Note From The Author, Gus
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The idea of streaming movies and music from your computer is nothing new, however, the process has not always been user-friendly. I would have to say that Microsoft was ahead of the curve when they introduced Windows Media Center. Along with an Xbox 360 gaming console, or compatible network media player and you were in business.
There were a few inherent problems with streaming media, however; limited devices on the market, PC performance was slow, unless you spent a fortune, customizing a new computer, and wireless technology was not all that great. Thanks to technological increases, all areas have seen rapid growth.
In addition to a line of sharp-looking devices, TV manufacturers are integrating these technologies directly into their sets. The only issue you may see here, is proprietary components and services…what happens should that function crap out? There’s an answer for that as well…keep reading.
In writing this article, I’m not certain how up-to-date you, or your network is. For this reason, I will provide you a basic understanding of a wireless home network, security concerns, and the various equipment options you have to select from for streaming media from a computer to your home entertainment center.
Network media players were introduced to the market to fill a need; playback home videos, watch movies, see photos in a larger-than-life, big screen experience with incredible sound. It’s just not as enjoyable as watching them on your computer screen.
Before going any further, it may be best to clear up some confusion. A network media player has been given many names over the past few years. You may see them marketed as ‘media streamers’, ‘wireless digital players’, ‘media players’, ‘digital media player’, or ‘media extender’. They all typically do the same, stream media, even though you may find varying functions and features. For example, your portable media player, or smartphone could be classified as a low-end network media player, so long as it has the necessary network connectivity.
A player may also be a game console, such as Microsoft’s Xbox 360, or Sony’s PlayStation. After reading the following note on Drake University’s site, you can see just how connected we are becoming. The article is about how students can connect and register their game consoles on the University network: UPDATE: Game Console & TV/ DVD Player Network Connections
Let’s get started with the role of wireless networking in home entertainment.
Your plan may be to stream encoded movies from your desktop PC to your HDTV in the living room, or it may be something more grand, like providing whole-house surround sound, wireless integration with your auto’s media system. The good news here is one your wireless network is setup, it’s just a matter of adding to it, the devices you wish to connect.
When it comes to wireless networking, it’s not chore it was in years past. Today, modern wireless routers, and other wireless devices have come a long way in being more user-friendly, and better equipped with features and options.
I would like to say it is relatively inexpensive to setup a media streaming network, so long as you have updated equipment, like an HDTV with appropriate connections, a good wireless router, and of course, a network media player. The fastest, and most secure version is 802.11n. Should you need to upgrade your router, the cost is not excessive.
If you have not yet setup a wireless network, or you have an older-model router, it would be a good time to upgrade. Though the 802.11 protocols all provide enough capability to surf the net, the last thing you want is video skipping during a movie, or latency while browsing your media. There are a few aspects of wireless connectivity would have an effect on this…signal strength, wireless range, and interference. To provide a smooth interface and multimedia playback, it would be best to choose a dual-band, 11n router.
Another topic worth discuss is securing your wireless network. Many take this for granted, but it should be assessed. With poor, or limited security of your network, you are not only asking for trouble, but it will bring an enormous amount of unwanted traffic that will interfere with your connections.
If you have sufficient security, great, move on to the next section. For those who may need to revisit the topic, please see our article entitled: How to Set Up a Secure Wireless Connection
When you are considering how to connect your media to your home theater system, there are a couple of ways to accomplish this…purchase compatible wireless-enabled home theater components, or standalone network media players.
Basically, if you already have home theater equipment, and don’t want to start replacing them just for the sake of streaming media, network media players are for you. And, even if you want streaming media so bad, you’re willing to buy all new system components, you still may not have to, thanks to specialized Wi-Fi adapters we’ll also discuss herein.
I thought I would cover this section first, as these components are rarely considered when building your streaming media system, and you can always review our selected network media players below anytime.
This section is referring to our components that can be part of your home entertainment center. When building a home theater system, you have two choices; purchase an all-in-one system, which typically has a receiver, some type of player, speakers, etc. The other option is to buy components separately. The later could possibly be a headache, if you are not the engineering-type, or not an audiophile.
When media streaming first came about, most manufacturers had their own proprietary technologies for connecting components, and this made it tough for consumers to make choice. Thankfully, a global collaboration of 245 of your most trusted brands in 2003, agreed to produce compatible products, under the organization name of the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA). Now, you can choose components from various brands, and know they would be compatible with each other.
In recent years, these brands have also developed DLNA adapters to help legacy components communicate. Such an adapter would be the LG AN-WF100 Wi-Fi USB Adaptor.
The most-widely discussed home theater component is the television. Today, HDTV’s come in some crazy screen sizes, and many big-name companies, such as LG and Samsung have now started to offer sets with integrated media connectivity via WiFi. They have also started to offer built-in Internet services, via DLNA, such as content offered by Netflix, among others. An example would be the Sharp LC40LE830U Quattron.
Many of the components offered on the market are combinations of traditional media components, with media streaming capabilities, such as Blu-ray players, or rolled into the system in complete home theater systems, such as the inexpensive Samsung Electronics HT-D6500W Home Theater System. You can compare Blu-ray models and prices here: Blu-ray players.
If you already have an established wireless home network, setting up a network media player will be a breeze. It is almost plug’n'play, and most come with a remote, so you can start streaming media right away. The advantage of such a device is a simple means to access your music, video, and movie collections through one device.
There is a myriad of features and functions across all brands, in varying models. Beyond the basics of streaming audio and video from your home computer, or home server, many also offer accessibility to online media sources as well.
I find many households have gone the combo route, and simply purchased a gaming console, such as the Xbox 360. A computer with some version of Windows Media Center (most of Windows 7 editions have this) is all you would then need to start streaming media to your HDTV. Our household has this option, but the only downside, is no front-panel display on the Xbox 360. For this reason, I also purchased a Roku media streamer, as this has a front-panel display; This provided the ability to stream audio from our home server, or any compatible mobile device.
Then there is an entire line of standalone network media players. With ease of integration, these dedicated streaming devices make it a cinch to access media from almost anywhere in your home. Such players would include the Roku XDS Streaming Player 1080p, the Micca Mplay-HD 1080p Full-HD Digital Media Player (that’s a mouthful), or the Western Digital WD TV Live Plus 1080p HD Media Player.
In general, there’s no wrong way to go about this. You can make this as inexpensive as you want, or go all-out with a complete DLNA-enabled home theater center…the choice is up to you.