A media streamer is a device designed to sit under your TV, to provide access to digital content. The goal is to provide a PC-like experience and access to services more typically associated with a TV but, without the size, noise and complexity of the PC itself. By definition, media streamers are also media players and they come in various sizes, forms and with varying feature sets. Most are networked to enable content to be played from Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices, other computers or the Internet. Most can also play content stored locally or stored on portable memory devices such as USB pendrives or USB disk drives.
The term 'media tank' is often used to describe media players/streamers that have a large amount of storage associated with them, usually 500Gb or more. The devices also claim to be able to play a vert wide range of media formats.
So what should you be looking for in a media streamer/player/tank? It comes down to personal preference really but as a minumum you should be looking for:
- Ethernet wired connectivity - streaming HD video over wi-fi is possible but rarely works well in practice.
- Wide format support - ability to content all the typical content formats found on the Internet and in the home.
- Attractive and quiet device - is it something that sits well in your lounge?
- Local storage
- High performance - can it render full HD video smoothly?
- Connectivity - HDMI is the emerging standard of choice.
- Audio support - full surround sound capability.
Whilst a media player or streamer is a useful and powerful device for providing a wide range of entertainment in your lounge, many people find that what they really need is a Home Theatre PC.
The ScreenCast AV 4 lets you stream content from devices like Blu-ray players to an HDTV without the need for an HDMI cable. The transmitter plugs into the source device and the receiver plugs into your TV, making it possible to watch 1080p video wirelessly. It also has IR blaster capability. The device claims NOT DEFINED compliance.
Sony Playstation 3 (PS3)
The Sony SMP-N200 is a new device (Sep 2011) to compete with the likes of the Apple TV.
Western Digital WD TV Live
Many of the media servers are also media players.
Popcorn Hour A-110
The Popcorn Hour A-110 is a enhanced version of the previous A-100 model. It adds support for 2.5"/3.5" SATA HDD and USB Slave functionality to improve connectivity and transfer rates. HDMI has been updated to the 1.3a spec, allowing full support of HD Audio pass-through for DTS HD-HR, DTS HD-MA, Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby TrueHD. The ports on the device have also been reconfigured with a USB port moved to the rear panel, optical S/PDIF replacing the co-axial S/PDIF and a hardware reset button to allow for easier use of the device.
In the UK, the basic device sells for around £200 and this is without a hard-disk installed internally. We are so close to buying one of these devices as it represents a fantastic way to play back high quality content on a large screen TV.
This is a pretty good overview of the device and the improvements that come with the A-110 version: