Do you connect your PC to your TV?

Of all the fancy technologies I track that can provide video to the living room — the Apple TV, the Netflix/Roku box, and so many more — there is one surprising one that is making a stealth rise to power: The PC.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, I don’t mean the Microsoft Media Center experience with its 10-foot UI (that’s geek talk for a user interface that lets you sit on the couch and operate it via a remote control). No, that Media Center never caught on. I’m convinced the majority of people who own Media Center PCs don’t even know it.

What I’m talking about is a surprising rise in the number of people who tell us in surveys that they are connecting their PCs to their TVs at least occasionally. The number is now at one-fifth of online people who have something (cable box, DVR, etc.) connected to their TVs.

I think the factor pushing all of this is the mass of flat panel HDTV buying that has occured. These screens all have VGA inputs on them, it makes connecting the PC much, much easier than it used to be (moment of sympathy for those of us who have actually connected our PCs to our TVs via s-video cable).

And just what do people do with this connection? After playing video games, the thing they do most is watch online video. Online TV shows, is my hunch, but I didn’t ask that in the survey.

This is a small change in consumer behavior that could have tremendous consequences. Who needs fancy set top boxes when you have a PC connected to the TV? For that matter, who needs cable? So it’s your turn to sound off. Comment on this one, tell us, have you connected your PC to your TV? Do you do it a lot? Do you think you’ll do it more? Is this going to become the dominant way people get on-demand content to the TV? 

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11 Responses to Do you connect your PC to your TV?

  1. Chris Maxcer says:

    I have an Apple TV — love it — and I have connected a Mac to my HDTV . . . but mostly just fooling around. The problem with the Apple TV is storage . . . it doesn’t come with much, depending on the model. Plus, it’s really a bridge device from an existing home computer, although it can run mostly on its own, renting movies, tv shows, podcasts, etc.

    The point that’s bugging me right now is that we have several laptops in our home. And laptops are mobile. Take them away from the home, and all the movies, etc, that are on a laptop and are supposed to be streamed to the Apple TV (works great, btw), are now gone in some coffee shop or on a trip. A desktop PC/Mac would handle the issue, of course, but then it becomes of a question of leaving the desktop unit somewhere else . . . or just connect it to the HDTV?

    And what happens when you have two TVs?

    So, case in point: say I buy a Mac mini and connect it to my HDTV, get a wireless bluetooth keyboard and mouse, and wahoo, I can now surf the web from my couch, watch movies via Apple’s Front Row, play music, etc, and use the Mac mini as a media hub — the primary storage place for the household’s music, movies, photos, and TV shows. Quite handy and pretty cool.

    That is, until I want to watch a movie while another person wants to surf the web. Now we’ve got two devices locked into one — the HDTV and the Mac mini. Seems silly.

    Of course, if we had a lot of spare change lying around, I’d just buy a Mac mini for the HDTV and an iMac for the kitchen common area,

    Basically, it comes to this: if the price could come down on a Mac mini, it’s a no brainer to attach one to an HDTV. You might think you could simply use an older Mac or PC for HDTV connections . . . since CPU power isn’t critical . . . but since so many households are now buying laptops or all-in-ones, there’s not so many hand-me-down boxes available these days.

    The great thing about the PC or Mac connection to the TV is that it makes it easier to get any kind of content to the big screen — Hulu, NetFlix, Apple iTunes shows, etc — and you’re not limited to any particular manufacturer’s store or system.

  2. James McQuivey says:

    Great comment, Chris. Your point about needing a cheaper Mac mini option is a good one. I’ve had many people tell me they would buy a small computer (PC or Mac, though, honestly, it will be cheaper if you go PC) to connect to their TV. But I’m not seeing PC makers market their smaller PCs this way. Anyone know of a PC maker who is advertising a small PC as a PC-TV slave?

  3. Willie says:

    Here, we have an Xbox 360 connected to our TV. It is on the same network as our computers, so we have set up Windows Media Network Sharing on all of our computers. Any (pre-downloaded) video on the PC we can watch on the TV. Similarly, our music can stay on our computers, but can be streamed through the Xbox setup.
    So, yes. It pretty much stays connected to the TV, even though they are in different rooms.

  4. James McQuivey says:

    Thanks for the comment, Willie. I have to admit, I’m hearing more and more from people about the Xbox 360 as the way they connect the PC to the TV. And it makes sense when you realize that there are 14 million Xbox 360 Live users. The connectivity’s already there, the Xbox plays nice with the windows-based PCs in the home. It might very well be the dominant platform for PC-to-TV video.

  5. Willie says:

    Well, just got the new Xbox 360 update and tied it to my Netflix account. First complaint — can’t browse the selection from the Xbox… I can only watch what I’ve already put in my “Instant Queue” from my computer.

  6. James McQuivey says:

    So this is a convenience that many people like about the Netflix service, at least in the Roku box. It is easy to navigate because the options are so few. But it only take a few times using it before you realize that it’s also very limiting. Anyone else having the same frustration?

  7. michael says:

    What’s your guess to the total number of people using PCs in their living room? Do you really think it runs in the 100s of Millions (even if they are occasional users)?

  8. James McQuivey says:

    Michael’s question: how many people using PCs in the living room (I assume he means connected to a TV). The number is 20 million in the US. Of them, just under a fourth say they watch online video with that PC in a typical month, which means 4-5 million homes in the US are watching online video on the TV screen with the help of a PC every month. That makes the PC the dominant way people connect online video to their TVs (bigger than xbox, apple TV, etc.)

  9. michael says:

    Thanks, more I really thought it would be. I noticed you work at Forrester, do you have any research reports talking about PC’s connected to TVs as well as the expected growth and what’s driving it (you mention above that games are the number one use). I’d love to learn more.

  10. Online TV says:

    I can’t believe I actually found a site worth talking about. I ordered the software for Online TV on my PC, and I get all the channels that’s advertised. Now I can firmly say, “if you look hard enough you will find reliable service. One happy camper right here.

  11. sarah malcom says:

    I have had a PC with Windows Media Center on it for several years now and have never bothered to hook it up to my TV because my TV and PC have always been in different rooms and I did not want wires running from room to room. I am not very tech-savvy and am wondering what my options are for hooking up the PC to the TV if they are in different rooms. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

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