An effective architecture for the Digital Home requires two main elements: a centralized shared storage for media files, and a Media Player that connects to each of the displays at home: TVs, LCD, Plasma screens in different rooms.
We reviewed the shared storage for media, be it a NAS or a desktop PC, in a previous post. This one will show the Media Player alternatives to ‘connect’ our content from the storage to the TV set.
We will categorize the Media Player options in four:
– Home Theater PC (HTPC): Fiire (Linux MCE), Vaio TP-1 (Windows Media Center), Mac Mini (Apple Front Row)
Future proof solution. Support for any codec. Full control on sofware and hardware configuration.
Can use as PVR with a TV card (internal o external)
Can be used as shared storage with laptops or other Media players at home
Additional functionality on the TV (Web access, Video conference, home surveillance, games…)
Lack of upgradeability. Limited codec support.
Apple TV only supports H.264
No PVR (Exception: KiSS models with PVR function)
SW controlled by Microsoft or Sony
Limited support for codecs. Many of the files in your library will not play or will require transcoding with loss of quality
– Media Jukebox: TVIX
Combined Storage with Media Player in one box
Device optimized for specific use
No control on software for adding features or codec support
No distributed architecture with a shared storage
Note that any PC or laptop can work as a Media Player, but those are far from ideal to connect to a TV set: a laptop being mobile implies connect and disconnect cables, and a normal PC might not have HDMI, or SPIF audio, required for a full HD experience.
Other factors to consider for the election:
If you have a large library of XVD/DivX and rip DVDs or get your copies by P2P file sharing, a HTPC Linux MCE or Windows MCE are the preferred choices, unless you want to transcode your library to H.264 to get your content on Apple devices
Note for Apple Addicts:
Apple products are great: great stylish design, simple easy-to-use and high quality operation (it simply works).
Apple tends to design products their way, without compromises. That is, even if Windows Media, XVid and DivX formats have a wide acceptance, none of Apple products support these by default. Instead Apple selects high quality standars (H.264 for video and AAC for audio) and bring them to the masses.
Apple is creating a loyal clientelle of Applemaniacs, who do not mind to pay a higher price because , even if ‘locked’ with Apple choice of standards, all Apple products interwork nicely with each other. The user do not need to worry about technology. Apple takes care of that for you. Apple makes smooth even to pay for songs, videos or movie rentals.