An Old Laptop as a Low End Media Solution

Cable and satellite TV are growing more expensive all the time. If you’re looking to reduce your entertainment costs, an older laptop can be an easy way to do so.

When I was moving into my apartment, I was looking for any way to reduce the size of my cable bill. One way I found to lower my bill was to not buy DVR service. But this left me with another problem: What would happen if I couldn’t watch an episode of a show? The obvious solution was to stream the episode over the Internet, either from a service like Hulu Plus or directly from the network.

The next question to answer was how would I get the streaming services on my TV? Dedicated streaming devices were one option, but these boxes can be moderately pricey and are limited in what they can access. Then I had an idea: I had an older laptop lying around that I was looking for a use for, and it would be perfect as a media system in my living room.

Why a Laptop?

While the laptop is larger than a dedicated streaming device, it is also much more versatile while still being compact and discrete. While streaming boxes are usually limited to services like Netflix and Hulu, along with other selected streams, the laptop allows me to stream from any media site on the Web. Another bonus is that I don’t need a Hulu Plus subscription, required for use on streaming boxes, as their website has most of their content freely available.

A laptop also allows more entertainment options than just streaming. The optical drive allows me to watch DVDs and eliminates the need for a separate DVD player. You can also easily watch files stored locally on the computer, or on flash and external hard drives. And since it’s a computer, you can do anything you normally would on one, right from the couch.

My Setup

While your configuration can vary depending on what you have available, the laptop I’m using is a 2008 Dell Inspiron 1525. It has a 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo and 2 GB of DDR2 RAM and is running Windows 7. While it’s Intel GMA X3100 integrated graphics are underwhelming, HD video playback is no problem. Connecting the Inspiron to my TV was easy, since it has a built in HDMI port, though this will vary depending on your setup.

Now I had my system all set, but how was I going to control it? I decided to go out and purchase a Logitech K400 wireless keyboard. It wasn’t too expensive ($30), and the integrated touchpad is much easier to use in the living room than a mouse. I’m quite happy with it, but use whatever devices meet your personal preferences.

The Result

I’ve been using this setup for several months and have been quite happy with it. While I haven’t fully cut the cord on cable yet, the ease and flexibility of my laptop media system makes it a real possibility in the future. It’s also a great way to keep an older system useful, keeping with the Low End Mac philosophy of getting the most out of our gear.

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2 thoughts on “An Old Laptop as a Low End Media Solution

  1. Depending on your use, get a cheap Microsoft Media Center Remote compatible remote from ebay for $20. Makes all the difference in making your setup feel like a “living room appliance” vs a laptop hooked up to a TV. Plus its a lot more wife/gf/SO friendly, for those who aren’t as into tinkering as we tend to be.

    • Good tip. I opted for a keyboard/trackpad since it makes typing web addresses or show searches much easier but a remote definately looks less out of place.

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