Digital Home


Hardware

Landlines, Mobile Phones & 3G

As mobile phone technology booms, they are increasingly becoming candidates for digital home remote controls. Using home automation software and dial-up access, any touch-tone phone can function as a remote control for your household appliances. Additionally, wireless connectivity using 3G and Bluetooth can provide remote access to software-controlled X10, Z-Wave, xAP or UPnP devices. At 384kbps, 3G is currently only capable of half the speed of Bluetooth, but it is expected that 3G networks will achieve 2Mbps in the near future. However, the real benefit of 3G over Bluetooth isn't its speed, but the potential network coverage, being at least the equivalent of the current mobile phone network. The remote control possibilities of using 3G for digital homes in the future includes face recognition security over video calls as well as a long range alternative to FM and Wi-Fi for streaming media around the home -- and beyond.

Digital Media Adapters (DMAs)

The appearance of a new genre of media players, known collectively as Digital Media Adapters, is bridging the gap between the PC and home cinema. These devices plug into your AV receiver or TV with standard RCA cables and provide an on-screen menu that can be navigated by remote control. A built-in wireless adapter or standard Ethernet cable connects the device to your LAN, giving you instant access to your movie or music collection. There is no need to run AV cables through the house, and the UPnP compatible models are accessible from any Windows PC. Although these units provide new levels of convenience, they are essentially mini-computers and can thus be limited in the types of media they can play. For example, the Linksys WMA11B supports WMA, MP3, JPG, GIF, TIF and BMP files, although firmware updates may widen compatibility in the future. Other DMAs, such as the DSM-320 from D-Link, have native support for MPEG-4 video formats, making them an appealing alternative to a dedicated lounge room computer. If you want full support for all digital media formats and desktop access, however, then a dedicated PC is the way to go.

Wireless media adapter

Entertainment PCs

Many DVD players now support MPEG-4 formats like XviD and DivX. These devices can play back files previously only available to PCs. Unlike DMAs, which can stream media over the network, these players still require you to burn disks for playback. It's no wonder then that PC home cinema is becoming a popular alternative. A lounge room or entertainment PC with DVD drive, network connection and digital TV tuner can replace a set top box, DVD player, CD player, radio tuner and DMA -- all for a competitive price. At around $500, stylish bare bones PC systems are providing an inexpensive alternative to component systems, as well as being a chic complement to any existing home cinema. Running personal video recorder software such as the freeware GB PVR, a single interface can access all your TV channels and network media files from a cordless keyboard or specialised remote control.

As a sign of things to come, Microsoft has launched a special edition of Windows XP called Media Center Edition, specifically designed to run on entertainment computers. Due in Australia later this year, the operating system will no doubt coincide with an increase in the popularity of these lounge room PCs.


Here and now: Wireless Media Adapters

If you have a hard disk full of movies and music files, you may have found your PC is starting to supersede your physical collections in both convenience, quantity and quality. So how do you play your movies and music through your existing home cinema system?

Well, you could always run audio and video cables through the house, but then you're still faced with the problem of how to control your PC remotely from the lounge room. That's where wireless media adapters can step in. For around $400 these little devices sit near your TV and connect to the video and audio inputs of your AV receiver just like a DVD player, for instance. Then, using the adapter's own remote control you can browse your network for media files and play them back through your Hi-Fi speakers and TV. There's no network cable running through the house, and the handheld remote gives you the same control you already wield over your other Hi-Fi components. All you need for this to work is a wireless network card, wireless router, or access point for the device to communicate with.

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