New Home Theatre Setup Poses Benefits & Challenges
Next week I'm moving and the ideal home theatre setup I have in my existing home will have to go along with me, although there will be some changes.
First, a recap of how my current home theatre is set up. The main system is my Windows Media Center 2005 Computer with dual TV tuner cards. As you may be aware, Windows Media Center records TV shows, organizes my photos, MP3 music files and personal video recordings. My home office is located just off my living room, and I use an InFocus X2 Projector in the living room which feeds off the computer -- giving me a 9 ft. wide image! Then, in my bedroom, using an HP Media Center Extender, I'm able to wirelessly beam the any content on my computer into the bedroom with another projector hooked to the Media Center Projector. All of this, of course, will be moving to the new location.
My biggest challenge is the new place has a great office type loft that isn't close to the living room. So my Media Center computer will be located there. So, I plan to purchase an addition Media Center Extender for the living room. The one I already have is going to the bedroom. The new place has a built in stereo and speakers already wired that comes with the place, so that's good news! My only complaint is that the Media Center Extenders do not feature a DVD drive or any way to play a DVD, so I'll have to have a seperate DVD player for the living room, something I do not have to contend with now, since I can play DVD's on the computer and since it's so close the living room in my current setup.
All-in-all, I believe the new place is going to work even better with Media Center and the Extenders since I'll utilize the wireless technology in the extenders twice as much as I do now. Also, the new XBox 360 due later this year, will act as an extender, and feature a DVD drive.
Microsoft Media Center Runs My Home Theatre
Microsoft's Media Center 2005 Software is the hub of my home theatre system. The computer has two TV tuner cards and asks as a personal video recorder. 2,000 MP3 files and over 1,000 photographs are also on the PC and they can all be viewed on my 9ft wide and 7ft high screen via a remote control from my sofa.
Actually, there is no screen. My office is just off my living room. So, the projector (an INFOCUS X2), beams the picture onto a large white wall.
I really do believe the Microsoft is on to something with Media Center. Currently you must buy a new Media Center PC to get the software, which is a special operating system. Actually, it's just an add on to the Windows XP Op System, but for now Media Center cannot be purchased by consumers.
Rumor has it, though, that the Longhorn Operating system currently being built by Microsoft may include the Media Center Software as a default feature of all future Windows versions starting in 2006.
This could make the ultimate home theatre more accessible for the masses.
Home Theatre Without The Wires
The day is coming when wires will be a thing of the past when setting up your home theatre. Well, almost all of the wires will disappear. Of course, you'll always need a power cord, I suppose, until they figure out how to beam electrical power through the air.
The technology that is coming out in the next couple of years that excites me a lot is called Ultra Wideband (UWB). It has the potential to tranfer up to 1GB per second, which is much faster than today's WiFi technology.
This means your home theatre would be setup of many wireless components. For example, your DVD player would connect to your TV wirelessly, with no physical wire running between them. Your TUNER would connect wirelessly to your television and vice-versa.
Think about putting new speakers all over the house and not having to run wires! UWB is going to be great, although it'll be a couple of years probably before it hits the market.
Choosing Your "Big Screen" Television for Your Home Theatre
A couple of years ago I became very excited about the Plasma Television Sets that came out. I envisioned one hanging on my wall displaying a beautiful picture and declaring my tech saviness at the same time. However, after I spoke with a few friends who are more knowledgeable on the subject, I learned plasma TV's might not be a good long term investment.
First, the technology is very new. So by adopting it, you risk changing standards moving away from Plasma in the future. Since the cost is so much, this makes it a risky investment, especially after I learned that the "plasma gas" that makes the picture so crisp can actually "run out" after years and years of use and it cannot be replaced.
I'm not sure how accurate that is, but would love to hear feedback from anyone with knowledge of this. In the meantime, I've gone with a good old DLP Projector as my big screen option. The advantage of a projector is you can move it from room to room.
So for $900, I basically purchased two big screen tv sets, since I move it from by living room to bedroom each night.
Using a Computer as Home Theatre Hub
The home is becoming more PC-centric every day. This month, Microsoft has launched it's third generation home theatre software called Media Center 2005.
The software is an add-on to Microsoft Windows XP Professional operating system. The slick interface gives you easy access to live television, DVD playback, music stored on your computer in MP3 format, and even your video files. Of course, you'll have to have a media center pc equipped with a TV card and DVD player to enjoy all of the features.
Now some may find the cost to having a home theatre PC (HTPC) expensive as they currently run nearly $1,500. However, Microsoft has recently loosened some restrictions on hardware manufacturers, so prices may slowly begin to fall.
Hard core home theatre buffs biggest complaint for Media Center 2005 will be the software doesn't support high definintion tv signals from satellite and cable tv set top boxes. The software is expected to support over-the-air HDTV signals. No doubt, in the future, Microsoft will support cable/satellite HDTV broadcasts, but enthusiasts will have to wait at least another year.
In the meantime, there's plenty of reasons to becme very excited about using Microsoft Media Center Edition to run your entertainment. The software lets you control and access the following from a remote control:
Digital music files (either MP3 or WMA)
Photographs downloaded from a digital camera
Home movies imported into your video files
Live or recorded television
In many ways, Media Center (MCE) emulates all the functions of TIVO. However, unlike TIVO, Media Center offers an easier way to browse the programming guide, especially if you use the keyboard. Do you know how hard it is to type out the spelling of a TV show in the TIVO guide section? Not easy at all!