Guide to Wireless Media Players
Digital Home Entertainment Integration through
Wireless Media Players
Wireless Media Players and Wi-Fi enabled home theater systems with DLNA support and Internet connectivity take home entertainment to a new level. Even average PC users can now experience their entire collection of digital content - music, videos and photos - in full glory without being tied to a PC.
And there is more to what you can do with some of today digital media players and Internet enabled AV gear. For example, you can start considering cutting off that TV subscription monthly bill and still continue to watch your favorite TV shows in a totally legal manner, even in HD!
Definitely the best wireless streaming player presently available on the market...
It serves more than 750 channels; that's more content than anyone else. Performance is super-fast, and there is also a superb user interface. Other features include dual-band Wi-Fi operation, and an innovative remote control that includes a headphone jack for private listening!
More information in our Roku review here.
Home Entertainment Integration
All coming together as one!
The concept of wireless integration in home entertainment is more than just adding a set of wireless speakers in a second room.
Rather, it encompasses access to all form of digital content present on any of your networked PCs, as well streaming of online content via your broadband internet connection without being tied up to your PC. The scope is to enjoy this same content on your home entertainment system.
In other words, a wireless home entertainment setup gives you the possibility to enjoy your digital media and Internet-driven TV/video content in its full glory over a big screen HDTV and a proper surround sound system instead of a small PC monitor and those miniature PC or laptop speakers. The good news is that wireless technology is no longer exclusive to users that are technically proficient. Today's AV gear is easy to set up. Rather, thanks to the use of wireless media players and the latest range of Internet-enabled home theater systems and HDTVs with Wi-Fi and DLNA-support, it is fairly easy and relative inexpensive to expand your wireless network from simple home-office use to a fully integrated home entertainment solution.
In addition, thanks to the extensive range of Internet-driven Apps or widgets available on the latest Internet-connected HDTVs and Blu-ray players, HTiBs and AV receivers, you can literally ditch that monthly TV subscription and still enjoy your favorite TV programs. And if your HDTV or Blu-ray player does not support Internet connectivity, it is no problem at all! An inexpensive $100 video streaming player such as the Roku 3 featured above, can still bring you all the entertainment you can dream of thanks to online services such as Netflix, Amazon Video-on-Demand, Hulu Plus, and much more.
There are a number of relatively simple and inexpensive options that can bring together your PC, internet connection and you home entertainment system.
This approach to home entertainment integration gives you the possibility to enjoy the best of both worlds. The PC makes it easy to browse, download, store, and manage digital media, while your home entertainment system gives you the possibility to enjoy the best in picture and sound. It is true that the PC is becoming less of a necessity in that with most of today's Internet-enabled HDTVs and AV gear, you can easily select and view online movie content straight on your TV without the need to first download this content on your PC. In addition, with some of the latest TVs, it is even possible to browse the Internet straight on your TV using the built-in TV browser without a PC. Mind you, today's TV browsers are only suitable for light Internet browsing but the option is there!
However, integrating your PC in your home entertainment solution enhances your home entertainment in that it leaves you with a lot more options - in particular when it comes to media downloads, file support, storage and media conversion and management. All you need is just a decent computer, a broadband internet connection, and a wired or wireless home network. You also require a wired or wireless media player, or a Wi-Fi enabled home entertainment system or HDTV with DLNA support.
In reality, it is the wired or wireless media player that is the only additional item in the whole PC-Home Entertainment integration equation; all the rest is just part of your home networking and home entertainment systems.
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Wired and Wireless Media Players
Media Players come with a remote control and an intuitive on-screen menu accessible through your HDTV or home theater monitor - that lets you browse through audio and video media files on your network; some include also direct access to online internet services as well. Setting up a wireless digital media player is a simple straightforward process that would not take more than an hour or so.
Even if you have a computer with a Windows operating system that includes the Windows Media Center you can use your Xbox 360 Console to stream your favorite Internet TV shows, digital audio and video, photos, movies and much more on your big screen TV anywhere in the house,
In addition, there is also a wide range of dedicated wireless media players, often referred to as wireless digital media boxes, video boxes, or instant media players that do take away the need to be tied to a PC. Typically, top-of-the-line media streaming boxes cost just under $100, while basic streaming boxes may cost half as much.
Available Wireless Media Player Options
Digital streaming players in this category include the Roku 3 - the latest 2013 iteration in the excellent line of Roku streaming players.
The new Roku represents more than just a simple upgrade over the equally excellent Roku 2 XS — serving over 750 channels of content, that's more content than any other streaming player.
It is also the fastest wireless streaming player presently available on the market; Roku says it is five time more fast than the already fast Roku 2 XS. We cannot say if this is true but it surely felt fast during our review of the Roku 3 player.
The new Roku comes with an upgraded user interface, one that is on par with that of the Apple TV, thus taking away the edge the Apple TV had in this respect. Yet there is more to the new Roku player. It is also the only streaming box that supports gaming; the first was the Roku 2 XS. Complementing this feature is a list of over 50 game titles which one can buy form the Roku Channel store.
Equally important is the move once again towards dual-band wireless N support; Roku had dropped this feature on 2012 models. Add an innovative remote which includes a headphone jack for private listening, and there you have the perfect streaming box... well, almost!
The Roku 3 is not the player for you if what you watch most is stored content on your PC; the Roku keeps failing DLNA support, and its file format support on its USB port is to say the least lacking; in this respect, the WD TV Live discussed further on in this article would surely be a better choice, but...
Otherwise, the new Roku is the ultimate wireless media player, the one that delivers the best performance, the most content, and the one that provides the most innovative features!
Other inexpensive wireless media players in this category include the redesigned and much smaller 4th generation Apple TV that unlike the new Roku player, uses 802.11n dual-band wireless technology. Like the 2010 version, the new Apple TV does not come with a built-in hard disk, as instead was the case with the original Apple TV. However, the 2012 version can do a superb job with streaming of content, with no perceivable delay or degradation of picture.
Unlike the new Roku 3, the new Apple TV represents only a minor upgrade over the 2010 version - it even comes in the same box, however... for around $100, the new Apple does everything the 2010 version did, but significantly better!
You would not get the many channels found on the Roku 3. In this respect, the Roku remains the No. 1 box; but now you get the ability to stream movies you purchased through iTunes, apart from 1080p movie streaming through iTunes and Netflix, and more.
AirPlay is also getting better and makes up for the rather limited channels with respect to the Roku competition by making it possible to wirelessly stream music and video stored on your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad to your HDTV via the Apple TV; all that is required is that these devices are connected to the same wireless network. And this is apart from connecting to your PC or Mac to enjoy media files from your home computer straight on your HDTV and home theater system - a much desired feature that has always been missing on the Roku line of wireless media players.
At this point, it would be unfair to leave out the latest Western Digital WD TV Live HD streaming media player, an inexpensive media streaming box characterized by a rather full-size remote instead of the simple remotes we have seen with both Apple TV and Roku.
Apart from being capable of playing practically any type of media file, it also provides full HD video playback up to 1080p and access to Internet driven content like Netflix, YouTube, Pandora and the like, in a similar manner to what you find on Internet-connected HDTVs.
Yet, the real plus of the Western Digital WD TV is that you can connect multiple USB2.0 mass storage devices to its two USB ports. The media player will then collect the content on all the drives into one play list - sorted by media type. As has been the case with other media streaming players we have seen during 2012, the new Western Digital WD TV Live is not a major upgrade over the previous version but the new version now comes with built-in Wi-Fi instead of being just Wi-Fi ready, thus making the WD TV a true wireless media player.
Somewhat more expensive is the TiVo TCD746320 Premiere DVR, but the TiVo is not just the typical wireless media player that streams digital media content direct from Netflix and Amazon video-on-demand, but can also record up to 45hours of HD programming over its 320GB internal hard disk.
A Possible Cut-off the Chord Solution?
These digital media players represent a simple straightforward solution to cutting off that $100 a month Cable or Satellite TV subscription bill even though most premium Internet TV content available through media streaming boxes requires a paid subscription.
Nevertheless, whatever is the case, it is always appealing to find ways of reducing you monthly TV bill while still enjoying the content you like at a time when the economy is passing through such bad times and everyone is looking for ways to cut costs.
Admittedly, when it comes to these digital media boxes, doing away with your TV subscription depends on the content you like to watch. In addition, there is no such wireless media player yet that offers everything one would dream of from top movies and TV shows to local and live TV programming. However, the market is evolving fast and you can expect more and more of your favorite TV shows to become available online. Meanwhile, the idea of cutting off that TV subscription bill is already a reality!
How about taking advantage of this new world of wireless home entertainment? Digital Media Content at your Service
There are two basic approaches to wireless streaming of multimedia content, namely the use of Wi-Fi enabled equipment, e.g. wireless set-top boxes, Blu-ray players and HDTVs, and as we have seen earlier on in this guide, Wireless Media Players.
First... a few Wireless Networking Basics!
Integrating your home PC and broadband Internet connection with your home entertainment system is easily accessible through today's Internet-connected HDTVs, disc players, wireless media players, etc. Yet, streaming of HD multimedia content is a bandwidth-demanding activity, which you need to plan for if you want to avoid choppy playback.
The best option in a wireless setup is the use of 802.11n wireless technology. However, that in itself is no guarantee you will get the best results. Maintaining sufficient data throughput and adequate wireless network bandwidth is critical.
We discuss the issues involved in our Wireless Network Basics guide. We explain the different 802.11 variants and their implications in terms of data throughput and wireless range. We also discuss streaming of multi-media content, 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz dual-band and dual-radio operation, and bandwidth management in wireless networks.
Security in Wireless Home Entertainment:
Security is becoming more critical in wireless networking as the use of wireless technology is increasing in popularity - partly because of the ease of use of modern wireless technology, as well as the added convenience of not having to install any connecting cables.
Unfortunately, many would often skip this issue of wireless security especially when implementing a wireless home entertainment system as if there is no such issue at all. Yet, the reality is that a poorly protected Wi-Fi network is an open invitation for hackers to access your system.
We cover the subject of wireless security in home entertainment in our Wireless Security Basics article; issues discussed include the different encryption protocols, WPS, and simple steps you should take to help improve the security of your wireless networking activity.
Internet-enabled Wi-Fi Home Entertainment Gear vs. Wireless Media Players
Wireless-Enabled Home Entertainment Systems
Wireless-enabled AV equipment with Internet TV access come in various forms, from cable and satellite set-top boxes and home theater systems, to personal TV recorders, Blu-ray players and HDTVs with the latest suite of Smart TV features.
Smart TV is possibly the biggest among the latest developments brought about by the HDTV entertainment industry, thanks to the presence of built-in apps or widgets that let you stream multi-media content straight to your big screen from services such as Netflix for movies and TV shows, BLOCKBUSTER for the latest movie releases, YouTube and Twitter, Pandora internet music service and more.
We discuss the subject of Internet-enabled TV suites in our Guide to Smart TV.
Wireless Media Players - Do these have an edge?
Admittedly, the ever increasing presence of wireless-enabled home entertainment systems means that in most cases, your networked Internet-enabled TV or Blu-ray player may very well provide you with the functionality of a wireless media player as well; all that would be required is to install and set-up the accompanying DLNA server software on your PC and connect your new TV or player to your home network.
But if your home entertainment solution do not include DLNA support or access to Internet multimedia content services, and still want to stream multi-media content from the Internet or your networked PCs to enjoy on your big screen TV and home theater speakers, then all you need is one of the latest inexpensive wireless media players and Internet streaming boxes.
The classical stand-alone wireless media player is a wireless adapter specifically designed for multi-media use. Wireless media players let you pull digital content over your Wi-Fi network using either 802.11g or 802.11n technology, and interfaces with your home entertainment system via the usual AV interconnects.
Relatively inexpensive, wireless media players provide for ease of integration of audio and video content from say a PC, the internet, or any other device accessible through your home network, and your home entertainment system.
Unlike Wi-Fi enabled music centers and wireless home entertainment gear which come with their own amplifiers, speakers, etc., wireless media players have to sit 'atop' other home entertainment systems (home-theater-in-a-box, AV receiver, HDTV, etc.), while pulling content from anything that is on your home network.
The main advantage of stand-alone wireless media players is that in most cases, these dedicated media streaming boxes come with a richer feature set in comparison to wireless-enabled home entertainment centers. Stand-alone wireless media players would normally support a far wider and complete range of audio and video file formats, and come with an easy-to-navigate intuitive on-screen menu which you can display on your existing TV. Through this on-screen menu, you can choose the digital content to pull from any computer on the home network or internet connection.
We have already referred to a number of wireless media players earlier on in this article, with the Roku 3 and the Apple TV being definitely among the most popular and least expensive wireless streaming players on the market.
We discuss available wireless media players in substantial detail in our Best Wireless Media Players Review page; in particular, we confront the Roku, Apple TV and WD Live to see where each of these streaming boxes fit best.
Buying Options for Wireless Media Players
Amazon.com offers a complete range of wireless video streaming boxes, often at reduced prices.