To assemble your media center to play any type of content is not as complicated as it sounds.
CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray, digital camera, camcorder, laptop, smartphone and a multitude of pen-drives and memory cards whose contents you do not even remember anymore what it is. Add the programs you’ve recorded from television, training videos that your boss gave you to watch, study material downloaded from the internet … the list of things that can be played on media center has virtually no limit. In practice, only depends on the creativity (and organizational capacity) of the user.
The media centers, which some prefer to call “home entertainment center” – appeared around 2006 as a solution to facilitate the reproduction of the growing number and diversity of content that people will storing each day. In the era of online communication, it doesn’t makes sense to accumulate hundreds of physical media that, besides taking up much space, are complicated to organize and locate when you need a recorded content.
Moreover, they make people’s life easier by allowing to play almost any existing content without having to worry if the equipment is compatible with a given format.
Most media centers that are for sale does not bring internal hard drive for storing files, so, in this case, the user must purchase an external hard drive to connect it to the device through the USB port.
The advantage in this type of solution is the lowest cost to the consumer, it can be up to 50% lower than the models with internal hard drive, and have greater flexibility giving the user the oportunity to enlarge its capacity over time.
However, there is a second category of products, which are those that rely on an internal hard drive with good storage capacity (which is critical in this type of device). If the first models arriving here offered 1TB of capacity, today, you can find products on the market with up to 8TB. Better yet, prices have tumbled to such an extent that, for whoever has saved a lot, this is an investment that really pays off.
Connecting to your home theater
Another great asset of these products (which is closely linked to the emergence of the HDMI connector) has always been the ease of installation. The only concern was to see if the home theater or TV that would be used in conjunction with the media center had an HDMI port free to connect to.
This is because all the ready-to-use solutions use HDMI as the main communication interface for video and audio traffic signal. It is the best option for you to connect your media center or TV receiver.
If you do not have a free HDMI connection, another option is to pass the image signals by a component video cable (up to 1080i resolution) and the audio by optical digital (which also manages up to 5.1 channels). These two connections (and HDMI) are present on almost all the solution offered by the market.
Some models also bring S-Video and composite video outputs, but you should avoid using them, since, on large screens, with more than 32 inches, low-definition signals are not pleasant to be watched.
Computer (HTPC) is a good?
International giants such as Seagate, Western Digital and Iomega offer turnkey solutions that work in the best plug and play style: just take the product of the box, plug it into the home theater or directly to the TV and start using it. There are also companies in this category that surprised to market products even more complete, including Blu-ray 3D drive, as one of the solutions offered by the AsRock, for example.
But who is also eyeing this market, though without offering products dedicated to this function, are traditional names in the computer industry. The great thing, and that has been used by users with a bit of computer knowledge, is to take the laptops (or desktops with different design) with settings turned to entertainment to perform as a media center.
This is only possible because these products also come with HDMI outputs to bring the content to larger displays. This characteristic, combined with the presence of programs that organize their own, such as Windows Media Center, available on all computers running Windows Vista or 7, and even proprietary solutions like Media Plus (Sony) and TouchSmart (HP), or freeware like XBMC or Media Portal, can integrate these equipment to your TV or receiver in order to perform the function of the media center.
The disadvantage in this case is the size of notebooks, the necessity of always having to transport them and connect them to your TV or receiver when watching content on a big screen, battery life (it’s crutial to leave the product connected to the power energy), in crashes that can occur with the operating system, the lack of compatibility with some specific formats and, depending on configuration, the system slowdowns.
Furthermore, most products have a computer face and we do not always want this solution in our living room or we don’t have space in the forniture to let it near the TV.
If you have a wireless router in your home and want to use the wireless network as well as a media center, you can you ask from the manufacturers adapters (dongles) that allow Wi-Fi signals from reaching the product. These adapters are shaped like a pen drive and must be connected in one of the free USB ports.
Once connected, the media center detects the presence of the wireless receiver, and opens a virtual keyboard on the screen for you to enter the password (if any) on your home network. Process very similar to what exists today in TVs that has access to the internet.
As manufacturers of media center have partnerships with major international sites such as YouTube (videos), Flickr (photos), plus several online radio sites, you can use it to access such content. However, it is necessary to check the resolution of the videos, because in a big screen, with more than 32 inches, if the movies do not have HD display quality is very committed.
And as these devices also provide an Ethernet network port,if you don’t have a wireless network in your home, you can use this connection to access the internet.
The secret of success
What most appeals to users who own media center is the ease of playing at home theater or on TV almost any available file format, without worrying about the compatibility of these files with either machine.
On a Blu-ray player or home theater such compatibility problems occur more often, a media center so there are virtually no difficulties. This is because these products typically have an internal open source software (known as freeware), created to run the most varied formats, whether audio, video or photos.
And, because it is not a closed program, it is in constant development by a team of programmers or even contributors who can send their suggestions to the developers. So when a new format comes, in a little time this team has developed a codec able to read this file. Then, a simple update of the product so that it starts to run these new formats.