How Do I Connect …? – Technology Tutorial – Tutorial
Hooking your entertainment components up to a home network is easier than you think
YOU’VE PROBABLY READ ARTICLES describing the smart home of the future–a place where all your computing and entertainment components and appliances connect to a single network and integrate seamlessly to provide applications and services the likes of which we’ve just begun to imagine. But such stories may prompt you to look around your own home and wonder whether any of these devices can be connected today. For the most part, the answer is yes.
You can connect a standalone or networked PC to your TV or VCR; view DVD movies playing on one networked PC on another, or on your TV; or enhance an audio experience by hooking your stereo up to your PCs or TV. Or you might envision creating something more complex, a Frankenstein-type intelligence center in which your PC controls the individual components, letting you program your VCR or stereo recorder to tape certain programs, or whatever else you can dream up, without leaving your chair.
Although making your own computing/ entertainment connections is possible and relatively affordable, it’s a little like shoveling the sidewalk during a blizzard: You can do it, but it’s probably best to wait. New technologies, such as Microsoft’s Universal Plug and Play and Sun Microsystems’ Jini, should soon help to make the smart home a reality. Nevertheless, even if you’re willing to wait a year or two for the technology to develop, it’s uncertain whether it will work with the equipment you have today.
So if you’re game on cobbling together something usable now, we’ll show you what is and isn’t doable. We’ve laid out four categories of home entertainment products–audio, video, TV, and gaming–and broken down each section by a wish list of tasks. Where applicable, we also provide a heads-up on technologies in the works that will make connecting easier, should you decide to wait awhile.
Last, before you head to Radio Shack for cabling or tuner cards, make sure your plan makes sense. The sound quality of your PC speakers is likely poorer than that of your stereo speakers, and it your networked PC is to be the brains of your house while you’re away, you’ll have to remember to leave it on. Moreover, when it comes to the specific kind of network, you’ll want to use a wired LAN, since wireless transmissions are slower and signal interference may cause sound and video degradation.
I want to connect my stereo to my networked PC. You can’t, yet. But you can listen to audio CDs through the speakers on your computer by inserting a disc into your CD-ROM drive and pressing Play on the Windows Media Player, and you can listen to AM and FM radio stations by installing the Cadet AM/FM Data Radio tuner card in your PC ($40; ADS Technologies, 562-926-1928, www.adstech.com). Note that you’ll probably also want to upgrade your PC speakers. You could conceivably do away with your stereo altogether.
If you’re considering buying a new stereo in the next few months, though, look for one that’s equipped with an IEEE-1394 connector, which will let you plug an IEEE-1394 cable into the component and the other end into your computer. However, the technology suffers from a distance limitation of 33 meters (about 100 feet), which may make connecting the stereo and PC difficult if each is in a separate room. Also, if you’re averse to stringing wires, consider the first option.
I want to connect my TV to my stereo through my networked PC. To hook together your TV and stereo, you’ll need to connect an audio cable from the Audio Out on your TV to the Aux In on your stereo; the RCA cables are available in varying lengths from Radio Shack ($10 and up) and other electronics stores. Or, if you’re handy with a soldering iron, you can make your own cables in any desired length.
To bring your PC into the mix, you’ll need a video card installed that’s capable of accepting a TV signal. If yours doesn’t, consider the ATI Rage Fury Pro series ($179; ATI Technologies Inc., 905-882-2600, www.ati.com), or Diamond Viper 770 ($130 standard, $179 ultra; S3 Diamond Multimedia Inc., 800-468-5846, www.s3.com). Another consideration revolves distance–the farther the TV is from your stereo, the fuzzier the signal will be when it comes through your PC.
If you can wait a little while, you’ll have the option of buying a new stereo that supports the much-delayed Home Audio Video Interoperability (HAVi) standard. Developed by Sony, HAVi uses the IEEE-11394 specification to connect audio and video devices together and relies on the PC to handle the installation and configuration. With a HAVi-compliant stereo, you first connect it to the PC and then to the TV, and the computer automatically loads the necessary drivers.
I want to play DVD movies on my PC and view them on my TV. You’ll need to run an S-Video cable from the computer’s video card to the TV. Most S-Video cables have a PC connector (round with seven pins) on one end, and both S-Video and RCA connectors for video (usually yellow) and audio (usually red or black) on the other. If you can’t string cable, consider beaming the movie from PC to TV with X10.com’s DVD Anywhere 2000 ($70; 800-675-3044, www.x10.com).
I want to play DVD movies on my networked PC. Got several PCs and only one with a DVD-ROM drive? Now you can watch movies on any of them. Simply configure the network to share the DVD drive, and load the appropriate video player software (included with the DVD drive) on each PC.
I want to play movies on my VCR and view them on my networked PC. This is easy, with the help of a TV tuner and capture card like ATI Technologies’ TV Wonder Card ($80). With it, you can connect a VCR to a PC and watch videotapes on your PC’s monitor using the PC’s video card as the output device. The image is scalable from 160 by 120 up to 640 by 480 pixels, as well as full screen. Note that with full-screen images of more than 320 by 200 resolution, the image gets fuzzier as you scale up. These cards also let you connect an audio source and a video camera using the included audio and S-Video connectors.
I want to watch TV on my networked PC. Most capture cards in PCs already include a TV tuner that you can use to connect your TV cable; all you need is a cable or antenna connection near the computer. For the best results, you’ll want to swap out your existing capture or tuner card with the ATI TV Wonder. Most of these cards are plug-and-play, so all you need to do is make sure the installation CD-ROM is loaded when you start your PC. A word of caution, however: If you also have the new ATI Rage 128 Pro video card on your system when you install the ATI TV Wonder TV card, first download the latest Windows 98 drivers from ATI’s Web site. The new drivers from ATI (which should be included with the card by the time you read this) will correct any problems with the setup. Once you install and configure the card, then launch the application that came with the card and set your channel list. Pick the show you want and you’re off and running.
I want to pipe TV shows into the video display on my home security monitor that’s hooked into my PC/LAN. Security video monitors are normally small, inexpensive, black-and-white displays that have poor resolution at best. However, if you really want to do this, you’ll need an RCA cable long enough to reach from the back of the display to your PC. Connect one end to the Video Output on your TV and the other to the Video Input on the display. Next, hook your TV into your PC/LAN as we’ve described. You may need to buy a special cable (depending on the display model) from the manufacturer, since most electronics stores don’t stock these and special orders from Radio Shack would probably be costly. Also, realize that video camera displays lack speakers, so you’ll have to connect a set that accepts input directly from the TV.
I want to play multiplayer PC games on my Sony PlayStation, Dreamcast, or Nintendo 64. According to Tasos Kaifas, editor-in-chief of Incite’s PC Gaming, forget it! “The only way you can play computer games on a console system is to wait for a console version to come out–if one ever does,” he adds. “Besides, the Nintendo 64 and the PlayStation don’t have multiplayer capabilities except on the same machine in front of the same TV.” I want to play PlayStation, Dreamcast, or Nintendo 64 games on my networked PC/LAN. “Now, we have some options,” says Kaifas. “There’s a PlayStation emulator called Bleem ($30; Bleem LLC, 323-822-0932, www.bleem.com) and a Nintendo 64 emulator, but the Nintendo 64 one is mostly illegal,” he warns. “And rumor has it that Bleem is also planning [to develop] a Dreamcast emulator. The problem is, neither lets you play against other people unless you play on the same computer.”
And I also want to hook up the audio to my stereo. Kaifas says you can run the audio from the sound card in your PC into your stereo, but it makes more sense to spend $100 on a good set of speakers with a subwoofer for your PC, since today’s sound cards generate audio quality that’s comparable to a quality stereo system. Plus, he adds, state-of-the-art stereo components support Dolby Digital 5.1 with DTS or THX sounds, while PC games only support 4.1 Surround Sound.
I want to play single-player game console titles on my PC/LAN, for some multiplayer functionality. Good luck, says Ken Hodor, former vice president of marketing at San Diego-based Path 1 Network Technologies, manufacturer of a gateway interface box that connects home electronics devices via the IP protocol. “You can play Quake, Jedi Knight, and other games over a LAN,” he says, “since many of them were originally written for the PC. However, since all of the game consoles use proprietary interfaces, the joystick from one won’t work with the game station of another.”
The good news is that some of the newer systems support standard interfaces, including the Sega Dreamcast, which comes with an Ethernet connection; and PlayStation 2, which includes two USB ports, an IEEE-1394 port, and a PC Card port. While these systems could be built to improve interoperability between systems, will the manufacturers go that route? Hodor says that will depend on companies first accepting standards that enable interoperability and then going so far as to alter their business models–which many understandably will be reluctant to do, given the already intense competition between platforms. He adds that Sega is thinking about providing a multiplayer gaming experience using the Internet; the caveat is that it will allow only Sega, not Sony or Nintendo, console owners to challenge one another.
S-Video cables are Available from most electronics stores for approximately $8 to $10 for 3-foot and $12 to $17 for 1O-foot Lengths. They are also available through TV and stereo specialty stores for slightly higher prices.
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