Most personal computers — and many work PCs — eventually acquire lots of entertainment (music, family photos, and assorted videos) on their hard drives.
But when it comes time to share with friends or just kick back in an easy chair for your own enjoyment, all that media looks and sounds better on your big HDTV. Here’s how to make the best PC/TV connection.
The low-tech method is to connect your notebook or desktop PC directly to the TV. But it’s a pain with a notebook and almost completely impractical with a desktop. However, if your TV (or a device attached to your TV) has Internet access, it can probably also access your home network. And that’s the better way to stream media from PC to TV.
Assessing what you have and what you need
The first step is to determine whether your HDTV is already networkable. Look for an Ethernet port and built-in options for streaming content from Netflix, Hulu Plus, or other Internet services. If it has these, congratulations — you can probably play media over the network.
I said probably because there’s a caveat: the TV must support DLNA. The Digital Living Network Alliance (info) standard allows media sharing over a home network. Most network-capable HDTVs support DLNA.
If your TV lacks DLNA support — or networking capabilities altogether — you’ll need an Internet-ready device that hooks up to the television. This could be a game console, a Blu-ray player, or a box built specifically for this purpose. Just make sure that the device supports DLNA.
Blu-ray players make an excellent choice. Most current models support networking and DLNA, and you get a lot of bang for your buck. For example, models priced at just over U.S. $100 also offer streaming content from multiple Internet sources such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Pandora — plus improved image quality for your DVDs. And, of course, you can play Blu-ray discs. (I must confess that I’m a serious cinephile, with no real interest in gaming. So I’m naturally inclined toward Blu-ray players over gaming consoles. I also review Blu-ray players for PC World.)