Home Theater Multi-Media Devices

Plan for traditional hard-wired devices like a Blu-ray player as well as Internet-based content sources.

SP0520_google-tv-01_s4x3 The internet is powering a new wave of programming choices. Google TV is just one of the players trying to help viewers find the perfect mix of great content and convenience.

Chances are, you already have and use multiple media and content sources (e.g. cable, satellite, DVDs, Blu-ray). When designing a home theater, it's important to incorporate these "traditional" sources as well as Internet-based sources. The future of most all media and content is online delivery.

By making your home theater your Internet hub, you can easily add Internet media devices directly to your router or Internet connection. Consider having your Internet service provider install a primary Internet connection in the room and use that connection for your router or for an Internet switch. High-speed Internet access is essential, so get the fastest service they offer.

Internet content devices come in a variety of forms, including:

  • Internet-connected TVs and Blu-ray players with built-in connections to media services such as Netfilx and Pandora
  • Hard drive media players that play content downloaded from the Web and stored on the hard drive
  • Stand-alone Internet TV boxes such as Google TV, Roku, and Apple TV
  • Personal computers using Media Center (Windows) or Front Row (Apple) to record TV and play Internet content

Each of these devices has two primary connections: Wired or wireless connections to your router or Internet connection, and an HDMI connector to your TV or AV Receiver. They are connected just like a Blu-ray player and have a remote control and an onscreen menu/guide to access Internet or disc-based content.

Internet TV devices such as Apple TV and Roku allow access to popular services such as Netfilx, Pandora, YouTube and others. Content is free or subscription-based. Services such as Netflix and Amazon Instant Video offer an amazing library of movies and TV shows and allow you to rent movies without leaving home.

The latest development is Google TV which allows access to virtually any content source available on the Web. It has direct links to the popular movie rental services and YouTube, but since it has a built-in Web browser optimized for TV viewing, you can also use it for email and accessing once PC-only services. Most TV networks now allow streaming of their show, so you can use Google TV to view major network news or prime time shows. You can also use Apps, games and other Android-based services.

Media Center on Windows PCs. Windows 7 Home Premium has Media Center, a full TV interface that allows playing – and recording – of TV shows. It also has the ability to play all of your PC-based video and audio including home video stored on our PC, and to play disc-based content from the PC's optical DVD or Blu-ray drive.

Most PCs that include Media Center come equipped with an AV card that has a HDMI connector. If your PC has Media Center but not a HDMI connection, you can easily add a video card with HDMI.

Media Center is a great PC/Internet TV solution that allows you to view your photo libraries and access email and other applications once you connect your PC to your HDTV. Flat panel TVs and projection TVs each have connections to PCs, and the connection of a PC to your home theater is easy and opens up a world of content at a low cost.

iPods, iPads and Smart Phones. Portable media devices such as iPods are also a source of content for your home theater. Using a USB connector or dedicated dock (available on high-end TVs and AV receivers), you can play music and even video from your iPod, iPad or smart phone. Be sure your system is capable of connecting to your portable devices by choosing models with the proper dock or connector.

If you're interested in an Internet TV device, here are a few features you should look for:

  • HDMI video output
  • Composite video output
  • Add-on storage such as a USB hard drive or SD card
  • Greatest number of Internet services possible
  • No subscription fees
  • Web browser

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