Stream Movies From Your PC to Your TV

By  |  Friday, September 18, 2009 at 3:47 pm

Steve Bass's TechBiteThis is a long article. It’s technical and at times downright complicated. [I never knew I had attention deficit disorder until I started reading about media streaming devices. –Tech Edit.]

I know some of you are going to skipit. At the same time, I get e-mail kvetching that I’m not writing enough about technology. So there it is: I ain’t gonna satisfy everyone. And in a way, that’s the pleasure in doing my own stuff: I write for myself, sharing with you what gives me a kick in the pants, and take delight when some of you enjoy coming along for the ride.

Enough editorializing. Here’s my long, tedious, sometimes boring story about the new way to watch TV.

Watching Downloaded Movies on Your TV

“Watch movies on my PC? No way.” I was talking to one of my cousins, not one of the brightest bulbs in the family. It took me a few minutes to explain how he could send downloaded movies — as well as other Internet content, such as TV shows — to the TV in his living room.

For the last few months, I’ve tried two devices that sit near your TV and grab video content from your PC. Even in this dreadful economy, neither one I tried is terribly expensive — and there are no monthly charges.

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll explain how these media streaming devices work. To help you decide if you want one, I’ll talk about the pros and cons of how each model works, and some of the setup hurdles. I’ll also show you where to get movies and other video content, both legal and — hold onto your seat — illegal.

This week I’ll cover the hardware; next week I’ll tell you where to find movies and TV shows on the Internet. I’ll also tell you about a MediaGate portable media player.

Making the PC-to-TV Connection

I tried two devices: Sling Media’s $200 SlingCatcher, and MediaGate’s MG-800HD, about $240 discounted. I’ll have specs and descriptions for you in a minute. Of the two, the MG-800HD is the hands-down winner.

The two are roughly the size of an external hard drive and come with remote controls with the usual array of features; the MediaGate includes bookmarking and fast-forward to speeds of 16X. Each device connects to your TV using component, composite, S-Video, or (if you have a hoity-toity big screen) HDMI inputs, and each supports both standard Pal and high-definition video, up to 1080i.

Audio-out is a typical left-right stereo or (if your TV has it) coaxial or optical digital. Each device has USB and network inputs, and supports Windows XP and Vista.

Connections: Pros and Cons

Understanding the five ways these products–and others like them–push a movie from the PC to your TV will help you understand which one is the best fit for you.

External Hard Drive: Copy the video files onto an external hard drive or Flash drive, and connect it to the device’s USB port.

Positives: About the easiest method — literally plug and play. The movie starts almost immediately. The hard drive can store lots of movies; the size of the Flash drive limits you.
Negatives: You’ll need to buy an external drive, or Flash drive, and schlep it to your computer to delete movies you’ve watched and refill it with new movies; the drive can be noisy.

Internal Hard Drive: Install a hard drive into the device.

Positives: Installing the drive isn’t difficult; again, the drive can store lots of movies and the movie starts almost immediately. It’s handy to take the device with you to, say, a hotel, or a friend’s house, and connect it to their TV to watch movies. (You can do this with an external hard drive, too, but it’s not as convenient.)
Negatives: You’ll need to buy a hard drive– mine is 40GB; detaching the device from the TV and bringing it to your PC to load more movies is a hassle; the drive, and small fan in the device, can be noisy.

Hard-wired Network: Movies are sent from your PC or server over your network, hard-wired from your router, using standard network CAT 5 wiring.

Positives: You don’t need an extra internal or external hard drive; all file management is done on your PC; with a network connection, and access to the Internet, you watch YouTube and view other content directly from the Internet.
Negatives: You’ll need to have a network cable running from your router to the device at the TV. Configuring the device to recognize the network ranges from a five-minute job to being lengthy and challenging. You’ll also need to have an available port on your router.

Wireless Network: Movies are on your PC or server and beamed over your wireless network.

Positives: You don’t have to crawl under the house to lay cable; as with the wired network, you won’t need an internal or external hard drive; all file management is done on your PC; access to Internet content.
Negatives: Like the hard-wired option, setup can be difficult — or surprisingly easy — depending on your computing skills and the complexity of your network. Streaming can sometimes stutter if the distance between your Wi-Fi router and the device is great, or if there are walls blocking the signal.

Screen Capture: Whatever is displayed on the PC’s monitor is captured and streamed to the TV.

Positives: The device doesn’t need codecs, so you can watch any video that displays on your PC’s monitor — YouTube, Windows Media Player output, Netflix streaming video, and even PowerPoint presentations. (For details on codecs, read A Fix for “My Video Won’t Play!”). Installing the device is straightforward.
Negatives: You’ll need to have a network cable running from your router to the device at the TV; Wi-Fi isn’t available. Poor-quality video on the PC looks worse when displayed on the TV. The PC has to be turned on and you have to start capture software from the PC; it takes a while to get used to the interface.



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15 Comments For This Post

  1. DaveZatz Says:

    The SlingCatcher is best used as a Slingbox extender. Unfortunately, the product didn’t live up the vision (and was a personal disapointment) with it’s extender-esque functionality.

    You may also want to look at something like the PS3 which utilizes uPnP or the Xbox’s builtin streaming functionality. These devices do multiple things which makes them more practical for many.

  2. Francis Lucas Says:

    Very good information. You might mention that 4 or 8 port switch will extend the ports on the back of the router in case their port count is short. Enjoyed the article; looking forward to the next; following you on Twitter. -Fran

  3. thepeng Says:

    Erm, not that spending hundreds of dollars on a device isn’t great, but what about my 8 dollar S-video cable, and my 3 dollar headphone to red/white audio splitter… I just hook my laptop up, press function and the little tv key, pop the remote out of the side and sit back. I do use VLC player(everyone who cares should really) so i can change the aspect ratio to whatever fits on my television properly.

  4. tovli toda Says:

    Now that you are getting dirty with real techy info, don’t forget Tivo with the open source project pyTivo. I wanted a way to watch 720 and 1080i HD at full quality from all the latest digital cameras that shoot HD, without investing in Blu-ray. The answer, Tivo pulls video from home computer via pyTivo server.

  5. Scot Grant Says:

    Well, hooking up the tv to the pc is not so hard.The harder part is finding the movies from legal sources.

  6. Pro Tech Says:

    Why, I must wonder in absolute amazement, would any intelligent creature go to all of this trouble? I have a 3.4 GHz PC with 2Gb memory sitting behind a 7Mb DSL HSIA. Inside I have a digital video card (Nvidia Gforce) that has a S-Video output. I have a 20″ Digital monitor cabled to the digital output AND (get this) a 32″ Sony analog TV which has a S-Video input on the video 1 port in the back. This is so cool, I set my Nvidia so my monitor is my preferred device and the TV is my second device, I can adjust settings for each independent of the other. The result? I can stream perfectly anything I can find online (as long as the other end is fast enough to keep up with me). for Fox TV programs works great, is a slow and jittery site, but is pretty good (but has a lot of the slow hulu programs). All in all, other than the original investment for the PC and video card (which was not purchased for this setup originally) I spent $40 for a 25′ S-Video cable and a 25′ 3.5mm audio cable so I didn’t have to move my PC from my work area to the living room. This my friends, is a cake walk. I can still work on my PC when the family wants to watch programs on TV.

  7. BN Says:

    PS3 or Xbox360 will also do this.

  8. Ben L. Says:

    My solution cost me $0. I just plug in my PC to my big screen via RGB and leave VLC running full screen. I use avc streamer ( to manage and stream all my videos. I remotely control all my media from a laptop or my iphone. The best part is that I can watch and stream live tv using avcstreamer connected via firewire to my set top box. avcstreamer streams my current channel to anywhere I am through the internet – even at 720p – its very good quality at about 2 Megabits per sec. I can stream any channel I'm watching to my iphone at much lower bandwidths, even works over 3g most of the time.

  9. Jesse Says:

    I really enjoy the MG-800HD also. I'm using an S-Video cable and the images and videos are coming out great. I haven't used the SlingCatcher at all so I have no personal experience with it, but I've heard some negative feedback about it elsewhere so I had went with the MG-800HD also.

  10. TV Guy Says:

    The WII has finally caught up to the XBOX and PS3 and can stream Netflix.

  11. Um ok Says:

    Xbox 360 arcades are probably one of the cheapest options out there. You can pick up an Arcade now for around $100-$150 for the older units, hook up an external hard drive or stream from your PC (various networking options vary in price from next to $0 if your router is close to your Xbox to $30-$75 in setting up a Wireless N bridge using DD-WRT) through TVersity, and stream Netflix through Xbox Live. If you want Blu Ray, you can pick up a PS3 for around $300 that can do everything the Xbox can do plus no Live subscription charges ($40 a year if you buy a 12 month card on sale) and it has Wifi built in.

    The WD Live and other media player boxes are pretty cheap and easy too, but if you have any interest at all in playing games Xbox/PS3 are definitely the way to go.

    All of these are about as good or even better options than the ones presented in this post.

  12. Sven Kremer Says:

    Thanks for posting this, this is working great! Thanks!

  13. Msmith31 Says:

    How and why were you kicked out?

  14. Peter Frambois Says:

    Very helpful commentary, although with a lot of redundancy at the beginning which made me think when will this self-loving guy finally start reviewing the gadgets?

  15. Bruce55 Says:

    I know this is an old post but I found a cool gadget called Wireless Media Stick. Check them out

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