TechBite: Stream Movies from Your PC to Your TV


By Steve Bass

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 40GBs; 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.

How Well Do They Work?

TechBite’s columnist Steve Bass and PC World Contributing Editor publishes a free weekly newsletter with commentary on the technology products he loves, the strategies for getting the most out of them,and the gotchas that can cause computing misery. Sign up for the newsletter here

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10 thoughts on “TechBite: Stream Movies from Your PC to Your TV”

  1. I’ve been using a spare laptop for years to watch PC video on my TV. I direct the stereo sound from the PC headphone jack into the input in my stereo system, and I have an adapter cable that takes output from the PC’s S-Video port and feeds it as composite video (the yellow connector) on the TV. Works like a charm. I often watch videos on,, and and, in fact, I’m spending a lot less time watching whatever happens to be on on broadcast TV. Catch the canceled series “Kings” on Great show that didn’t deserve cancellation.

  2. You are exactly right Dave. I have been doing just that for years now. I have an HDMI cable that goes from my laptop to my flat screen and just simply use either a RCA cable for sound, or if I really want to get fancy I bought a Logitech 5.1 surround sound system and use that. The latter just simply plugs directly into my laptop. I read this article 3X’s and still can’t figure out the benefit.

  3. I agree with Terry Rainwater: Just connect the computer to your tv. If you need and want all the bells and whistles, then go with some of the advice here. If all you want is to be able to watch quality looking video of movies or tv shows that are on your hard drive, then don’t waste hard earned money buying all this stuff you DON’T need. My HDTV has a computer input via VGA connection. Step 1: connect it. Step 2: just connect audio out from computer to the tv. Mine is simply a single RCA type(cheap) cable. Step 3: Probably the hardest step to set up. Go into your computer to “clone” the image from the computer to your tv. This is the step that took a while for me to learn and get right. And, All computer software that would be on your computer is probably different, so, you will just have to find and play with your computer programs that control your video image on the computer. You will find somewhere where you can “clone” the image from the computer screen, to another video source. Once you do this, and get it right, you should’nt have to adjust that setting again. Simply just turn your tv to the PC mode, start your program on the computer, make the image on the computer full screen, and enjoy! I also use my wireless mouse as my “remote”, lol. AT least I can stop, pause, go back, etc. I use VLC, which you can download free, as my video player program and it is probably the best and easiest and can play literally just about any video on your computer you have. There ya go, the cheapest way possible and you had to spend what, maybe nothing if you had the two cables I mentioned.

  4. I got FiOS with the media player. They just upgraded the Media Manager so it plays computer videos. They don’t seem to be advertising it…I just found it by nosing around their website.

  5. I just installed a Samsung BD-P1600 Blu-Ray disc player that has the Netflix compatible network interface> It works great, some of the movies are HD and my Philips 50 in. plasma looks great.

  6. don`t know if you have seen this site, but it has great quality, if you haven` seen it check it out ,it` awesome, Hula .com, Ken

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