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USB/ Ethernet

Figure 13-3:
Connecting PCs and entertainment
Linking a PC centers via wireless
with any
piece of
stereo gear.
Chapter 13: Networking Your Entertainment Center

The Linksys (www.linksys.com; $120) Wireless Digital Media Adapter is an
802.11b-based transmitter. It resides in home entertainment centers next to
the television and stereo. The device resembles the Linksys access point,
with two 802.11b antennas. Instead of connecting to an Ethernet port like a
normal AP, the device is equipped with audio/video connectors. To process
JPEG, MP3, and WMA digital content from a networked PC, the adapter uses
Intel™s XScale architecture PXA250 application processor. By using Universal
Plug and Play (UPnP) technology, the adapter can be easily set up to work
with other UPnP devices on the network such as a Linksys wireless router or
its car networking technology (under development in early 2003). The
bottom line on these adapters: Look for wireless adapters that enable you to
take ordinary devices and get them on your home wireless backbone.

The Home Media Player
A new intermediary that has thrust itself onto the scene is the media player,
which is a device whose goal is to simplify the PC-to-entertainment system
interface. Simply, these boxes give you an easy way to get at information on
your PC, for playing or viewing on your TV and stereo system, by giving you
an onscreen display, a remote control, and even a wireless keyboard.

Specifically, this device sits between your TV and your PC. And instead of
using your computer display to see what™s going on, the media player dis-
plays its own user interface on the TV set ” a lot like the AudioReQuest that
we mention earlier in this chapter. Thus, they can make it a lot simpler to
merely play a song (a lot better than having to boot up a computer, open a
program, and scroll around!). It interfaces with your PC via a wireless (or
wired) connection.

The PRISMIQ system that we mention earlier in this chapter is a great exam-
ple of this. By using an Internet-capable home computer and linking stored
media and the Internet connection itself, the PRISMIQ system can perform a
variety of functions:

Play DVD-quality video
Play Surround sound and CD-quality audio
Stream a library of MP3 files
Act as a video-on-demand set top box
Display digital photos on the television
Provide Web access on the television
Show live, personalized news feeds to the television
Connect users over the Internet to friends and family
256 Part IV: Using a Wireless Network

The PRISMIQ MediaPlayer (see Figure 13-4) is a compact system, less than
half the size of most DVD players. It can be used conveniently on any televi-
sion in the house, yet it has all the capabilities of a high-end audio-visual
component, such as Surround sound audio support and MPEG-1 and MPEG-2
video playback. The associated and bundled MediaManager software, which
lets one or more computers in the home deliver content to the MediaPlayer,
runs on Windows 98 SE, Me, 2000, and XP. Like the SONICblue DVD D2730, the
PRISMIQ MediaPlayer supports Ethernet 10/100 natively and has embedded
driver support for a variety of PCMCIA card/bus cards for 802.11b, 802.11a,
802.11g, and Home Phoneline Networking Alliance (HPNA) interfaces. It
allows just about any sort of wireless connectivity through its PC Card slot

Figure 13-4:

Other players are getting into the act, too. HP™s Digital Media Receiver
(www.hp.com/go/digitalmediareceiver; $299) 5000 Series extends digital
music and photos on your PC to your TV and stereo systems. By using a stan-
dard remote control, the receiver enables you to browse through your
favorite music and photos and choose what you want to view or listen to
without having to go to your PC and use your mouse and keyboard. The HP
Digital Media Receiver provides access to digital content from a PC on a
user™s wired Ethernet or wireless 802.11b home network.

The photos section will appeal to those with a digital camera. Digital photog-
raphy enthusiasts can access JPEG, GIF, BMP, and PNG images and share
their favorite moments with others in picture shows displayed on their TV in
the living space of their choice instead of on a PC monitor. The receiver also
allows users to print the currently displayed picture on any PC-connected
printer with the simple push of a button on the remote control. In addition,
the product allows users to combine music and photos on the TV and stereo
for a multimedia experience.

What™s neat is that multiple HP Digital Media Receivers can be connected to
the home wireless network so that music and photos can be enjoyed
throughout the home, simultaneously accessing digital files ” including, if so
desired, the exact same song or picture (say, during a party). In fact, the mul-
tiple devices can be controlled from each other to create a full-house listen-
ing experience.
Chapter 13: Networking Your Entertainment Center

The Home Theater PC
When you talk about your home entertainment center, you often talk about
sources: that is, those devices such as tape decks, AM/FM receivers, phono
players, CD units, DVD players, and other consumer electronics devices that
provide the inputs of the content that you listen to and watch through your
entertainment system.

So when you think about adding your networked PC(s) to your entertainment
mix, the PC becomes just another high-quality source device attached to
your A/V system ” albeit wirelessly. To connect your PC to your entertain-
ment system, you must have some special audio/video cards and corre-
sponding software to enable your PC to “speak stereo.” When configured like
this, you™ve effectively got what is known as a home theater PC (or HTPC, as
all the cool kids refer to them). In fact, if you do it right, you can create an
HTPC that funnels audio and video into your system at a higher-quality level
than many moderately priced, standalone source components. HTPC can be
that good.

You can either buy an HTPC ready-to-go right off the shelf, or you can build
one yourself. Building an HTPC, obviously, isn™t something that we recom-
mend unless you have a fair amount of knowledge about PCs. If that™s the
case, have at it. Another obvious point: It™s a lot easier to buy a ready-to-go
version of the HTPC off the shelf. You can find out more about HTPCs in
Home Theater For Dummies (Pat and Danny wrote that, too), by Wiley
Publishing, Inc. What we include here is the short and sweet version of HTPC.

What you expect from your home theater PC is going to be quite different
from what, say, David Bowie expects from his HTPC. Regardless of your
needs, however, a home theater PC should be able to store music and video
files, play CDs and DVDs, let you play video games on the big screen, and
tune in to online music and video content. Thus, it needs ample hard drive
space and the appropriate software. (See the following section, “Internet
Content for Your Media Players and HTPCs.”) Also, your HTPC will act as a
PVR (see the nearby “Checking out PC PVRs” sidebar for the lowdown on
PC-based PVRs). In addition, an HTPC can

Store audio (music) files: Now you can easily play your MP3s anywhere
on your wireless network.
Store video clips: Keeping your digital home video tapes handy is quite
the crowd pleaser ” you can have your own America™s Funniest Home
Videos show.
Play CDs and DVDs: The ability to play DVDs is essential in a home
theater environment.
258 Part IV: Using a Wireless Network

Act as a PVR (personal video recorder): This optional (but almost
essential, we think) function uses the HTPC™s hard drive to record
television shows like a ReplayTV (www.replaytv.com) or TiVo (www.
Let you play video games on the big screen: With the right hardware,
PCs are sometimes even better than gaming consoles (which we cover in
Chapter 12).
Tune in to online music and video content: Grab the good stuff off the
Internet (yes, and pay for it) and then enjoy it on the big screen with
good audio equipment.
Provide a high-quality, progressive video signal to your TV video dis-
play: This is behind-the-curtain stuff. Simply, an HTPC uses special hard-
ware (it™s pretty cheap, only about $200“$400) to display your PC™s video
content on a TV. Sure, PCs do have a built-in video system, but most are
designed to display only on a PC monitor, not a TV. And high-definition
TV, which is why you want high-definition content, is progressive (mean-
ing all of the video “lines” are displayed at one time, rather than half in
one frame and the other half in the next like most standard TVs today ”
providing a much smoother, more film-like, picture), and you need a spe-
cial card or PC set up like an HTPC to facilitate it. (This investment also
gives you better performance on your PC™s monitor, which is never bad.)
Decode and send HDTV content to your high-definition TV display:
HTPCs can provide a cheap way to decode over-the-air HDTV signals
and send them to your home entertainment center™s display. You just
need the right hardware (an HDTV-capable video card and a TV tuner
card). If you have HDTV, this is a really cool optional feature of HTPC.

My name is Media, and I™ll be your server
HTPCs and Windows XP Media Center Edition them to store music, video, digital photographs,
PCs are what their names say they are ” PCs. and more.
Look to the horizon for a new generation of
A good example of this is the Martian Net
computer-like devices that serve up media.
Drive Wireless (www.martian.com), a $399
Media servers (creative name, no?) are really
802.11b-enabled accessible 40GB hard drive
just a souped-up version of a standalone PVR
that allows you to store thousands of your
(think TiVo) or a standalone MP3 server (like
favorite songs, digital pictures, or documents.
AudioReQuest, www.request.com). They don™t
Any network device can access them. The
run a PC operating system or do typical PC stuff.
802.11b is onboard. It even supports your WEP
They just serve up media, and wireless is a
encryption. There are two steps to setting it up:
key way, likely using 802.11a/g technology.
1. Unpack stylish brown shipping carton. 2. Plug
You™ll be able to hook media servers into your
in power cable. That™s it. Cool.
PC network and into your home theater, using
Chapter 13: Networking Your Entertainment Center

Checking out PC PVRs
Using the HTPC™s hard drive to record television Tip: Because the biggest limitation to any PVR
shows like how a ReplayTV or TiVo does is an system is the amount of space on your hard drive
optional (but almost essential, we think) func- for storing video, consider a hard drive upgrade
tion. And using an HTPC as a PVR is a standard regardless of your other HTPC intentions.
feature in a Windows XP Media Center PC ”
PC PVR kits on the market include SnapStream
and something that we think you should con-
Personal Video Station (www.snapstream.
sider adding to your home-built HTPC. Even if
com), Pinnacle PCTV Deluxe (www.pinnacle
this were the only thing that you wanted to do
sys.com), and ATI All-In-Wonder 9700 PRO
with your HTPC, it would be worth it. You can
simply install a PC PVR kit and skip a lot of the
other stuff (such as the DVD player, decoder,
and software).

Internet Content for Your Media
Players and HTPCs
If you™re really into this HTPC thing, think about whether setting up an HTPC
is really worth the trouble just to playback DVDs (although the quality would
be way high). Probably not, huh? So, you might ask yourself, what else is in it
for me? What really makes an HTPC useful is its ability to provide a portal to
all sorts of great Internet-based content ” that is, music and video content. A
portal is simply a one-stop shop for movies, songs, animation clips, video
voice mail, and so on. Think of it as a kind of a Yahoo! for your audio and
video needs. (In fact, Yahoo!, a portal itself, is trying to position itself to be
just that! You can play great music videos from its Web site at

You™re not getting much Internet content if your HTPC isn™t connected to the
Internet. And don™t forget that a connection to your high-speed Internet
access (digital subscriber line [DSL] or cable modem) is part of the overall
equation. (Yup, a regular ol™ vanilla dialup connection will work, but ” we
can™t stress this enough ” not nearly as well. Pony up the cash and come on
into this century.)

Again, if you™re really interested in your home entertainment system and
home theater systems, you should check out Home Theater For Dummies for
lots more info.

You™ll find a load of good content on the Internet, just waiting for you to
come around and get it. Note that these sites charge you for the services
260 Part IV: Using a Wireless Network

and content they provide, but the content is well worth the price. Take it from
us. Some of the most popular online content providers include the following:

Listen.com (www.listen.com): Listen.com™s Rhapsody online music
service is a great source of quality music for your home theater (via an
HTPC). From its library of over 20,000 albums (and for a paltry $9.95 per


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