Just dipping your toes into the home theater waters? Home Theater editor-in-chief Rob Sabin lays out the basics of home theater in plain English in a recent interview on Real Estate Today Radio, the syndicated radio show of the National Association of Realtors. Listen to the segment here.
Ever try to stream a video from your library only to find that it won't play it—or find that certain files don’t appear on your media player when you browse the folders where they are saved? The problem could be that your media player doesn’t recognize those file formats.
Digital media streaming has exploded in recent years. It’s everywhere—from sharing digital photos (does anyone print photos anymore?), to streaming a missed TV show on Hulu Plus, to watching high-definition movies on Vudu. Internet and router speeds have increased to accommodate streaming high-quality audio and video. Find out what DLNA certification means and why it's important.
Media renderer is another Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) certification that is part of the home network streaming experience. It can play videos, photos and music that are sent to it from a media controller. I know of no devices that are exclusively media renderers. Typically the ability to accept media files is a feature of media streaming device.
Streaming high-quality video with multichannel audio requires a fast connection. For Vudu, Hulu, and other online streaming sites, you must have fast Internet speeds. To stream huge, high-definition files from your media server to your smart TV or media player, you must have a fast connection within your home network.
In the world of digital media, there’s no doubt that you have downloaded movies and/or music, and saved digital photos to your computer. Now you want to watch them on your TV and home theater. Before you can stream the movies, music or photos from your computer, networked external hard drive, or network attached storage (NAS) drive, the media player must first find the sources—“see” the device where you have saved your media files. The computer or device where your files are saved is called a “media server.”
Media streamers and Smart TVs are only as good as the content they can provide. Yes, it's important to have good picture quality, but often the determination of which player you buy comes down to what you can stream to it? If you like TV shows, you want Hulu Plus. For movies make sure you have Netflix or Vudu. Beyond the big-named online streaming services, there is a plethora of special interest websites that stream short-form videos. Thanks to app publisher, Flingo, many of those channels are becoming available on media players and Smart TVs. The Flingo Queue adds the possibility of watching any video you find on the web on TV.
A media controller is not a device or a physical remote control. You can’t go to the store and buy a media controller. "Media Controller" is a DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) certification. Part of a home network streaming media solution, the media controller finds photos, music and movies on connected media servers, and sends (pushes) the media file to an enabled media player, Smart TV or other streaming device. Typically you’ll find that a media controller is an app on a smartphone, tablet or computer.
I half expected an ordeal as I walked into Walmart carrying a small shopping bag with several movies, ready to take the new Disc-to-Digital service for a spin. I was directed to the electronics department where I was greeted by a large placard that read: “Access your movie collection. Any time. Any place. 3 Easy Steps...” Offered in Walmart stores across the country, the service is operated through the chain’s online streaming service, Vudu, and is intended to provide an easy way to set up a cloud-based digital movie library with DVDs and Blu-ray Discs you already own.
Like most Home Theater readers, I’ve known SRS Labs primarily as the company that does virtual surround sound and other audio solutions for HDTVs and soundbars—features largely dismissed by serious enthusiasts as lightweight hocus-pocus. So it was with some skepticism that, back in March, I rolled into the firm’s Santa Ana, California, headquarters for a private demo of some new surround sound technology.
In 2002, the video world was just getting comfortable with component analog video. HDTV and DVD were only starting to acquire mass-market status. We were using three separate video cables to connect our shiny new HDTVs to our best sources. Add to that up to six audio cables to our A/V receivers. This forest of cables wasn’t heaven (except to cable vendors), but it worked, and it provided most viewers with their first real taste of high-quality video. We also had DVI, a standard for digital video borrowed from the computer world. But because its clunky connector only carried video and not audio as well, it never achieved critical mass.
With all the fuss about the great images on HDTVs, particularly from Blu-ray, it’s easy to forget that sound is half the experience—maybe even more. Blu-ray offers more than just great video. By making use of its generous data-storage capacity and new ways to encode audio, it offers an audio experience that’s a significant step beyond the digital movie sound formats we’ve lived with. In fact, it’s arguably equivalent to the sound the engineers and filmmakers heard during the mastering session.
In May of 2009, Home Theater ran an article titled “BD-Live in Action” with an overview of the Internet features available on Blu-ray. Even though that piece was written a good three years into the high-def format’s life, the BD-Live aspect was still very much in its formative stages. Many of the Internet features available at that time were gimmicks or filler material. Few could be classified as essential to the experience of owning a Blu-ray Disc. The article concluded with the statement, “We’ve only started to see the building blocks of BD-Live’s potential. Now is the time for a true innovator to step in and show us what it can do.”
THX, Dolby, and Audyssey deliver reference-level punch at lower volumes.
You know the drill. You’re just getting into the latest action blockbuster on your new home theater rig when a still, small voice wafts gently into your SPL-addled ear. “Isn’t that a bit loud?” Or perhaps the voice comes screeching in from another room. “I can’t hear myself think in here.” Or there’s a knock at the front door from the men in blue, demanding that you surrender your assault rifle in exchange for a fun stay in the slam with Tony the Hammer.