BOOT CAMP ARCHIVE 2008

  

 

BOOT CAMP 523 (06/05/08)

Internet TV and the BBC iPlayer part 5

 

As we’ve seen over the past few weeks downloading and streaming TV programs from the Internet is relatively straightforward, and if the PC in question happens to be a laptop, then connecting to a TV for a decent sized picture isn’t too difficult. But what happens when the PC is a desktop model, in another room or upstairs?

 

There are multiple problems, so let’s dive in with the video signal connection. If the PC and TV are more than 10-15 metres apart a standard VGA cable may cause problems, assuming of course that the TV has a VGA input – see last week’s Boot Camp. VGA video signals quickly degrade in long cable runs, resulting in loss of stability and increased picture noise. There are gadgets, called VGA cable repeaters or line amplifiers but they can be quite expensive at around £30 to £40 a pop, and good quality extra long VGA cables are also going to set you back a pretty penny.

 

It’s a lot easier if the PC has a composite video input, in which case the cable run can be up to 50 metres without serious loss of quality but few desktop PCs have them as standard. However, that can be easily remedied, either with a VGA to Video converter box, or by installing a video adaptor card with a composite video or ‘TV output’ socket.  VGA to Video converters can be found for as little as £35 but I have to say the picture quality on the budget models I have seen was not very good and a half decent one will set you back at least £70. 

 

Replacing the PC’s video card is a lot cheaper and prices start at around £30, higher spec models with plenty of on-board memory (128Mb or more) -- the sort favoured by PC gamers -- work best and these cost from around £50. It’s not a difficult job and a competent DIYer should be able to fit a replacement video card in under half an hour.

 

Don’t forget if you are going down the cable route you will also need a lead of similar length for the audio connection. In most cases it should have a 3.5mm stereo minijack at one end and another minijack or a pair of phono plugs at the other.

 

If a direct cable connection is not possible then the alternative is a wireless AV sender and widely available from around £30 from TV and video dealers. These devices consist of two modules; the transmitter connects to the PC’s composite video and stereo audio outputs, and the receiver module plugs into the TV’s external video and audio inputs (see also this week’s Top Tip). Operating ranges are often claimed to be up to 50 metres but in my experience this is usually a tad optimistic. 20-25 metres is normally nearer the mark, less indoors where the signal has to penetrate thick walls, floors or there’s a lot of metal around, and then only on mid-range models, costing £50 and over, which also tend to have better immunity to interference.

 

Most wireless AV senders depend on the PC having a composite video output, but if you can’t fit a new video card at least two AV senders (Grand Ultimate and One For All) have built-in VGA to video conversion facilities, and sell for under £50 or so. Otherwise you can connect a VGA to Video converter box between the PC and the AV sender’s transmitter module.

 

Transporting picture and sound signals from a distant PC to your living room TV is the easy bit, though. Controlling the PC is where it starts to get a bit tricky. Of course it’s not compulsory, but unless you don’t mind running back and forth between the TV and PC, to start or stop playback, or change programmes, then it’s something you need to think about.

 

Extending the mouse and keyboard cables is one possibility, though like VGA cables they run into problems when they are longer than 10 -15 metres. In any event it’s starting to get complicated, with four cables posing a serious trip hazard, they’re also hard to avoid with the vacuum cleaner and difficult to hide. 

 

Wireless mice and keyboards sound like a solution but most models a very short operating range of a metre or so. Extended range models are available, though, and it is certainly an avenue worth exploring if the PC is no more than 5 -10 metres away from where you will be watching the TV. The best solution, though, is a dedicated PC remote control system, which let you drive the mouse and cursor buttons. More sophisticated models also have volume, multimedia and browser functions. There are several models to choose from including products designed specifically for Windows Media Centre PCs. Don’t forget you will need a wireless-based system; a decent one, with good immunity to interference that allows it to work alongside wireless AV senders will set you back around £50 - £100. If you have a line-of-sight view of the PC you may be able to get away with a cheaper infrared system. 

 

Next Week – Windows Vista Voice Recognition

 

 

JARGON FILTER

 

 

LINE AMPLIFIER

Signal booster, designed to compensate for losses in long cable runs

 

PICTURE NOISE

A characteristic of analogue video with the image looking increasingly fuzzy and sprinkled with white or black flecks

 

WINDOWS MEDIA CENTRE

Versions of Windows XP and Vista, with extra features and interfaces designed to for use on multimedia PCs

 

 

TOP TIP

If you are thinking of using a wireless AV sender then you may run into problems with interference from other wireless devices in the vicinity. The 2.4GHz frequency band is a crowded place and it is shared by Wi-FI, cordless phones, wireless mice and keyboards, even garage door openers. A couple of wireless devices can usually co-exist, but budget wireless products are best avoided as they may lack manual or automatic channel selection and tend to have limited or inferior interference rejection. If problems arise that cannot be solved by changing channels the only solution is to move them as far apart as possible, or upgrade to a mode sophisticated setup.  

 

Don't forget, there's a full archive of previous Boot Camp Top Tips at www.pctoptips.co.uk

 

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© R. Maybury 2008, 0904

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