Do you like watching movies on your computer monitor or do you prefer to watch them on your television? I think most people who answer this question prefer to watch the movies on TV which has many advantages: Bigger screen, you can watch with more people without feeling crowded around a PC monitor and it has that certain TV feeling that watching on a PC monitor has not.
The only problem is that you need to get videos that you have on your computer, downloaded or ripped, on the TV screen. While you could head out and by a bare bone or multimedia computer that has been made for that purpose, it may turn out to be quite the expensive thing to do.
The device is a small PC with a hard drive that you can fill with contents. If you connect it to your local area network, you can easily transfer media from your main PC to it so that you can watch it on the television. Some devices support wireless connections so that you can also stream contents from a computer to it to watch them on TV.
The solution that I installed at my home is simple, relatively cheap and offers extra values. I'm speaking of the Xbox gaming system. I have replaced the internal hard drive with a bigger one and installed a modchip into it as well.
I'm talking about a first generation Xbox but with the first mod chips appearing for the xbox 360 this will most likely soon be possible with the new system as well. You should check your local laws before you think about buying the parts that you need for this operation, it should be legal in most countries though.
The price of an Xbox, a mod chip and a larger hard drive (160+ GB) should be no more than 400$, most likely less than that. It also depends on the type of mod chip that you want to install and if you are doing the changes yourself or let someone do them for you.
It really does not matter which mod chip you select but I would choose a solder-less one if you are not that tech savvy and want to do it yourself. There are ways to buy a pre-modded Xbox on the net and replace the hard drive with a bigger one. All you need is a special partition tool that converts the bigger hd to xbox format. (Slayer) You burn this tool to dvd and boot the system from it after you have replaced the HD.
You can setup an ftp server on your Xbox afterwards so that you can move files around comfortably in your home network. Use any ftp program to transfer files from and to the device.#
One program that you definitely need is XBMC (Xbox Media Center) This is a free media player that plays many formats and is your main multimedia player. XBMC is only available as a source file, you can however try IRC or Usenet for binary versions.
You transfer movies, music and pictures using ftp as well. The Xbox has a 100 mbit network card which means transfers are really fast. You are also able to play region free DVD movies on the Xbox and play Xbox games (of course).
If you want to enjoy online play I suggest an Xbox with a modchip that you can turn off when you want to play online. Microsoft may detect modchips when you connect to Xbox Live and they may disable the service for you if they find out.
My Xbox has an Xecuter modchip installed, this was some years ago, think it was three years ago. I never had to replace the hard drive, it is still working and I can watch all sorts of divx, xvid, avi, wmv and the like movies. Never used it for music or pictures but this should be running fine as well.
I think I replace my old Xbox with a new Xbox 360 once stable modchips come out for this system and the complete system will be a bit cheaper. This will most likely happen before Christmas because Nintendo Wii and Sony's PS3 come out before Christmas as well. Let me know if you want me to go into detail somewhere or if you are using a different multimedia device.
Update: There is no modchip available that turns the xbox 360 into the same entertainment hub that the original Xbox was. This is unfortunate and while you can play select media files on the system's larger hard drive, it does not offer the same functionality after all. Still, better than nothing I suppose.
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