Make Your PC a Man-Cave Media Center

Extend Windows Media Center With Your Xbox 360

If you'd rather not make a big, bulky desktop PC a permanent part of your living room d├ęcor, consider working instead with the Xbox 360 that's already there. Right out of the box, Microsoft's game console can double as a Media Center Extender, reproducing the entire Media Center experience--TV, music, photos, and all.

The interface looks and operates exactly as if you were sitting in front of your PC. And there's no added The only overhead is the one-time setup procedure linking Xbox and PC.

Unfortunately, you won't be able to watch Blu-ray (or even DVD) movies via your Xbox. (Thanks, DRM.) Also, you can't use PC speakers with an Xbox--so if you want killer audio, your only practical option is to add a receiver to the mix. And finally, your Xbox will need a wired connection to your home-network router; wireless just doesn't cut it, especially for streaming high-definition video.

Don't Forget the Remote Control

Logitech's Harmony One remote control works extremely well with Windows Media Center PCs.
Ready to hit the couch? You still need one crucial accessory: a remote. We've long been partial to the Logitech Harmony One, which incorporates a color touchscreen for performing multitask activities (such as turning on the TV while switching the receiver to the proper mode). It works especially well with Windows Media Center, since many of its buttons map perfectly to the interface.

If your PC lacks an IR receiver, however, you'll need to add one. Our advice: Head to eBay and search for "Windows Media Center remote." For as little as $15, you should be able to find a bundle that includes a remote and a receiver. You can use the former if you want or stick it in a drawer as a backup.

The interface of the HippoRemotePro iPhone app.
Finally, if you own an iPhone or an iPod Touch, you can go the app route. For just $5, HippoRemote Pro provides full control over Windows Media Center. You don't even need an IR receiver--just a small Windows utility that permits your Apple device and your PC to communicate over your Wi-Fi network.

Have any Media Center PC tips of your own? Share them in the comments!

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