Ken's Korner Newsletter Logo September 2020
Computer for Entertainment?

Using your computer for entertainment.

Alright, so I am a professional computer “geek” and some people think that means that I am “pure science” and never do anything like use a computer to watch a movie or listen to music or anything like that. Allow me to shatter that myth right now!


I do use computers for entertainment. Never on the company’s time of course but I do watch movies and listen to music. I even have a weakness for the old FreeCell game. Of course if accused of such behavior publicly I would deny any such accusations.

Computers can make great entertainment centers. And it doesn’t have to be a super powerful machine to do it.

Movies, Videos and TV:
Basically this is just using your TV as a second monitor on your PC, Mac or other device. Most computers made in the last five years can accommodate at least two monitors. Alternatively you can install an upgraded video card for better performance.

That would be the simplest option but if the TV and the PC are not conveniently located you can go wireless. In the last few years a plethora of choices for wireless HDMI streaming have hit the market. While some of the lower cost items like Google Chromecast will work and the price won’t break the bank. Also it is portable; you can take it to your friends house, at work and stream video presentations or on the road and watch movies in your hotel room, (as long as the TV has an HDMI port). The Chromecast is available at Best Buy.

If you want really impressive streaming performance you will need to step up to something like IOGear’s wireless GW3DHDKIT which will allow you to connect two TVs up to one hundred feet away. One of the best high performance wireless streaming choices would be Nvidia’s Shield with 4K capability for a really impressive video and gaming experience. Hold on to your hat, (and your wallet) if you choose this option.

Few things in life are as enjoyable as listening to good music. But as you have probably noticed the music only sounds as good as the system it’s playing on. Most PCs and Macs come with pathetic speakers and laptops with those tiny little drivers are almost painful to endure. Even if you are on a tight budget some low cost speakers can greatly improve your listen experience.

As with the streaming equipment in the previous segment the sky is the limit when it comes to PC speaker systems. Here are a few things to consider when looking for computer speakers.


Stereo, 2.1 or surround sound: Which is best? Stereo speakers consist of just a pair of speakers, one for left and one for right. The 2.1 systems add a sub woofer to that for extra deep bass sound, (usually below 1KHz). This can add a kick to video explosions, bass guitars, drums and so on. However some two speaker systems do quite well due to their built-in woofers.

Serious gamers and audiophiles may want to step up to the 5.1, (or higher) surround sound systems. This combined with the high performance streaming equipment discussed in the first section can turn your living room into a home theater. Be warned now that if you live in an apartment, townhome, duplex or other multi unit dwelling some of these systems could cause loss of lease. If you have it cranked up at two in the morning your neighbors will be listening to good music whether they like it or not, (and probably not).

In most cases you will probably want to get powered speakers. They come with their own amplifier so you don’t have to worry about matching the amp and speakers. Unpowered or “passive” speaker systems will delight people who know how to set up a high end sound system and frustrate everyone else.

Many speaker systems feature Bluetooth connectivity. Some are even waterproof and have rechargeable batteries making them portable while still delivering very good sound quality. You might be surprised by the great sound coming from your Smartphone. Now you can get ready for your next “pool party”!

Here are some comparisons of popular PC speakers from Tech Radar.

Here are a few terms you may need to know when looking for speakers:

  • What is a Watt? A watt is a unit of work energy. In the audio world it is used to measure the power handling of speakers and the output capabilities of amplifiers. In the electronics world amps multiplied by volts equal watts, (10 amps at 120 volts equal 1200 watts).
  • Sound Pressure Level (SPL) is the acoustic value of a sound. Remember that what we humans perceive as sound is just varying pressure waves coming in contact with our ear drums. SPL is measured in decibels. A change of one decibel is generally regarded as the smallest volume change that human ear can detect. Since decibels are logarithmic doubling the power, (wattage) results in a +3dB increase which is quite noticeable. Going from 50dB to 100dB requires much more than just doubling the wattage since each 3dB increase requires doubling the power.
  • More wattage doesn’t necessarily mean more volume. While wattage is a significant factor you also need to consider the speakers sensitivity. That doesn’t mean you have to worry about the speakers emotional state rather speaker sensitivity is a measure of how efficiently the speaker converts electrical energy into sound. Normally expressed in decibels it describes the SPL that a speaker can produce from a one watt signal at a distance of one meter. So a 500 watt speaker with a sensitivity of 98dB will have the same volume as a 1000 watt speaker with a sensitivity of 95dB.
  • Also watch out for deceptive advertising of speakers. There are two ways that speakers are rated. In most cases speakers are rated as RMS, (root mean squared) which refers to the amount of wattage the speaker can handle on a continuous basis. The peak value is the amount of wattage the speaker can handle for short bursts. Some advertises only show the peak power rating. While that makes for some impressive numbers but the speaker will not last long if it is actually operating at that level.

If you are just playing simple games like Mahjong, (while you are stuck on hold) or Solitaire, (while you are waiting for dinner) or even the ancient Battle Chess, (it is still available) then you don’t need much computing power. Most any modern computer will handle that right out of the box without any additional modifications.

Serious Gamer

If you are into some of the on-line games like Fortnite you will need more of a high end PC or Android device and broadband access to the Internet. Sorry Mac and iPhone users but Apple has blocked Fortnite as those two are having a hissy fit. After an update Fortnite users could by in-game currency at a lower rate if they bought direct from Epic Games thereby bypassing Apple. Apple, (predictably) felt cheated and blocked them. It is currently a court battle between Epic Games and Apple. Watching those two fight it out could be considered entertainment while the PC and Android users continue playing.

For serious gamers a high end PC, three HD monitors and a good video card are required. If you are into Horizon Zero Dawn, Control, Dark Souls, Call of Duty or even Microsoft’s Flight Simulator the video card is the key. The gaming video card has to do two things at once.

  1. Create a 3-D wireframe of the scene you are viewing.
  2. At the same time it has to generate a 2-D color image that it maps onto that wireframe.

And it has to do all of this in real-time as you move around in the game. That takes a lot of number crunching so the video card is really a high performance computer itself. High-end video cards can be expensive. The Nvidia Quadro GV100 lists for $11,999.99, (that is not a typo, its 12 grand for the video card alone).

And of course you will need sound! Refer to the previous section on music for the basic systems. But if you are a serious gamer you will probably need surround sound, at least a 5.1 and maybe even a 7.1 system. Those aren’t cheap either. The high-end seller will sell you a premiere home theater system featuring a Klipsch 7.2.2 speaker system paired with a Marantz AV Receiver on sale for $7,432.00, (that’s $850.00 of the regular price). So what are you waiting for?

Serious gaming can get seriously expensive. We are way beyond spider solitaire now!


And remember — always back it up!



Go back to the top

To get the Ken's Korner Newsletter delivered to your Inbox CLICK HERE