YOUR ENTERTAINMENT PC QUESTIONS... ANSWERED!


Last month's story explaining how to build the ultimate entertainment center PC generated a deluge of reader questions. We picked the best queries and handed them to the Doctor to see what he had to say.

 

GOING THROUGH THE PROPER CHANNELS

I've got a satellite receiver, what can I use to change the channels on it?

-JULIUS CORNWALIS

 

To get the most from your entertainment rig, you'll need it to talk to your satellite receiver or cable box. If you don't, you'll be unable to record all the cool programming you're paying for. The solution is an IR blaster.

An IR blaster is a small USB or serial device that mimics the remote control for your satellite dish or cable box. After you configure the IR blaster with the specifics of your hardware, it can change the chan nel on your satellite dish or cable box at will, and fulfill your PVR des tiny.

ATI says it will have a Multimedia Center-compatible IR blaster ready by the end of this year, but you can buy one right now that will work with Personal Video Station 3 from Snapstream's online store                 ( www.snapstream.com).

 

MAKING CONNECTIONS Which types of connections are the best for home theater video and audio?

-WILLIAM TARANTINO

 

Use the most PC-like connections you can muster. We recommend an analog DB-15 connection for your monitor, if at all possible. We have seen some HDTVs that include a DB-15 connector but don't actually support PC resolutions above 640x480, so read your manual to find out what your TV supports. If your display doesn't have a PC monitor connector, you'll need to either get a videocard that outputs HD resolutions or an HD adapter for your current card. At press time, only ATI cards actually work with HD adapters, so nVidia-philes are out of luck.

On the sound front, analog is best if you intend to play any PC games at all. Most soundcards (the nForce 2's onboard sound is the one exception) only output stereo PCM signals through their digital connectors. The analog connectors are the only way to get 5.1 positional audio on most machines. If you happen to have an nForce 2 motherboard, feel free to go fully digital. You won't be disappointed.

 

A LITTLE DEMO'LL DO YA What are some good DVDs for showing off my system to my friends? What about games?

-FRANK SMITH

 

We have a few DVDs we keep around for the sole purpose of test ing a sound rig or huge display. For instance, Chapter 26 of the movie Drumline features some exceptional positional sound. The Two Towers also offers reference quality sound. Be sure to listen to the chapter with the battle for Helm's Deep, when orc and elf arrows alike will seem to whiz all around you.

Games can also make great demos for your entertainment system. We recommend firing up a multiplayer first-person shooter and diving into the online combat. Any game that supports DirectSound3D should sound great on your rig. Unreal Tournament 2004, Planet side, Battlefield 1942, and Call of Duty will all make your surround system thump.

 

BURNING VIDEO TO DVD How should I encode my video to ensure it works on a set-top DVD player?

-BENJAMIN DOYLE

 

It's easy. Open Snapstream and go to the web admin. Click on Recording Preferences and change the Recording File Format to "MPEG-2"" and the Default Quality to "NTSC DVD Ready Hi-Res." If you do that, Easy CD Creator will be able to use the video files for a video DVD without having to transcode them.

 

EXTERNAL SPACE SAVERS

Can I use an external hard drive to add more storage space?

-JASMINE NGUYEN


Definitely! USB 2.0 and FireWire external drives are more than fast enough for PVR or MP3 duties. An external drive isn't ideal for installed games, for speed reasons, but it'll work in a pinch.

One of the benefits of using an external drive is that you can minimize noise by hiding the drive away from your main PC using a long connector cable. Just remember to back up your external drive fre quently. We've found that external drives have a significantly shorter life span than internal drives.

 

SILENCE YOUR SYSTEM How can I make my system quieter?

-LEONARD NIELAND

 

Making your system quieter is really the subject of another story, but we have a few guidelines. First, use the power management Control Panel to disable your hard drives after five or 10 minutes of inactivity. Loud hard drives are one of the leading sources of noise in today's PCs.

Another source of noise is fans. Most Shuttle boxes have just one or two fans, which is one reason we're so fond of them. We're reticent to recommend that you tweak Shuttle's existing fans, since most of the mini boxes are carefully engineered to defend against the heat generated by the system components, but you can help muffle the noise the wee PCs do make. First, add a filter between the front intakes and the bezel. The filter needn't be anything fancy. A piece of cut filter from a central-air and heating system will work perfectly. Second, apply Dynamat or another low-profile sound-absorbing material to the inside of the case lid. Make sure you don't cover any air holes, and that the case will still close before you permanently affix the Dynamat. It's notoriously difficult to remove.

 

SPEAKERS SIMPLY DON'T WORK

My rear speakers aren't working. How can I get them up and running?

-LEAH SMITH

 

There are two places in most systems that control the number of speakers your system has con nected: In your soundcard's control panel, and in Windows' ""Sounds and Audio Devices." Make sure the information in both areas matches up, and that it accurately represents the number of speakers you have connected to your PC.

If you're having trouble getting 5.1 sound from your DVD movies, you might need to configure your DVD software. In Multimedia Center, you'll need to go to the Settings menu and then the Audio tab, where you should select the proper speaker config.

 

EVERYTHING BUT THE NFORCE2

I'm not using an nForce2 motherboard. Is there anything I need to do differently?

-MARTY ATKINS

 

If you're using a motherboard with another chipset, you'll probably want to replace the crappy onboard sound with a higher-quality product. The Audigy2 series from Creative Labs produces great sound, has low CPU utilization, and won't empty your wallet. Remember, there's no need to shell out for the expensive Platinum edition because you don't have a free 5.25-inch bay for the breakout box!

 

ALL-IN-WONDER AIN'T FOR ME I'm using a stand-alone TV tuner. Do I need to do anything differently?

-DILLON CAWOOD

 

If you decide to use a separate TV tuner instead of an integrated card, like the All-in-Wonder, you need to do two things: Pipe the sound to your soundcard, and make sure your card is compatible with Snapstream. Some tuner cards can pass an audio stream across the PCI bus, but most need an analog audio connection to the soundcard.

 

CONNECTING WITHOUT A MONITOR CABLE

My HDTV doesn't have a DB-15 input. What do I need to get a high-resolution image?

-NORAH TEPPER


If you're using an ATI All-in-Wonder card, all you need is the little red adapter cable that came in the box. All newer ATI boards without tun ers, from the Radeon 8500 on, can take advantage of adapters to output their signals to HDTV sets. nVidia users are outta luck. There's no word about HDTV adapters for any nVidia boards.

80 MAXIMUM PC DECEMBER 2003