Saturday 19 December 2009

Media Center Entertainment System

Over the course of the year, I’ve reinvented our entertainment system. I won’t go into any great technical depth or rational for what I bought as I do that on another blog but I did want to describe how it has changed the way we entertain ourselves.

First I sold our old 37” Sony CRT TV which was only 8 years. Bought for £2000 and sold for next to nothing - £21! That’s the price for you pay for the progress of technology. I’m just glad someone wanted it as I couldn’t bare to take it to the tip. Bought a new Samsung 42” 600 series HD TV for less than half the price of the old TV.

I then built a custom Media Center PC based on Windows 7. It has a TV tuner, Blu-ray drive and  2.5 terabytes of storage. No need for the old VCR and DVD player so they went to the dead technology grave in the loft. The CD player is on death row.

For audio, I still use my old stereo but added a top notch digital pre-amp and DAC in the shape of a Benchmark DAC1 PRE. Excellent piece of kit that has really improved the sound. And I added a cheap Tapco SW10 subwoofer for extra oomph only when watching films. I’d rather have a quality stereo than a cheap surround sound system.

Finally, I replaced the Xbox with an Xbox 360 and wired everything to the Internet.

Windows Media Center has changed the way we watch TV. The kids and I record tons of stuff so we’re never stuck for something to watch. I love the “record series” feature.  If we don’t record it, chances are we can watch it streamed from the Internet. BBC iPlayer is particularly good and offers downloading too. ITV and Channel4 also offer streaming. Of course, we can also watch DVD’s, Blu-ray’s, YouTube and other video formats either ripped or downloaded from the Internet. The choice is immense!

The Media PC and large telly is also great for any shared computer activities – like shopping, holiday arrangements or looking at photos. It works as a karaoke machine too. And it’s been useful for helping the kids with homework such as writing skills or looking at wikipedia. I haven’t set it up for gaming although it could be used for that. I prefer to keep games on the Xbox 360.

I use it to play my music collection. Indeed it supports 24bit 96kHz audio files which I’m looking forward to collecting. Or instead of my collection, we just play Spotify. Even though the quality of free Spotify streaming is only 160kbps, it’s still listenable and offers tremendous variety.

As you may guess, I’m pretty pleased with all the functionality and flexibility of this system. Just wish I had bought a bigger HD TV!

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