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Chapter 13: Networking Your Entertainment Center 255

The Linksys (www.linksys.com; $120) Wireless Digital Media Adapter is an 802.11b-based transmitter. It resides in home entertainment centers next to the television and stereo. The device resembles the Linksys access point, with two 802.11b antennas. Instead of connecting to an Ethernet port like a normal AP, the device is equipped with audio/video connectors. To process JPEG, MP3, and WMA digital content from a networked PC, the adapter uses Intel’s XScale architecture PXA250 application processor. By using Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) technology, the adapter can be easily set up to work with other UPnP devices on the network such as a Linksys wireless router or its car networking technology (under development in early 2003). The bottom line on these adapters: Look for wireless adapters that enable you to take ordinary devices and get them on your home wireless backbone.

The Home Media Player

A new intermediary that has thrust itself onto the scene is the media player, which is a device whose goal is to simplify the PC-to-entertainment system interface. Simply, these boxes give you an easy way to get at information on your PC, for playing or viewing on your TV and stereo system, by giving you an onscreen display, a remote control, and even a wireless keyboard.

Specifically, this device sits between your TV and your PC. And instead of using your computer display to see what’s going on, the media player displays its own user interface on the TV set — a lot like the AudioReQuest that we mention earlier in this chapter. Thus, they can make it a lot simpler to merely play a song (a lot better than having to boot up a computer, open a program, and scroll around!). It interfaces with your PC via a wireless (or wired) connection.

The PRISMIQ system that we mention earlier in this chapter is a great example of this. By using an Internet-capable home computer and linking stored media and the Internet connection itself, the PRISMIQ system can perform a variety of functions:

Play DVD-quality video

Play Surround sound and CD-quality audio

Stream a library of MP3 files

Act as a video-on-demand set top box

Display digital photos on the television

Provide Web access on the television

Show live, personalized news feeds to the television

Connect users over the Internet to friends and family

256 Part IV: Using a Wireless Network

The PRISMIQ MediaPlayer (see Figure 13-4) is a compact system, less than half the size of most DVD players. It can be used conveniently on any television in the house, yet it has all the capabilities of a high-end audio-visual component, such as Surround sound audio support and MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 video playback. The associated and bundled MediaManager software, which lets one or more computers in the home deliver content to the MediaPlayer, runs on Windows 98 SE, Me, 2000, and XP. Like the SONICblue DVD D2730, the PRISMIQ MediaPlayer supports Ethernet 10/100 natively and has embedded driver support for a variety of PCMCIA card/bus cards for 802.11b, 802.11a, 802.11g, and Home Phoneline Networking Alliance (HPNA) interfaces. It allows just about any sort of wireless connectivity through its PC Card slot

Figure 13-4:




Other players are getting into the act, too. HP’s Digital Media Receiver (www.hp.com/go/digitalmediareceiver; $299) 5000 Series extends digital music and photos on your PC to your TV and stereo systems. By using a standard remote control, the receiver enables you to browse through your favorite music and photos and choose what you want to view or listen to without having to go to your PC and use your mouse and keyboard. The HP Digital Media Receiver provides access to digital content from a PC on a user’s wired Ethernet or wireless 802.11b home network.

The photos section will appeal to those with a digital camera. Digital photography enthusiasts can access JPEG, GIF, BMP, and PNG images and share their favorite moments with others in picture shows displayed on their TV in the living space of their choice instead of on a PC monitor. The receiver also allows users to print the currently displayed picture on any PC-connected printer with the simple push of a button on the remote control. In addition, the product allows users to combine music and photos on the TV and stereo for a multimedia experience.

What’s neat is that multiple HP Digital Media Receivers can be connected to the home wireless network so that music and photos can be enjoyed throughout the home, simultaneously accessing digital files — including, if so desired, the exact same song or picture (say, during a party). In fact, the multiple devices can be controlled from each other to create a full-house listening experience.

Chapter 13: Networking Your Entertainment Center 257

The Home Theater PC

When you talk about your home entertainment center, you often talk about sources: that is, those devices such as tape decks, AM/FM receivers, phono players, CD units, DVD players, and other consumer electronics devices that provide the inputs of the content that you listen to and watch through your entertainment system.

So when you think about adding your networked PC(s) to your entertainment mix, the PC becomes just another high-quality source device attached to your A/V system — albeit wirelessly. To connect your PC to your entertainment system, you must have some special audio/video cards and corresponding software to enable your PC to “speak stereo.” When configured like this, you’ve effectively got what is known as a home theater PC (or HTPC, as all the cool kids refer to them). In fact, if you do it right, you can create an HTPC that funnels audio and video into your system at a higher-quality level than many moderately priced, standalone source components. HTPC can be that good.

You can either buy an HTPC ready-to-go right off the shelf, or you can build one yourself. Building an HTPC, obviously, isn’t something that we recommend unless you have a fair amount of knowledge about PCs. If that’s the case, have at it. Another obvious point: It’s a lot easier to buy a ready-to-go version of the HTPC off the shelf. You can find out more about HTPCs in Home Theater For Dummies (Pat and Danny wrote that, too), by Wiley Publishing, Inc. What we include here is the short and sweet version of HTPC.

What you expect from your home theater PC is going to be quite different from what, say, David Bowie expects from his HTPC. Regardless of your needs, however, a home theater PC should be able to store music and video files, play CDs and DVDs, let you play video games on the big screen, and tune in to online music and video content. Thus, it needs ample hard drive space and the appropriate software. (See the following section, “Internet Content for Your Media Players and HTPCs.”) Also, your HTPC will act as a PVR (see the nearby “Checking out PC PVRs” sidebar for the lowdown on PC-based PVRs). In addition, an HTPC can

Store audio (music) files: Now you can easily play your MP3s anywhere on your wireless network.

Store video clips: Keeping your digital home video tapes handy is quite the crowd pleaser — you can have your own America’s Funniest Home Videos show.

Play CDs and DVDs: The ability to play DVDs is essential in a home theater environment.

258 Part IV: Using a Wireless Network

Act as a PVR (personal video recorder): This optional (but almost essential, we think) function uses the HTPC’s hard drive to record television shows like a ReplayTV (www.replaytv.com) or TiVo (www. tivo.com).

Let you play video games on the big screen: With the right hardware, PCs are sometimes even better than gaming consoles (which we cover in Chapter 12).

Tune in to online music and video content: Grab the good stuff off the Internet (yes, and pay for it) and then enjoy it on the big screen with good audio equipment.

Provide a high-quality, progressive video signal to your TV video display: This is behind-the-curtain stuff. Simply, an HTPC uses special hardware (it’s pretty cheap, only about $200–$400) to display your PC’s video content on a TV. Sure, PCs do have a built-in video system, but most are designed to display only on a PC monitor, not a TV. And high-definition TV, which is why you want high-definition content, is progressive (meaning all of the video “lines” are displayed at one time, rather than half in one frame and the other half in the next like most standard TVs today — providing a much smoother, more film-like, picture), and you need a special card or PC set up like an HTPC to facilitate it. (This investment also gives you better performance on your PC’s monitor, which is never bad.)

Decode and send HDTV content to your high-definition TV display:

HTPCs can provide a cheap way to decode over-the-air HDTV signals and send them to your home entertainment center’s display. You just need the right hardware (an HDTV-capable video card and a TV tuner card). If you have HDTV, this is a really cool optional feature of HTPC.

My name is Media, and I’ll be your server

HTPCs and Windows XP Media Center Edition PCs are what their names say they are — PCs. Look to the horizon for a new generation of computer-like devices that serve up media. Media servers (creative name, no?) are really just a souped-up version of a standalone PVR (think TiVo) or a standalone MP3 server (like AudioReQuest, www.request.com). They don’t run a PC operating system or do typical PC stuff. They just serve up media, and wireless is a key way, likely using 802.11a/g technology. You’ll be able to hook media servers into your PC network and into your home theater, using

them to store music, video, digital photographs, and more.

A good example of this is the Martian Net Drive Wireless (www.martian.com), a $399 802.11b-enabled accessible 40GB hard drive that allows you to store thousands of your favorite songs, digital pictures, or documents. Any network device can access them. The 802.11b is onboard. It even supports your WEP encryption. There are two steps to setting it up: 1. Unpack stylish brown shipping carton. 2. Plug in power cable. That’s it. Cool.