Ending Home Theater Feuds

Create personal DVD player setups to free up your family's home theater system

It must be nice to have a good home theater setup: at the very least, a Dolby Digital 5.1 sound system, lots of amplifiers, high-quality speakers, DVD players, Hi8 and S-VHS video recorders, a dedicated CD player, top-notch interconnects and speaker cables, and a 60" (or larger) TV. Oh, wait-I do have a good home theater system with all those elements. However, I also have children. Ever since my kids realized that Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network look better on the big screen than on the 32" Sony in the family room, I lost control of my home theater setup. The only times I get to watch a movie of my choice is when I'm alone in the house or sitting in an airplane watching movies on my laptop.

I recently discovered a way to regain control of the big home theater system and eliminate arguments about who watches what. Although my children don't have TV sets in their bedrooms, they both have computers. When the CD-ROM drive on my daughter's computer died, I discovered that 10X DVD-ROM drives are only about $35. (Check http://www.pricewatch.com for a list of vendors.) For $75 (including FedEx shipping), I had two DVD-ROM drives in my hands in a few days. Note that these ultra-cheap IDE DVD-ROM drives have a downside: they're very sensitive to media. Although the IDE drives have never had a problem reading a prerecorded DVD, neither drive reliably reads a CD-R disc. My more expensive SCSI DVD-ROM drive in my primary desktop system has no such limitations.

My kids' computers are by no means state of the art: One is a 366MHz Celeron system, and the other is a 350MHz AMD K7 system. Both systems have 128MB of RAM and run Windows 2000 Professional. But the computers are powerful enough to play DVDs. Replacing each machine's CD-ROM drive with a DVD-ROM drive took about 10 minutes for each machine, and Win2K had no problem recognizing the new drives. I simply opened the computer case, installed the DVD drive, and ran the IDE cable to the secondary IDE controller on the motherboard. Remember that basic IDE connections have a cable length limitation of 18" so if you use a tall tower case, you might not be able to reach the drive with the cable.

To play DVD movies, I had to install some type of DVD software. Even Windows Media Player (WMP) 8, which is included in Windows XP, requires that you install a DVD codec for playback. I researched DVD software and purchased a copy of CyberLink PowerDVD 3.0. The software is simple enough for my kids to use, and it has worked with every DVD I tried. I later ended up with another copy of the same software, in an OEM version, that came with a high-resolution video card I bought for my home office desktop system.

With a couple of decent-quality sets of powered speakers with powered subwoofers, my kids can now watch movies to their hearts' content, in the privacy of their bedrooms. Although I haven't invested in them, fairly high-quality Dolby 5.1 sets are available for computers.

The idea of watching movies on their computers is novelty enough to distract the kids from the fact that they aren't using the big-screen TV, and having their own movie setups has cut down on family arguments about what's on the big screen. Better yet, Mom can Instant Message them when it's dinnertime.

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