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Use your laptop as a media centre

The modern Windows laptop is not simply a work horse for business tasks, it can help you enjoy your downtime too

The modern Windows laptop is a versatile and incredibly flexible tool that you can use for any number of tasks. One of the things that a laptop can be really useful for is as the centre of your home entertainment setup.

The advantage of having all your music, movies, TV shows and photos with you no matter where you are in the world is great. Of course, you can watch or listen to your content on the laptop screen, but with the fast adoption of HDMI in LCD TVs and on laptops you can also show everything off on a big monitor too.

For maximum compatibility and quality just make sure that your laptop has an HDMI output, any LCD TV should have an input as standard. The HDMI connection will handle all the video and audio digitally so you get the greatest quality as well as incredibly easy setup. One other thing you might want to consider is a larger hard disk, so if you’re planning to buy a new laptop to use as the centre of your home entertainment then make sure you buy one with as large a hard disk as possible or one that’s easy to upgrade at a later date.

To use a Windows 8 laptop as the hub of your home entertainment system you’ll also need to get a copy of Windows Media Centre. Depending upon the version of Windows 8 you have you’ll need to purchase the Media Centre Pack as an additional tool.

Go to Search and click on add features > Settings then tap on Add features to Windows 8 you then need to follow the instructions to pay for and install the software. Once you have the Media Centre Pack installed you’ll be able to playback DVDs easily and a host of other things.

You might want to consider investing in some other hardware if you plan to use a laptop as your media centre permanently. The speakers on most LCD TVs these days are perfectly adequate but to get that full surround sound experience you could look into getting some better, bigger speakers or perhaps a separate amplifier to really get the best audio experience.

It’s also easy to hook up most modern laptops to a projector so if a large LCD still isn’t big enough for your movie and gaming experience you can take things to the next level with a huge screen beamed directly on to your wall. If you have a TV tuner in your laptop or invest in an external one then you can also setup your laptop to be your TV. With Media Centre installed you’ll be able to record programmes as well as pause live shows. With Media Centre you can manage and play all your music too and if you import all the images from your digital camera they’ll show on-screen in a slide show as your favourite tracks play.

As well as the ability to playback and store your existing movies there are two services from Microsoft that allow you to buy the very latest films from the comfort of your arm chair. Xbox movies is, as the name suggests, a place to download movies. All you need is a Microsoft Live account and a credit card linked to the service to enable purchases. The very latest blockbusters and a wide ranging back catalogue mean you never have to wait to see your favourite movies ever again, just a few clicks and they’ll be on your big screen. The Xbox movies service also lets you watch trailers to give you a flavour of what will be on offer.

The Xbox music pass service has millions of songs available for streaming and download. It’s compatible across multiple devices too, so if you have a Windows PC and a Windows phone or an Xbox then you can share your favourite music simply by signing in.

With the explosion of other content providers there are plenty of other ways to extend the laptop and make it even more central to your home entertainment system. A subscription to a service such as Netflix will give you access to a host of top movies and television series. If music is more your thing then Spotify can serve up just about anything you could possibly want to listen to. All that you need is a decent internet connection and your movies and favourite songs will be beamed right to the screen.

As well as this there are a host of online services that just require a web browser. Catch up and on-demand services are available from all the main TV channels and you can quickly show off these on your TV as well. All this and you can still benefit from the likes of iTunes from Apple and its huge range of movies to purchase or rent.

Of course, it’s not just music, TV and movies that makes the PC a great centre for entertainment, as there’s a host of fantastic games available through the Windows Marketplace. Download games direct to your laptop and be up and playing the latest titles within minutes adding yet another string to the versatility of the laptop as an entertainment device.

On the surface a laptop seems like the perfect work tool, you can use it to create a great presentation and get the mundane tasks like spreadsheets done wherever and whenever. With the powerful processors and increase in storage capacity modern laptops have, they can be so much more. Using a laptop as the entertainment hub of your digital life is a great idea as you can keep all your stuff in one central easy-to-manage place. Best of all a laptop won’t take up that much space and replaces what would have been a few different boxes under the TV with just the one.

This article is part of the Dell Tech Zone series. Click here for more

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