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Cable Technology Feature Article

December 20, 2013

Here's How to McGyver Your Old PC into a Smart TV

By Tara Seals, TMCnet Contributor

Why invest in a smart TV when you can just turn your existing PC into one?

That’s the premise behind a new product called Smarty PCTV—a descriptively accurate name. It’s a free software program that essentially turns any PC, old or new, into a full-fledged streaming player. It includes a full app store with various streaming and on-demand TV services (like Netflix and Hulu (News - Alert)), movie collections, radio and podcasts. So, it essentially provides a Chromecast-like functionality, but does so via software rather than hardware ­– and made for PCs instead of TVs. All of this points out the ever more blurred lines between traditional and digital viewing.

The obvious question here is: Why would anyone bother, considering that Netflix, Hulu, et al already have perfectly good online clients? Smarty PCTV founder and Irish entrepreneur Mike Pettigrew said that the secret lies in the middleware and thus the cost-effectiveness.

“Having discovered the benefits of on-demand TV myself, I just couldn't understand why there were no easy to use software products available to create a true smart TV experience on your own computer,” he said. “I mean, any old PC is more powerful than every smart TV currently on the market. What was missing was a simple to use interface, that could be controlled using a wireless keyboard remote or a smartphone.”

The appeal also lies in repurposing old, aging desktops. Some people want to turn them into aquariums, but why not TVs? “Most people already have an old PC lying around that’s no longer used,” Pettigrew said. “That old PC is all you will ever need for the perfect smart TV experience.”

The idea for the product comes from a McGyver-esque odyssey. He said that after the digital switchover in Ireland, which made analog TV sets obsolete, he experimented with using a Roku player and Apple (News - Alert) TV with it in order to extend its life and avoid investing in a digital set. The experience was lackluster, so he gerryrigged a discarded 8 year old PC as a main TV device.

“I set it up so that we could use a Web browser to watch TV and I added all our favorite TV services using bookmark buttons,” he said. “I also bought a wireless remote keyboard. Our PCTV didn't look great, but it worked really well and has been the best TV we have ever had, by far.”

But, the user interface was missing—he wanted something that looked and felt like a real TV interface.  And so he created it.

“When I was driving I suddenly had a flash of inspiration...what if we created a simple program that could do everything a smart TV could do only better?” Pettigrew said. “With a lovely look and feel and that would be easy to use. This is why I created this product and how Smarty PCTV was born.”

It remains to be seen if the software gains traction; it’s free, so why not? It is, nevertheless, a fascinating budget-conscious concept that will be interesting to watch develop.

Edited by Blaise McNamee

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