Media Centres


What are media centres?

Media Centre Many of us own hundreds of DVDs, CDs, VCR tapes, collections of pictures from our digital cameras and downloaded movies and MP3 files. It's downright convenient to have them all stored digitally, accessible instantly from any room in the house.

This is the promise of media centre PCs and media servers - a consolidation of media and appliances. A media centre PC allows you to record television shows to a hard disk, play your favourite movies and shows on your large screen TV, have your entire MP3 collection play through your stereo, access news from Internet on your TV and generally act as an all-purpose media jukebox.

A media server, on the other hand, acts as a central repository for you media files, dishing them out as needed to appliances around the home.

There are two distinct media centre scenarios that we'll be touching on in this guide: the fully-fledged media centre PCs (such as those using Windows Media Centre Edition), also known as "lounge room PCs" or "home theatre PCs"; and media server/terminal combinations, where a server holding all your media content resides in one room of the house and various set-top devices (now known as "media streamers"), connected to TVs in various rooms draw media from that server.

In the first scenario, the media centre PC is effectively an all-in-one device for your lounge room or entertainment room. It's a video recorder and player, media jukebox, game console, digital picture viewer, TV Web browser and stereo system - in short, it replaces a huge chunk of your home theatre set-up with a single PC. Typically, it will plug into your large-screen TV set.

The second scenario that we will be touching on is the media server model, in which a file server with all your digital media streams that media out to terminal devices located around the house. The server, hidden away in a study or back room, acts as the central repository for the media, while the media streamers act as the client machines, playing that media on TV sets or audio systems in the lounge room, the kitchen, the bedroom, bathroom or wherever it's wanted.

The two scenarios are not mutually exclusive. You can have a media centre PC that also acts as a media server. Say you build or buy a media centre PC for the lounge room, which also acts as a central repository for media files. Media streamers located in the bedrooms could draw video, audio and picture files from that media centre/media server and display them on TV sets in the bedrooms.

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