Getting new Win 7 Laptop this weekend for Home Theatre PC setup. Advice?
October 21, 2009 2:46 PM   Subscribe

Best setup for a Win 7 laptop as HTPC?

Currently we have a simple setup of an HDTV and a DVD player. No cable or antennae and frankly we're not interested in getting (and paying for) cable. But we do like watching Hulu/Netflix on the computer and since Win7 is coming out this week I thought we'd get a laptop with HTMI output so we can watch stuff on the "big screen."

Any suggestions for setting up a laptop to maximize our enjoyment and ease-of-use for using a Win7 laptop as a HTPC? I've heard that the Win7 Media Center is pretty good, but I've never used any version of Windows Media Center so I don't know what's possible.

Also, if you have suggestions for specific makes/models that would be great. Budget is around $700. But please no suggestions for a Netbook. For other reasons I need a 17+ inch screen laptop.
posted by jcmilton to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Windows 7 Media Center is very nice and is designed to be used in a living room situation rather than with your computer in your lap. I would recommend getting a remote so you can just ignore the PC and enjoy it like a DVR/set top box.

You can now play Netflix direct-streaming movies right from MC, IIRC.

If you are going to watch a lot of Hulu or other flash video at HD resolutions you'll want to get a nice, powerful CPU as GPU acceleration doesn't help much... yet. Adobe is working on GPU accelerated flash, at least for Nvidia graphics solutions.
posted by selfnoise at 3:41 PM on October 21, 2009

Response by poster: Tell me more about using a remote with a laptop HTPC. Couldn't I just use a wireless mouse? Or do I get more functionality with a remote somehow?
posted by jcmilton at 5:02 PM on October 21, 2009

Is this a standalone unit? You won't be using this for anything else but the HTPC?
posted by geoff. at 5:49 PM on October 21, 2009

For other reasons I need a 17+ inch screen laptop.

Oh I see, I missed it initially. You can use a wireless mouse but point and click becomes arduous at television viewing distances and resolutions. I highly recommend the Harmony One. It syncs everything, but it is pricey.

You could skip this and go with a combination keyboard and touchpad. The best I've ever seen came with the Sony TP1 but I've yet to find it sold separately. Confusingly these combo units will often appear in the Playstation 3 section of stores (I assume XBOX 360 too, but haven't seen any there). When I went to Best Buy they were adamant they had no units like it, and they didn't in the keyboard section, but browsing in the PS3 section I came across the Logitech Mediaboard. This is awesome when you want to get out of the Media Center and into a browser. If you want to be cheap, you could get a really long HDMI cable and just use your laptop normally.

I think you'll find yourself wanting a standalone unit eventually and I'd discourage you investing in anything that won't carry over. I started out much like you did, moved to a standalone HTPC 6 mos. later and the expenses keep adding up, it is a huge hit with my friends though.

Oh and if you get outside the managed media realm of Hulu/Netflix the media center really falls apart. At least when I last tried it, it would fail hard on a lot of my HD encoded movies and had poor performance for high bitrate 1080p files. It also wasn't smart about picking up movie covers and reviews from the web. There are other media centers out there that do this much better, but Microsoft really wants you living inside their world.
posted by geoff. at 5:59 PM on October 21, 2009

Response by poster: It'll be used for other things also, it won't be a dedicated HTPC.

That Harmony One looks nice, but you're right... expensive! I like the idea of the wireless keyboard and touchpad.

What other sites or software do you recommend besides Hulu/Netflix and Media Center? What else should I be using to get the most shows/movies and have a nice interface to view them with?
posted by jcmilton at 10:28 PM on October 21, 2009, while it looks like a Hulu clone (and indeed carries a lot of Hulu's library) also has a pretty extensive collection.

YouTube has an XL version that's specifically for use on TVs. (Fun, useless fact: XL version is auto-triggered if viewed from a PS3.)
posted by Yoshi Ayarane at 11:53 PM on October 21, 2009

For what it's worth, last week I traded an old G4 Mac Mini that was not getting the job done fullscreen-flash-wise for an HP 6910p, a largely commonplace business laptop from 2007 and it's been working great. It only has VGA out (which is fine since my TV has VGA in) but it runs Windows 7 great and has a Core 2 Duo 2GHz CPU which is good enough to run fullscreen flash from Hulu, etc. My advice to you (which I've spent the last few weeks developing) is to resist the lure of the nettops and small form-factor PCS that look like they belong by your TV and just get a used high-powered late-model laptop on ebay or craigslist with enough processing power to get the job done. A lot of the little computers designed to be HTPCs use Intel Atom chips which, as of yet, aren't fast enough to do fullscreen flash even with the NVidia Ion graphics cards which are apparently supposed to be great. Supposedly Adobe is going to come out with a new version that uses GPU acceleration but until it does, if your processor is slow you're out of luck.

Also, we've become big fans of and and where you can search the internet to find TV shows that are streamable on random sketchy websites. For all of the streamlinedness and future-is-now-ness of Boxee and Hulu Desktop and WMC, I'd rather just search the entire internet for episodes of My So-Called Life and play them directly from the website.

Also, if you want to spend money, get the Logitech DiNovo Edge to use as a wireless keyboard/mouse. Super sexy.
posted by pokeydonut at 11:15 AM on October 22, 2009

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