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Patrick Versus the Media Server

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Alright, in a continuing saga of Patrick versus technology, I am looking for some advice. I have a decently old RCA TV (circa 1999) set with 1 Coax input and one Composite input. No idea where the remote is (lost sometime around 2002) I am planning on adding a computer to the TV to handle multiple functions. I need software/hardware that can do the following:

(1) Operate the Computer using a remote control
(2) VGA to Composite converter?

(1) Play DVDs
(2) Play CDs
(3) Stream Movies/Music from other computers on the network

Other things that would be nice

(5) Have the ability to load up some simple games through the remote (Doom, Duke3D, Dark Forces, XOP)
(6) Something that can run my Netflix account

Anyone know of any hardware/software that can help me?

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1) Usually TV cards come with their own remote control, but it can only be used with very specific applications, or if you are lucky, it maybe bindable to media player controls.

For more general solutions including DIY take a look at http://www.pcremotecontrol.com/

2) VGA to composite: normally you shouldn't need that, almost all modern video cards have a composite output built-in, so what once was the "holy grail" for IBM-PCs is now trivial. In case your card doesn't have one, it may be better to just upgrade the graphics card rather than buying an external converter box: even an old TNT2 or something to that effect will do, if it's just for media player usage.

3)Play CD/DVD/Stream Media: the first two should be trivial. A "one size fits all" free solution would be Media Player Classic with some decent codek pack like CCCP or K-Lite. For "streaming", if you just mean playing back a file from a remote computer, you'd need typical networking equipment like a network adapter (should be built-in) and a switch, if you have more than one remote computer. You'll also need to buy or crimp some ethernet cables, unless you want to make a wireless network. WMP and Winamp may offer a better interface if you need to manage large changing lists of media though.

4) Launching apps/games: depends on the remote control app you use: it's really no different than using one of those "rapid launch key" apps.

5) No idea how netflix delivers content to your house (cable modem?) or if they use some sort of proprietary interface but anything above a Pentium III @ 500 MHz with a decent video card (not PCI, should have hardware overlay and MPEG motion compensation) is perfectly able to play DVD MPEG-2 streams with most media players.

So to sum up: any PC built to handle windows XP gracefully, that has a video card with composite output and reasonable hardware acceleration, a network card and (let's be generous) a Pentium III @1 GHz class CPU or better should do the trick without breaking a sweat. The only tricky thing is finding a remote control interface.

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A relative just asked me yesterday about a VGA to Composite cable he found on Ebay. They do exist, but I can't vouch for them having never used one.

I used to have my media PC connected to an old TV (now using a projector with a vga cable). The video card in the PC had S-Video out (a cheap Geforce FX5700), so I got a S-Video to Composite adapter and RCA cable to connect it to the TV.

My opinion would to be to grab a cheap GFX card that has S-Video out.

I own a Microsoft Remote Control that allows me control Windows Media Center (or Media Player). You can download a third party driver that allows you to map keys and the like.

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Converting VGA-to-something-else has always been the Holy Grail of IBM PC compatibles, since the refresh rates were severely mismatched with TVs and most video analog equipment.

If you don't have a built-in S-Video or composite video output on GFX card, then it's a tough cookie. You'll have to use a fugly external converter, which may be limited in capability and will inevitably degrade the signal due to the double analog conversion. The build-in composite/s-video is "easy" to make and works well because it taps the GFX card frame buffer directly, so it's basically a RGB to LSI color space conversion which can be done efficiently with a simple DSP without worrying too much about refresh rates etc.

S-Video can be downgraded to composite using a simple capacitor between the two s-video signal leads (chroma and luma are separate on s-video, mixed on composite), and the adapter is usually just a small passive plug you can get for a dime.

Component video is another story though: it may be RGB Component or YCbCr, both of which require some adjustment, processing and refresh rate adaptation in order to directly drive a projector or a capable TV (usually only high-end devices have such inputs though).

Again, Planky is right: getting an older GFX card with a built-in composite or S-video output will be much more cost effective (I asked Patrick and confirmed he has an onboard with no composite).

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