Digital Media Centers

The next wave in entertainment accessibility

The Squeezebox

As we expand our media libraries to include everything from iPods to televisions to home theatre equipment, there is a likewise growing demand to bring all of these devices under one domain. Imagine a network that will quickly and efficiently connect you with the movies, games, music and software you own all at the touch of a button. Add to this the ability to quickly access information on each individual media application – such as that new flick from Peter Jackson – and you can instantly find yourself immersed in an entertainment library.

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So, what exactly is a media center?

It really is everything we've promised above. A media center is a computer that has been adapted so that it might play music, movies, games and showcase pictures from your last trip to Cuba. It operates as a network, drawing in a number of important peripherals so that they might be accessed quickly and easily by one simple touch of a button. If you're following the intentions of the media center, you'll be placing it in the living or family room in your home, as it amalgamates many of the devices that clutter the average home theatre.

How can this be done?

The computer at the heart of the network – which is often wireless – stores movies and other applications on a central hard drive. In many cases, this hard drive can access the internet when connected, feeding you direct information on the DVD you're about to watch. Forget what "Breakfast at Tiffany's" is all about? The media center can get you that information.

Windows Media Center can immediately provide information on your uploaded films
In many cases, the computer that reaches out to all of these peripherals can act as a normal PC.

There are a number of devices that can be added to the media center. Microsoft recently released its Xbox 360 console as a central part of the company's home-media center. The 360 can incorporate and play music from the computer's hard drive as well as display the owner's favorite photos.

The average media center offers the following functions:

  • Easy access to a number of digital applications, like movies and downloaded music
  • The ability to permanently store digital data. You won't need to pop the DVD in its player because you can simply upload it to the hard drive
  • Playback for both standard and high definition televisions
  • The ability to receive a variety of digital media files, all accessible through signal network, or even USB port

Not to be forgotten:

Because of the above functions, the resulting benefit is an all-in-one machine that can be taken pretty much anywhere. A media center is the ultimate portable machine

Over the next few pages we'll look at some of the big-name media centers, and how they might soon change the way you enjoy a rented movie on a Saturday evening. Here's a quick list of some of the leading media centers: