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Converting your computer into a Home Entertainment Center

With Zoom Player, you can instantly convert any PC into a Home Entertainment Center or Home Theater PC (HTPC) with no specialized hardware requirement or operating system (Zoom Player runs on practically every version of Windows).

This guide contains a step-by-step guide to converting your Personal Computer into a Home Entertainment Center and includes instructions on how to setup your hardware and cables properly.

Minimum Requirement:
1. Zoom Player Professional v5 or newer.
2. Windows 98 / Windows NT4 SP5 or newer.
3. 50mb Disk Space.
4. 512mb RAM

1. Latest version of Zoom Player.
2. Windows XP or newer.
3. 1024mb RAM.
4. DirectX 9 capable Display Adaptor.
5. 2 GHz or faster CPU.

Step #1 - Installation:
Your first step is to Install Zoom Player and any missing system components required to play the different media formats. If you haven't done so already, click here to download Zoom Player.

When running the installer, there are no specific items you need to select. If you are satisfied with the defaults, you can just press the Next button until the installation begins. Once the installation completes, the Zoom Player Install Center application starts automatically. If you chose not to automatically start the Install Center, you can always run the Install Center from the Windows "Start (button) / Programs / Zoom Player" folder.

When running the Install Center, you will be asked to connect to the internet to allow the Install Center to retrieve the latest list of available components (decoders, subtitle filters, etc) your system needs to play the many available media formats. Once presented with the list, all outdated or missing components will be highlighted (in bold text). Simply click the "Install Selected" button and the Install Center will automatically Download, Install and Configure the components for you. When the installation process ends, a dialog will notify you of a successful installation and once you click OK, the component list will be refreshed, indicating that the installed components have been properly identified as the latest version.

Please note that it is important that to run the Install Center prior to running Zoom Player for the first time, as Zoom Player scans your system on its initial run for installed components and automatically configures itself to use the best available components. If you install additional components at a later time, you can have Zoom Player re-scan your system and use the updated components by going to the Options Dialog (Ctrl+"O" or through the right-click context menu) and under the "Playback / Smart Play" section, click on the "Auto-Configure" button.

Step #2 - Initial Configuration:
To convert your PC into a Home Entertainment Center, you need to configure Zoom Player to match your personal preferences and depending on your need, optionally limit some Zoom Player's functionality (e.g. make it safer to use by inexperienced computer users, restrict access by children, password-protect features, etc).

After starting Zoom Player, we recommend to switch from the default "Basic Options" to the "Advanced Options" mode which displays the complete menu system with all the options. Press Ctrl+"O" (or right-click the user interface and select "Options / Setup"). Click on the "Switch to Advanced Mode" button (bottom left).

With the Advanced Options Dialog visible you can limit the use to experienced users only: open the "Interface / Fullscreen Navigation / Settings" sub-tree. You will notice that the first check box on the newly opened dialog is "Safe Mode". With Safe Mode enabled, all file management (Copy/Move/Erase) operations are hidden from the Full Screen Navigational interfaces. This is important if you want to deny inexperienced users from manipulating or deleting your files.

The next important feature to select is which Navigational interfaces should be accessible. You can select from a list of check boxes under "Interface / On Screen Display / Fullscreen Navigation - Navigation Interfaces on Main Navigator". If the Home Entertainment Center is not to be used by inexperienced users, you may want to disable the "File Browser" to restrict inexperienced users from browsing through your entire file system. Inexperienced users should probably be limited to using the Media Library when opening new content (see below).

Lastly, you should configure the DVD components (Zoom Player allows you to use DVD decoders from different vendors). This can be done by going to "Advanced Options / Playback / DVD" and making make sure the "Smart" button is selected (pressed). With the "Smart" button selected, choose your Audio and Video decoder profiles (on most system, selecting "DScaler" is your best choice). You can also select which Audio Device to use under the "Audio Renderer" section. If you don't know which audio renderer to select, select "Default DirectSound Device" (which is the default audio device on your system).

You can enable S/PDIF output (Digital-Output to an external receiver) by pressing the little "C" button next to the Audio Decoder. Pressing the "C" button will open the configuration dialog for the currently highlighted decoder. With the DScaler Audio decoder configuration dialog open, the S/PDIF setting is a check box under the "Use SPDIF for AC3 & DTS" section. Make sure your audio card is connected to an external reciever through a digital connection cable before enabling S/PDIF.

Step #3 - The Media Library:
The Media Library serves several purposes. It acts as a repository for all your media content and also as a sandbox for inexperienced users who should not gain access to sensitive files.

To use the Media Library, you must first configure the Media Library source paths using the Media Library Path Editor. To open the Media Library Path editor, press Shift+"M" or by right-click the user interface and accessing the Media Library Path Editor under the "Open Interface" sub-menu.

The Media Library Path editor is used to setup which folders in your file system (or network share) should be assigned to a user-selectable Category. Each category has a "Content Type" which is selectable from a drop-down list (or in previous versions of Zoom Player, selectable by depressing a button). The category content type (Audio/Video/Picture/Executable) determines which file extensions are listed when viewing the category through the Media Library. For example, if you specify a category as Audio, no video files will be listed, even if they reside in the same specified folder.

With the category mode selected, click on the "Add Category" button and you will be prompted for a category name, Use a name that represents the content of the new category (for example "Movies" or "Hip Hop"). Once entered, you will be prompted for a folder where the content is located. Browse to the folder, make sure it's properly highlighted and click on the OK button.

You should now have a newly created Tab with the new category name. If you have more than one folder containing content under the same category, you can click on the "Add Folder to Category" button to add additional folders to this category (this allows you to merge content from different paths/drives/networks).

You can now continue to add more categories (remember to switch the category type when adding different types of content) until your entire media collection has been covered.

Step #4 - Accessing the Full Screen Navigation interfaces:
There are multiple ways to access the Full Screen Navigation interfaces. Every interface has a keyboard macro (shortcut) to access it directly (press F1 for the full keyboard shortcut list), or you can access it through the Full Screen menu system. To open the initial menu, either press the "ENTER" key or press the middle button on the Top-Bar (to open the top-bar, click on the dotted circle button on the bottom-right section of the main user interface).

You can control every function of the Full Screen Navigation system by using the Up/Down/Left/Right/Select (ENTER) keys. Pressing left a few times from any Sub-Menu will return to the Main Menu. With the mouse you can use the scroll wheel to move Up/Down and click on the Right/Left edges of the screen to simulate Right/Left navigation.

Step #5 - The Video Renderer:
Under Windows there are several different technologies that govern how video is displayed. Depending on your system configuration and the way in which you view video, you may want to select a different Video Renderer. Selecting the Video Renderer is done in two places. Once for DVDs (Advanced Options / Playback / DVD ) and another for media files (Advanced Options / Playback / Video). If you are having playback problems such as only hearing audio (no video showing) or experience bad video quality, try switching the Video Renderer to "EVR", "VMR9 Windowless" or "VMR7".

Step #6 - Connecting your Computer to the TV set:
There are many technologies involved in connecting your computer to a TV set. The older Analog methods (Composite, S-Video, Component) are not addressed in this article as they are gradually disappearing from the market. You can find a separate article detailing these setups here.

In this article, we are covering these newer technologies (or standards):

VGA (Analog)DVI (Digital)HDMI (Digital)

All three technologies offer high quality. VGA being an older Analog technology, with an image quality not as sharp as Digital DVI or HDMI.

To connect your computer to the TV, you need to find the best possible connection you could use between your computer and TV. DVI and HDMI offer essentially the same image standard (with different connectors), The only difference being that HDMI ability to carry an audio signal over the cable (DVI is Video-Only). There are DVI to HDMI cables which you can purchase if your computer only has a DVI output (many display cards only have a DVI output, which would require a conversion cable/plug if your TV only has an HDMI input). A VGA connection should only be used as a last resort as most TVs are limited to 1280x768 resolution through VGA even on Full-HD 1920x1080 TVs (which results in a lower quality image).

Step #7 - Setting up the TV as a computer monitor:
After connecting your computer to the TV, set the TV display to computer input and then define the second output (the one connected to the TV) on your PC as a new monitor. This is handled in the windows display properties settings (which changes a bit between different version of Windows). To achieve the best quality image, you must set the new monitor's resolution to your TV's native resolution. With true Full-HD TVs, the monitor should be set to 1920x1080. With lower end or older models, you may have to go through the TV's manual to figure out the native resolution used by the TV (TVs can accept any resolution and scale the image to make it appear correctly on the TV, but you'll notice the image will look softer/blurred). You'll instantly know if the resolutions match, as the desktop image should appear at least as sharp as your computer monitor. At times, your display adaptor may not even have a resolution preset that matches your TV's native resolution (such as some Plasma TVs having a resolution of 1024x1024). In such cases, you may have to define a custom resolution (which can only be done through the display adaptor's driver configuration dialog on some hardware while other hardware may be limited to a fixed set of resolution, which may force you to stick to a lower quality or replace the display adaptor).

In the Windows monitor setup dialog, you can drag the secondary (TV) monitor with the mouse and reposition it relative to the primary monitor. The position is significant as this is the virtual desktop position where the new monitor resides. If you position the new monitor to the right of your primary monitor, dragging windows to the right will make them appear on the secondary monitor, Beware though that this can cause confusion if your mouse cursor moves to the new monitor while you are not seeing it. A solution to this is to drag the new monitor to the bottom-right position of the primary monitor, so that the mouse cursor would disappear only if you drag it to the bottom-right of the primary monitor.

Step #8 - Setup Zoom Player to use the TV Monitor:
Once everything is setup correctly, you need to inform Zoom Player as to which monitor should be used for fullscreen playback (If you are using the TV as your only connected display, you can skip this section). To configure Zoom Player's fullscreen monitor, open the Advanced Options Dialog, go to the "System" sub-section and set a value for "Fullscreen / Zoom to monitor". To test this setup works as expected, close the options dialog and click on the fullscreen button (or Alt+"Enter").

Step #9 - Video Tutorials:
Most of the steps above are shown in video tutorials on our YouTube Channel, make sure to check out the channel if you've having any difficulties.

More Information:
If you require additional assistance or have a question, our Support Forum is at your disposal.

Privacy & Security:
The Install Center does not report any personal information back to its home server. The Install Center works by downloading a component list which is then checked to see if any of the components on the list are already installed on your system and whether the version currently installed is the latest or if a new version is available for download.

The Install Center uses Public Key Encryption and MD5 Checksums to ensure all downloaded components are valid prior to installation.