Home Theater Desktops? Bah, I Say! Why notebooks are the answer.
A Few Recommendations
At first glance, buying a laptop for home theater use seems simple.
Once you start considering factors such as battery life and size,
however, finding the perfect laptop is more difficult. Purchasing a
laptop usually requires compromises. More power often translates to
less battery life. Smaller size results in a machine which is less
enjoyable to use browsing the web or playing games. And so on. If
you've been convinced by my argument that a fairly ordinary laptop can
serve as a replacement for a HTPC you may still have a lot of decisions
ahead of you.
To help put you on the right track, I'm going to list three laptops
which I feel hit a real sweet spot. My rules are simple. First, the
laptop needs to be great for use with a home theater. That means
manageable size, good battery life and adequate performance. Second,
the laptop also needs to be a great laptop. The fact that you're buying
a laptop which will often be connected to your HDTV doesn't mean it
shouldn't also be amazing while you're at the coffee shop.
Recommendation #1: ASUS UL30JC
This mid-size ASUS laptop has everything you could want for a
laptop that will serve double-duty as a home theater assistant and
travel companion. It has a 13.3 inch display, which means it isn't a
large laptop by any measure, although it is thick compared to similar
13.3laptops which lack an optical drive. The ASUS UL30JC has a battery
life of five or six hours even when playing back video, a Core i3
processor and Nvidia 310M graphics. You'll usually pay between $850 and
Recommendation #2: Samsung R480/R580
If you're looking to kill three birds with one stone laptop, home
theater PC and Blu Ray player the Samsung R series laptops are worth a
look. The R480 and R580 are 14and 15.6inch laptops. The R480 has a Core
i3, while its larger cousin has a Core i5 as well as Nvidia graphics.
Both of these laptops have Blu Ray players. The R480 can be found for
$679 and the R580 for $829. There is also an even larger 17.3sibling
available, called the R780. I recommend against this option, however,
because it is too heavy and the battery won't last the length of a
typical two-hour movie.
Recommendation #3: Dell Studio 14
Those looking for a solid laptop on a budget should turn their
attention to the Dell Studio 14. Although armed with a Core i3
processor, the Dell Studio 14 (in base trim) lacks discrete graphics.
Still, the Intel HD graphics will work just fine for video, and the
Dell Studio 14 does have a nicely positioned HDMI port. Battery life
with the six cell will be around three and a half hours, while choosing
the larger nine cell battery will put it around five hours. Choosing to
go with less powerful hardware, as in the Dell Studio 14, also results
in a nice price the Dell Studio 14's basic Core i3 model is $599.
The Future is Smaller
As we move towards a more mobile technology lifestyle the use of
home theater laptops will become even easier. Although traditional home
theater computers might continue to be used by a select few, I see no
future for them. Using your laptop to display video on a HDTV makes
more sense. Using a laptop to play stored or online video carries
little to no additional cost (so long as you plan to own a laptop
anyway) but lets you obtain 90% of the functionality.
Of course, home theater laptops are only the tip of the iceberg.
Some mobile devices, like the Zune HD, now have the ability to display
720p video on a HDTV. The attractiveness of using a laptop with a home
theater will probably be replaced by these mobile video devices within
the next five or ten years. For now, however, the capabilities of these
devices are limited, leaving the laptop in a comfortable position.
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