Maximum Value From Your Home Theater


Your home theater system isn’t giving you much return on your investment when it’s not in use or just being used to watch the news. You need programming material that has punch and power, something that’s going to move you like a movie theater. Here are some ideas on how to get the most out of your investment, even when the schedule looks as exciting as watching ice melt.

Video Sources for Your Home Theater System

Cable TV and Satellite TV services are great video sources for that 72-inch plasma TV you just bought. And the digital audio source when pumping out the audio program from a movie can definitely be awe-inspiring when fed through a 5.1 or 7.1 digital surround processor and receiver. But what about those nights when you flip through the onscreen schedule and nothing sounds good? What do you do then?

It’s nights like these when you need an alternate video source. Where you can tell the kids, “It’s movie night! I’m making popcorn!” You’ve got a variety of options for nights like these. You can zip down to the store and grab something from the Blockbuster Express or Redbox kiosk, or, if you have an older computer that you can use as a video source or an Xbox or Wii gaming console, you can hook them up with an Internet connection and stream video all night.

Using an Older Computer as a Secondary Audio/Video Source

Your plasma screen has a literal forest of input options, most likely including DVI, HDMI, RGB, Component, Digital Coax, Cable, and VGA. You can use that VGA input to connect your older computer as a video source. And if your home theater setup doesn’t have a Blu-ray machine, not to worry, you can install one in the old computer for less than $60.

Audio Optical Home Theater

Ok, now you’ve got your old computer feeding video data to the plasma TV component of your home theater system, but what about hearing audio that’s going to make you feel like you’re in the movie, or at least a movie theater? That’s where the 5.1/7.1 surround sound processor/receiver you bought comes into play. You have two options for getting sound signals from the computer to the surround receiver.

If the computer (or the audio card in it) is less than 10 or 15 years old, your best option is to feed the audio data to the surround processor optically. If the computer doesn’t have an optical audio output in the sound section, you can still use 1/8-inch RCA cables and go from the speaker/headphone output to an open audio input channel on your home theater processor. It’s not going to be as impressive or as clean, but the surround sound receiver will take care of that to where only the most discriminating ear can tell the difference.

All told, if you already have the computer, these upgrades should cost you less than $90 to make your system almost as awe-inspiring as a movie theater. And, even better, if you have a TV tuner card and the software that comes with most of them, you can turn this computer into your own DVR machine. And not have to pay DVR rental fees.

Other Home Theater Video Streaming Options

But what if you don’t want to run out at the least minute and rent a DVD or Blu-ray movie? Never fear, video streaming is here. Connect the video source computer to your home network, and it becomes a video streaming appliance. Or, if you have a Wii or Xbox that’s connected to the home network and Internet, you can use one of the appliances as well.

Netflix is a subscription-based service with two options that come with every subscription. You can have them ship movies on Blu-ray and DVD to your house, or you can stream videos from the Netflix website. And you’re not just limited to movies — they have a wide array of hit TV series, from both the recent past and the present. Did you miss a few Futurama episodes? Not to worry, Netflix has most Futurama seasons available for streaming.

At last count, Netflix has well over 2,000 movies, cartoons, and TV series available for video streaming, so you’re sure to find something better than what’s on TV to watch, and it’s less than $10 a month to stream to your heart’s content. (If you want both streaming and the DVD-by-mail service, it costs less than $20 per month.)

Even with Digital Satellite TV or Cable TV service, there’s going to be nights when there just isn’t anything you feel is worth watching on TV. Now you have some options on what to do when this inevitability occurs. Enjoy your home theater every night of the week.

Photo credit: JanetandPhil via photopin cc