These days, the computer is so much more than a productivity machine. Frankly, I watch most of my television and movies on my computer screen through Netflix, iTunes, DVDs, and every streaming site the Internet has to offer. The best part about the computer as a television is that you can still have a great home theater experience on the LCD and not spend a fortune to do it. Here are a few tips on getting that home theater experience right on your PC.
Get the content
Content is plentiful these days, and that's awesome. Remember when we actually had to be at home to watch the shows we wanted to when they were going to air? How did we live without streaming television or DVRs?
We're on a strict budget here, so let's throw cable out the window for a moment. That's not to say get rid of your cable — but with a few of these suggestions, you might be tempted.
Netflix's streaming and DVD service is still the reigning champion of streaming content delivery and selection for movies and television shows. It's cheap, too. Netflix now offers an unlimited streaming only plan for $7.99 a month, or 1 DVD out at a time (which is usually enough for me) for $9.99 a month.
Hulu and Hulu Plus are great options for more current television that you can stream directly to your computer. Hulu is the free streaming solution, usually providing recent show episodes but with not too much in the way of a backlog. Hulu Plus, for just $7.99 a month, will let you stream full seasons of current shows to all sorts of devices, from your computer to your iPad and more. Some shows even have full series runs, meaning you can go back and watch the entire collection of episodes from the very beginning. Plus, it's cheap!
So for about $20, you've got a huge amount of content waiting to be streamed to you at any point. It sure beats spending so much on DVDs, doesn't it?
Get the sound
Are you one of those people who has a couple of plastic, flimsy computer speakers living next to (or even attached to) your monitor? I don't blame you. When do you really want great sound out of your computer? For me, it's games, television, and movies.
Getting better sound quality out of your computer is actually cheaper than you think and will go a long way toward turning your computer into a little home theater.
The cheapest tip is to go powered. Speakers that have an AC adapter that plugs into the wall will give you much better sound than computer speakers that don't. The more power you put into speakers, the better the sound will usually be. You can pick up a pair of powered speakers for under $20 at most computer and electronics stores, and that's already one big jump ahead in sound quality.
You're not at the movies yet, though.
A step up in sound quality comes from computer speakers with a subwoofer. Usually called 2.1 speaker systems, these sets come with two speakers and a subwoofer that usually lives somewhere under your desk or to the side, out of the way. These sets will give you better sound that what you think they are capable of, especially on the cheap. I've seen 2.1 computer speaker systems at Best Buy and Target for under $40, but if you go a bit higher in price, you may get some better quality.
Get the picture
LCD monitors have gone from expensive disasters to affordable beauties over the last 6 years, and now's the time to buy. My most recent LCD purchase was an LG Flatron 23" for just under $230. It has been phenomenal. Frankly, at 23" and the distance that I sit from my monitor, the screen size is perfect to watch movies and television on.
If you're still on a smaller-sized screen, you might be able to hit one of the many LCD sales going on now and grab a 21-23" LCD screen for your computer. The picture quality on the LCDs is great, and you can definitely find something for under $200.
Pretty cheap, huh?
If you add it all up, you could have a pretty competent computer home theater for yourself for just under $250. Heck, grab those computer speakers and hook them up to the big LCD in your living room when you aren't using them on the computer. The sound quality will almost always be better than the built-in speakers on your TV. You don't have to spend into the thousands to get great sound and picture for the movies and TV that you want to watch, and it gets even cheaper if you keep it all centered around your personal computer.
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