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Watching TV on Your Computer
Yes, of course you can. The newest computers -- at least those with four-digit price tags -- have DVD-ROM drives, not CD-ROM. If you have an MPEG card, or in some cases MPEG software, you can actually watch a movie on your monitor.
How good an image can you get?
The best computer monitors are superior to TV sets, as should be obvious to anyone who has ever tried using a TV as a computer monitor. One reason -- but only one -- is that monitors use progressive scanning (as some TV's now do), instead of interlacing the lines. Thus you can't see the scanning lines. Even large monitors are relatively small, of course, but then one one normally sits close to it.
Consider a 19" screen, now available for little money, with a vertical resolution of perhaps 1024 pixels. That's about two pixels for each of NTSC's 525 lines. Even with PAL and SECAM's 625 lines, that's pretty good. As for size, a 19" screen viewed from two feet away is like a 95" screen viewed from 10' away!
Indeed, the screen is not necessarily the problem. Some cheap monitors have murky detail and poor dynamic range, but the best ones are gorgeous. The decoding in some computers is less than perfect, letting through even more strange visual artifacts than you'd expect. And computers are not one-trick ponies, waiting to do just one task. They're always dashing off to take care of some obscure housekeeping business, thus causing stuttering of the image. Indeed, some computers will actually be unable to keep the image and the soundtrack in perfect synchronization.
Speaking of the sound track: as we write, we are not aware of any computer capable of decoding 5.1 channel sound, whether Dolby Digital or DTS.
Interestingly, Microsoft believes watching TV on a computer is a good idea, and indeed lobbied to have HDTV restricted to 740 lines, the practical limit for watching on a computer. It didn't succeed.
A top grade computer and monitor, with a good amp and speakers attached, can make a movie look and sound pretty good. And watching a film on a portable computer certainly beats squinting at a distant in-flight movie. You'll still want to get a standalone DVD player, though. We may be living in the age of convergence, but an appliance that does everything doesn't do anything well.
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