Have you every considered setting up a dedicated computer to act as a media center in your living room? Well, if you have some older hardware around, you can do this right now.
Surprisingly, you don’t need a lot of powerful hardware to have a good, functioning media center. Case in point: I recently set up my old Dell Dimension as a media PC for my 1080p TV. This computer is around 4-5 years old, and guess what, it works perfectly as a media center. It is a Pentium 4 at 3GHz, 512MB RAM, and a Radeon X300SE graphics card with 128MB of onboard memory. Sure this sounds very weak compared to modern hardware: 4-8 GB of memory is now the norm, as well as quad core processors. But for playing 720p video, my setup works flawlessly.
Yea, believe it or not, that little X300 and Pentium 4 can play 720p video without any lag whatsoever. It can’t handle 1080p, but I’m 100% satisfied with 720p on my 52″ screen. And how much did I spend to make it all work? $7 at Radio Shack for a headphone-to-headphone cable. I plugged the TV in as if it were a monitor, using the standard blue VGA cable. Then plugged in the audio cable just as if the TV was a speaker system, and there you have it: a budget home theater system, while saving a computer from being thrown out or put in storage.
So if you have an old computer, but not too old, laying around, give it a shot and see if it will play high-def videos. You might be surprised. And if it can’t, you can always buy a $50 video card from eBay or Newegg. If my X300 / Pentium 4 computer can run a 1080p resolution and play 720p video, you can see right there that you don’t need to spend hundreds on a home media center.