultra ($80) offer Windows Media Center integration, meaning that they add a Blu-ray option to the standard menu system. With such integration in place, you won't have to get out your mouse or keyboard and shut down Media Center just to play a Blu-ray movie.

As for the drives themselves, internal models are available from the likes of LG, Lite-On, Plextor, and Sony for less than $100. Any of these drives should be able to replace the DVD drive already installed in your PC. If you'd rather go external, drives from Plextor (like the PX-B310U shown above) and Velocity Micro are good bets; any of these models plugs easily into a USB port. Plan on spending closer to $200 for an external model.

Don't Skimp on the Speakers

No man-cave home theater is complete without a world-class (or at least den-class) audio system. Smaller rooms can get away with traditional speakers, but a larger room needs a amplifier/speaker combination. Either way, make sure that your PC has an SPDIF output so you can enjoy true digital sound. If it can't handle SPDIF, consider upgrading your sound card--an operation that can be as simple as plugging in a Turtle Beach Audio Advantage Amiga USB Sound Card ($40), which adds a digital output to any PC.

If you're outfitting a smallish room, the plug-and-play convenience of PC speakers such as the Logitech Z-5500 ($400) is pretty compelling. This 5.1-channel setup (translation: five satellite speakers and a subwoofer) pumps out an amazing 505 watts of surround-sound power--more than enough to blow your hair back (and forward again) during screenings of Inglourious Basterds.

If you want more power and versatility, you'll have to spring for a home-theater receiver--and of course, speakers to go with it. We don't have space here to look at the endless options and permutations available, but you should be able to find the gear and the advice you need at your local home-theater store. (Note: Any modern receiver you buy will have SPDIF inputs, the one essential criterion in making the media-center connection.)

Extend Windows Media Center With Your Xbox 360

If you'd rather not make a big, bulky desktop PC a permanent part of your living room décor, consider working instead with the Xbox 360 that's already there. Right out of the box, Microsoft's game console can double as a Media Center Extender, reproducing the entire Media Center experience--TV, music, photos, and all.


Originally published on PC World |  Click here to read the original story.
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