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Wednesday, May 04, 2005

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Get extra mileage out of your PC

Now it takes just Rs. 6,000 to turn your PC into a TV and an entertainment centre


Everyone talks about it, but how many of us can afford it? The convergence of the personal computer and television is the subject of weighty discussion, and most of the solutions that are on offer seem tailored to those with weighty purses. But if you already own a reasonably configured home PC, it may be possible to add some neat pieces of hardware and software that can transform your machine into a TV and also allow you to control all your entertainment viewing and hearing — films on CD or DVD, TV content, music from CDs or MP3 folders — through a remote.

In short, you can switch from the up close "lean forward" mode of PC operation to the more relaxed "lean back" way that one associates with TV viewing.

New device

One device that makes this possible is the Pinnacle MediaCenter made by a U.S.-based digital entertainment outfit co-founded in 1986 by a BITS Pilani graduate, Ajay Chopra. He is the Chief Operating Officer today.

What you get for just under Rs. 3,000 is a programme CD and a chunky remote, together with the infrared eye that you can attach to the PC's serial port. The software takes a good hour to install — mainly because they throw in Microsoft's .Net framework and SQL Server, two bulky utilities that are apparently the backbone for Pinnacle's own application.

Once installed, you can use the remote to click through an on-screen menu that allows you to operate your PC's CD or DVD drive, to play music or video; search through your hard disk to find the music, pictures or video that you may have stored and generally access all the entertainment playable on your PCs from TV-viewing distance.

If you want to see TV on the same PC monitor, you have to install an additional PC-TV card that costs the same again, as the basic MediaCenter. This will allow you to receive TV signals from a cable TV or antenna plug and also provide some basic recording functions.

For those used to standard 20-inch TV sets, it may be no big deal to view TV on a 15 or 17 inch screen — the most popular PC monitor sizes. But as a second TV in your own private den that merges all your infotainment gadgets, the Pinnacle remote and TV card seems like a good option. The name MediaCenter might be bit misleading since that's something by which the pricier PC-based entertainment consoles are known. But for the rest of us, this might serve as a neat way to get extra mileage out of our PCs and allow us to use them as entertainment consoles — while lounging on that beanbag!


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