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Choosing the right media device

(Betamax for the win)

Technology moves on and people try and find easier and better ways to manage and watch media, be it video, pictures or even music on there TV. It was not that long ago that it was quite simple, you bought a DVD Player that suited your price range and features, plugged it into your TV and you can now go out and buy movies on DVD. Storing 100′s of Movies presented an issue and there had to be a better way – and now there is, media streaming devices come in many shapes and sizes as well as cost and functions – this post serves as a grounding on what to look for.

What have you got now?

Let’s begin with what you have now and how you plan to consume your media. If you collection is based on DVD for example then you are going to need something that can play DVD or a means to convert the collection to a media format (such as handbrake). If you have a large collection of files already on a hard drive for example – then maybe one of the many media streaming devices might suit you better and it also depends on what your TV is capable of and what media you might have to play now or in the future.

The Blu-Ray Solution

Steve over at TheTechBuzz did a review of the Visio VBR220 Blu-Ray player – this not only plays all your DVD collection and the Blu-rays of course but can also stream as it has inbuilt wireless which means you can can NetFlix and the like. While this is a good solution for some, it might not suit everyone.

The Media Streaming device

In this section we have devices such as the WDTV, WDTV Live, ASUS O!Play and many many others (there is a lot out there). the main features of these is that they are small, quiet and can play just about anything out there and most do full 1080p. Given that 1080p media would struggle over wireless, a lot of these support or only work with a Harddrive full of media plugged in.

There is a couple of ways to think about this – if you can store all your media on one (or more) harddrives and are happy to to copy across new stuff now and then, the WDTV would suit the bill, be aware that not all media players can play everything and you might be disappointed when you try and play that latest MKV 1080p movie and it fails to even see it there.

Limitations

I own the WDTV – this operates via a hard drive plugged in and it can indeed play just about anything you can throw at this thing. The issues comes when the movie you have is encoded with DTS Audio – the WDTV has no hardware to decode the audio – so you end of with silence. Now this is not the end of the world – you can use the free PopCorn Audio Converter to take the audio down to 5.1 with no loss of quality in the video. What this player can do is if you take an ISO of a DVD (which you need to remove the protection of course) or the files “as-is” – the WDTV can just play them, like I said these media players can play just about anything.

What about other services?

A lot of these media streaming devices are now offering extra on-line services such as NetFlix and other USA Based stuff (not sure what UK people get, probably just YouTube). This can save you switching on the computer I guess but how well a small YouTube video would scale up on a 42″+ TV is unknown…

Expandablity

One more important point – is there a growing community so you can expand that device? This can add something to an older device, such as how I managed to Add Wireless support and various services (such as Apple Trailers) to my now ageing WDTV player – I agree it is not for everyone and you could ‘brick’ the device but good to know all the same.

Anything else?

Let us not forget the consoles such as the XBOX and the PS3 and also making a small desktop PC as a media centre – these give even more flexibility in that they can display any web page and you can watch streams on there and so forth – plenty of options on the table my friend – just a case of you working out what is best for you, for the money that you can afford and what you want to do.

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