Brief explanation: Multimedia PC

What is a multimedia PC? I multimedia PC is a computer that stores and organizes all of your digital media. Digital media is your music, movies, home videos, recorded TV shows, and photos. This type of computer allows you to store and organize all of these different types of media in one place. Most people have stacks of CDs and DVDs lying around. The multimedia PC will allow you to upload all of the media files to the computers hard drive/drives. There is no reason to have CDs, DVD, VHS tapes, and photos lying around the house. For instance, let’s say you have one hundred CDs in your collection. You could buy a one hundred disk CD changer, but how do you know what CD is in what slot? With uploading all hundred CDs to the Multimedia PC you can organize all the music. With programs like Apple iTunes or Microsoft Windows Media Player you can organize the music by artist, album, genre, or song. You can even create your own playlist for what type of mood you are in. So instead of being confused on what CD is where now you can have all your music in one spot. The next example of a multimedia PC at use is with all those photos. Everyone that I know has stacks or even boxes of photos. Everyone always wants to write on the back of what the picture is and where was it taken. But like most people they never have the time to organize all those photos. A multimedia PC makes it easier. By uploading and storing your photos on a multimedia PC you can organize the photos by the date they were taken and by the event they were taken at. So you have all alike picture bundled together in one folder. Most multimedia PCs even include software to produce a photo slide show. Or a great program to download is Picasa2 by Google. So if you want to show off to your friends about your recent vacation you can start a slide show of you vacation. Plus with the rise in email use you will have the photos right there on your computer to send to family and friends. Picasa2 and Gmail make it really easy to send the photos. These are just two examples of what a multimedia PC is and how it is used. But not every computer is a multimedia PC. It takes special hardware to handle all the multimedia functions.

What hardware is needed to have a multimedia PC? The most important thing with a multimedia PC is the hard drive space. Multimedia files take up lots of space on your hard drive. If you want to setup a complete multimedia PC then you will need the hard drive space to do so. On average for every thousand songs of music you have you will need at least 4GB of storage space. I have 4,500 songs on my computer which is using 20GB of hard drive space. Videos take up even more space then music. For every DVD you want to upload to your computer it will take on average 1.5GB per DVD. I have a collection of 70 DVDs that are all uploaded to my computer. That is 105GB of storage space. Then photos take up about 3MB per picture. 3MB is not a lot of space but that’s for one picture. Most people can have thousands of pictures throughout their entire life. All of this comes down to the fact that you need lots of hard drive space. The average computer only comes with a 40GB hard drive. A 40GB hard drive will not be sufficient to be a multimedia PC.

The next hardware that is needed for a multimedia PC is a graphics card. A graphics card is what displays the image to the computer monitor. Multimedia PCs need good graphics cards with good features. For the total package of a multimedia PC, your PC needs to be able to have inputs for your cable connection, VCR, and have connections to send high resolutions back out. The high resolution for most multimedia PCs needs to be HDTV output or analog equivalent resolution. Most high end cards are capably of hooking these devises to them and displaying the correct resolution. The reason why you need to hook up other devices to your graphics card is for the importing of digital data. Having a cable hookup to your computer gives you two things. The first reason to hook cable to your computer being that you can use your computer as a VCR or now called DVR. DVR is a Digital Video Recorder. There is no need to go out and set your VCR to record TV shows. Your computer can be set up to record all of your TV shows for you. The next reason to hook cable up to your multimedia PC is so you can watch TV on your computer. If you are like me you are usually working on homework and trying to watch TV at the same time. By having the TV on your computer you don’t have to keep turning your head to see what’s going on. You can have the TV playing in a small window while doing your work.

The next pieces of hardware you will need are good processor speed and memory. Importing and ripping files takes a lot of system recourses. If you don’t have a good processor and lots of memory the system will be too slow to import the large files. Or if you want to record a TV show on your multimedia PC you don’t want your computer to be useless during the record process. A good processor and lots of memory will allow your computer to work with the large files and still perform everyday uses at the same time. This means that you will be able to do all of your work while using the multimedia functions.

The last piece of hardware is an optional piece of hardware. This optional piece is a sound card. If you are going to have all of these multimedia files it is up to the user to what kind of sound they want. You can have 2 channel analog sound cards or up to 7.1 THX certified surround sound. This is basically personal preference.

The next thing I want to talk about is software needed for the multimedia PC. There are a lot of software choices out there. Some of the easiest to use are the paid programs. One of the most popular, that ships with most retail multimedia PCs, is Windows Media Center 2005. This is an easy to use and easy to setup program. It is installed just like a program in Windows XP. It retails for around $125. Dell Media Center is another form of multimedia software. You can order it when you order a new dell. It ranges in price from $19 to $35 depending on if you want a remote with it. These are the two retail media center applications I have had experience with. They both do about the same thing. They allow you to organize all of your digital media files with little to no effort. The software makes it really easy for the beginners.

The next software is the software that comes with high end graphics cards. ATI and NVIDIA are two big graphics card manufactures. They both have cards that are made to handle all the multimedia needs. I personally have an ATI brand card. It comes with multimedia software that is similar to the Windows and Dell software. It is free with the card. But it does take more work then the Windows or Dell software to setup.

The last software I want to mention is called Media Portal. This is free open source software. Open source software is software where the code is available to anyone who wants to modify the application to make it better. This software started out for the Xbox but made its way to the PC. This kind of software is not for the beginner. You have to have experience with computers in order to set it up and to keep up with the frequent updates. The good thing about this software is that it has better features then the paid software. Plus it is constantly being updated to better itself.

Well after all this said there are still some what I call “accessories”. The biggest problem most people have with multimedia PCs is that everything is on your computer. Yes you can hook a TV and stereo up to your computer but that is too many cables, plus what if your computer is not by a TV or stereo to hook up too. I personally don’t want to sit at my computer to watch one of my DVDs or watch a TV show I recorded. The accessories are external hardware that works with your computer to spread multimedia files to TVs and stereos throughout you house.

The first accessory I want to discuss is the iPod. If you haven’t heard about the iPod then you must not have any mp3 files. The iPod is a digital mp3 player with lots of potential. It is also the best selling on the market. It allows you to upload files from your computer to the iPod. It is used as a “walkman” with headphones. These iPods hold between 1,000 and 10,000 songs. But the nice thing about the iPod is the accessories for it. You can buy an iPod and a FM transmitter for it and have your music played everywhere there is a radio. It broadcast the music over the FM frequency so anywhere that you have an FM radio the music will play. So now you have all of your music in digital format on your multimedia PC. Then you can put it on your iPod. Then with the FM transmitter you can play your music on any radio you are near. It will even play on your radio in your car. So now with the multimedia PC you have eliminated carrying around CDs all together.

The next set of accessories hook up to your TV and stereo in your house. These are boxes that hook right into your TV and stereos and act as a gateway to your media files. They come with on-screen menus to scroll through all of your music, movies, shows, and photos. D-link, Gateway, Linksys, and Pismiq, to name a few, make these devices. They are all reasonable priced for about the same price as a DVD player. They come with software for your multimedia pc to map where your digital files are located. Basically you install the software on your multimedia PC. Then tell the program where your music, movies, shows, and photos are located on the hard drive. Then hook the box up to your TV and stereo and turn it on. The on screen menus will allow you to scroll through all of your files. So now all of your digital media that is on your multimedia PC is now on your TV and stereo in your family room. You can buy one of these devices for each room in your house and you can watch, listen, and view all of your digital files anywhere in your house. They all use remotes so it’s just another component for your TV. And they are all easy to use. My personal favorite out of the four listed above is the Prismiq. The Prismiq allows you to surf the web right from your TV and comes with an optional keyboard to make surfing the web easier. Plus it supports more digital media formats then the rest. Since I am a computer geek I use a lot of different formats that are not standard. The Prismiq just fits my needs better.

A multimedia PC is where digital media is going. There is no need to have DVDs, CDs, VHS, and stacks of photos lying around. Your computer can store all of these things on it. Plus with the accessories you are not limited to sitting at your computer to enjoy your digital media. There are a lot of online stores that are selling DVDs and CDs in digital format. No need to go to Best Buy or where ever to pick up the latest DVD. Just download it and watch it using your multimedia player. This is where the DVD and CD industries are going. I started my quest to build a multimedia PC about a year ago. At that time there where not all the manufactures involved in this technology. I had to use my experience with computers to make this technology possible. But since big manufactures are getting involved the equipment and software is getting better and prices are coming down. Before long just like cassettes and VHS, CDs and DVDs will be fading out to this new technology.

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