Connected devices: how to use your TV, iPhone and work PC as a multimedia entertainment system

If you connect up all your devices, you can get your music library on to every computer you own, or start watching a movie on TV and finish it off on your iPhone. Michael Moran explains how

This modern, hyperconnected multimedia world is great. We’re downloading films. We’re downloading music. We’re taking more photographs than might seem rational to those of us born before 1999. But the problem is, they all end up in the wrong place.

Being in our 50s, we probably have a decent hi-fi, but we end up listening to music through tinny laptop speakers as often as not, because connecting the computer to the amp is more bother than it’s worth.

We’ve probably got a lovely telly too, but getting downloaded movies or the immeasurable wealth of YouTube on to it leaves the front room so festooned with cables it looks like we’ve hired a mad scientist as an interior decorator.

And wouldn’t it be nice to subject unsuspecting guests to an interminable slideshow of holiday snaps, the way we used to? Surely today’s technology should be up to that task.

Well, good news. It is.

How to connect your laptop to your TV

Yes, the solution I’m about to suggest involves hooking a computer or games console up to the TV and audio system, but you don’t need to throw a particularly fancy machine at the job.

If you’re buying new, a Mac mini or a similar footprint PC such as the Acer Revo or ASRock VisionX would be ideal. If you’re not, you can probably get away with a last-generation PC that’s been put out to pasture by a relative or employer.

And if you should have a Playstation or X-Box, then it’s easier still.

Getting the right cabling to connect a computer to a modern TV should be a snap. Many recent model computers offer a high definition multimedia interface (HDMI) connection. Some TVs have a VGA input. Even factoring in the audio connections, it shouldn’t cost you more than 20 minutes in your nearest Maplin to get everything you need.

My favourite multimedia software: Plex

From there on, it’s simplicity itself. There are a dozen or so software packages that will bring all your media together: Windows Media Server, Twonky or Kodi will all give you a powerful multimedia system, but my preference is for Plex. The server and player applications are painless to install, and free.

While there’s a pocket-money sized charge for the smartphone and tablet clients, it’s worth it for the additional elegance they add to the system.

Once Plex is set up, you can pull off all sorts of gratifying tricks. You can share the big music library on your main computer to any other computer in the house. You can watch the movie you downloaded on your office computer on the one connected to your TV without any tiresome running around with USB sticks.

Perhaps slickest of all, you can pause a movie that you’re streaming to your telly, and then take your iPhone to the loo and pick up exactly where you left off. Which I accept is appalling behaviour, but immeasurably pleasing.

You might well have questions after reading all that. I know I would. Leave your queries in the comments section below and I’ll answer them as best I can.