Network Video Players
Play your video, photo and music files on your TV from a networked PC. We put five network players to the test
You’ve built up a large collection of digital videos, music and photos on your PC’s hard disk, but unless the system lives in your lounge it isn’t particularly easy or comfortable to watch or listen to it all.
You could spend over $2000 investing in a dedicated media-centre system, but a far more affordable option is a network media player. Instead of a large, noisy PC, a compact, silent – or virtually silent – player is much better suited to a living room, and has all the right outputs to connect to your TV and hi-fi while streaming the content from your PC upstairs.
This month, we round up a selection of models that claim to do a great job for a fraction of the price of a media centre. From the Apple TV, Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3 to network specialists such as ZyXEL, there’s a wide range of players to choose from.
Apart from the obvious bonus of being competent games consoles, both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 have internal hard disks and so can store media locally, as well as streaming it from a PC. They can also double up as your DVD player, and the PlayStation can even play Blu-ray movies in crisp 1080p. If you want to spend as little as possible, ZyXEL’s DMA1000 is more affordable and has plenty going for it.
Many of these streamers can handle high-definition ‘PC’ videos such as WMV-HD, DivX and H.264, but none guarantees to be able to stream this wirelessly – indeed, the ZyXEL doesn’t have Wi-Fi at all. If you plan to watch HD videos, you’ll need to stick with traditional cables; we look at the options in the buyer’s guide on page 77.
And rather than using manufacturers’ bundled software or Windows Media Player, third-party alternatives can widen format support. We look at a popular free option, TVersity later in this feature.
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This Group Test appeared in the March, 2008 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine