Current household entertainment systems are advanced beyond anything we could dream of ten years ago. Reasonably priced flat screen TVs are so big that if you saw a tube TV that size in a store during the 90s it would have been downright silly. Add to that the addition of surround sound HD audio, quality digital instead of analogue signal and gaming consoles that do more than just play games, and you can see why getting that cinema feel at home is just as much an entertainment experience as the film you’re watching itself.
Along with this the industry has shifted further towards digital media to go with trends and demands, and why shouldn’t we be allowed to use online streaming and watch our own stored media file through our living rooms for an enhanced viewing experience with ease?
Home Entertainment Networking
There’s plenty of items popping up on the market for home entertainment networking, but an all round winner has yet to have been established. There’s so many codecs and formats in various qualities for digital media, and most devices haven’t got the software to deal with everything. Chances are if you are downloading a lot of films you will come across formats not supported like AVI, M4A or even the MP4 music format (which is shocking how many devices do not have the Operating System to play considering how popular iTunes is).
Because of these reasons almost every device on the market has some negative points, and it’s hard to comment on which one works best beyond personal preference. This can be a setback to someone on a budget for splashing out on a home entertainment network device that might not be the right one for them. Luckily there are methods to play your computer files and stream via your TV that are cheap and easy. All it involves is some electrical items you probably already own and a small investment on cables and/or hard drives.
You see, rather than networking your computer to the television via wireless, why not do it manually? Okay it’s slightly less flashy having to run to the PC and transfer your media on a USB stick instead of accessing it on a network by pressing a button, but it’s just as effective. Most modern LCD and LED TVs come with their own USB port and media players built in. If you have a slightly older model with no built in media player, Blu Ray players with USB ports can be picked up for as little as £60 for a respected brand, it’s just a matter of buying the one that supports the formats you need (which is usually written in the description on the box or the website). Simply plug the drive device with the files you want to play into the USB port and you’re good to go.
Home Entertainment Networking with External Devices
If you want to go that step further and be slightly more practical, you can splash out a little more on an external hard drive (you can easily find a large enough drive for under £50 in today’s market) and keep it attached to the TV. If you keep updating and adding media by transferring new files over from your computer regularly, you can create your own media storage library for yourself and the family to view whenever they please. So long as your files are in HD and you are using HD quality digital cables, you’ll be able to watch them in full definition.
Another method which has the added bonus of streaming is use your TV as a computer. Whether you choose to buy one new or use your current model in up to you. My personal suggestion would be a netbook with HDMI out which you can pick up for a few hundred pounds. For the last few years almost every TV has been built with a VGA and HDMI port. Obviously using HDMI is going to look better as it is a digital signal, but analogue VGA on some newer computers can still send out a 1080 resolution. It’ll still look good, but not quite as good as HDMI. Using a HDMI cable will also give you the advantage of sending an audio signal with the video video thus saving messing around with audio wiring and jack leads.
Some TVs and external devices have streaming services like Youtube, Lovefilm and iPlayer included now for use connected to the internet, but typing in the search function with a TV remote is a a long and frustrating process. The bonus of having a keyboard and being able to view streaming sites in a web browser makes navigation much easier. Add to that the storage on the hard drive and you have a media library, streaming and full internet access all from the comfort of your sofa!
The two examples above should be considered as advice and not exact guidelines to follow. Every household uses different brands or models of technology, and without suggesting specific items or being aware of what you already own it’s hard to write a step-by-step guide on what tools would benefit and fulfill your needs. The best thing to do is take a look at your current setup and act on where to go from there with some quick Googling or advice in your local electrical store.
John Hale is an engineer for Connect Data. He specialises in network cabling for local businesses and schools. He is an avid film fan and believes a quality entertainment system is the key to being the social hub when it comes to screening the Boxing or the Football for your friends.