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Fact A: I recently got an old laptop back from a friend (a lenovo X61, still quite a decent machine) who doesn't need it anymore.

Fact B: Some of my friends are boasting about their Apple TV's, which I have to admit are pretty convenient!

Conclusion: Turning my old laptop into a PC-compatible equivalent of an Apple TV would be sweet.

The main thing I'd use it for would be to play videos or show photos from other laptops in the house, without having to go through the (albeit minor) inconvenience of getting hooked up every time. Instead, we'd leave the old laptop always connected, and stream from other computers via that one.

We have a pretty fast WiFi network in the house, so I think all the requisite hardware is in place. The main problem would be getting appropriate software - a quick Google search seems inconclusive.

Has anyone attempted something like this, or would it likely be too difficult?

Many thanks in advance for your suggestions.

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XMBC sounds like a good match for what you want. It runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux, integrates with MythTV, has lots of plugins, etc..

From the XMBC website:

Currently XBMC can be used to play almost all popular audio and video formats around. It was designed for network playback, so you can stream your multimedia from anywhere in the house or directly from the internet using practically any protocol available. Use your media as-is: XBMC can play CDs and DVDs directly from the disk or image file, almost all popular archive formats from your hard drive, and even files inside ZIP and RAR archives. It will even scan all of your media and automatically create a personalized library complete with box covers, descriptions, and fanart. There are playlist and slideshow functions, a weather forecast feature and many audio visualizations. Once installed, your computer will become a fully functional multimedia jukebox.

I use XMBC on my media center pc and it works great. It can stream data from the internet or from other PCs, NASs, or pretty much anything.

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I was just going to suggest that too but it doesn't completely fulfil OP's requirements. You can't just stream a random file from any other PC. XBMC needs the files accessible (e.g. on local hard drive or remote mount). – André Stannek Jan 25 '13 at 11:27
so he can set up a mount or windows share... – Keltari Jan 25 '13 at 11:30
Interesting... I will give it a shot... does one have to be operating the xbmc machine physically, or can it be done wirelessly from the couch on another device? – Alex Jan 25 '13 at 11:32
@Alex there is e.g. an Android app. I control mine using an infrared receiver and remote. – André Stannek Jan 25 '13 at 11:33
Thanks for the advice - I'm having a look at it now, and it seems XBMC may be the answer! Keltari, if you are interested perhaps you could describe how you set up streaming from 3 machines (it may be easy, but perhaps not trivial) – Alex Jan 25 '13 at 11:47

This sounds like a pretty basic setup. I have done the same thing at home, but I'm not using a laptop (in the end, who cares?!).

At the moment, I'm running XBMC with great success. Very reccomended! :)

The setup can be done in various ways - but installing it with Ubuntu desktop and XBMC on top is probably the easiest. I know for sure it has saved me when it comes to resolving issues or answer questions!

Good luck!

(Extra link to their wiki containing step-by-step instructions!)

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