Wednesday, November 25, 2009

HD Media Players

WARNING: Technically explicit material. If you are technically challenged or if such material offends you, please do not continue reading this post.

I built my first Home Theater Personal Computer (HTPC) in 2002. Those days most people did not know that you can connect a PC to your TV. Sleek flat panel TVs with PC input and HDMI input were not around. Finding a horizontal case for my PC to match with the audio /video components in the rack was tough. It was even tougher make the HTPC work with my 65 inch rear projection HDTV. The TV was so bulky that it took almost a quarter of my family room floor space. Controlling all the functions of the PC through a programmable remote control was another haunting task.

Seven years later, the old TV and the old HTPC are still going strong - recording and playing favorite TV shows (both HD and non-HD), playing music, playing movies and receiving HDTV broadcast with the help of a digital tuner card.

Then in 2005, I built the second HTPC for the dedicated home theater room. In both cases, I spent around $1,200 for building the HTPC.

Things have changed a lot in the last few years. Connecting your PC to the TV is a breeze now. Today, you can use your 50 inch plasma TV as a huge monitor for your PC. Also you can play on the big screen the video files stored on your PC or anywhere on your home network or from the web.

Yet, PC never became a mainstream source for video and audio in a home entertainment setup.

That is changing now with the new breed of media players. For as little as $100 you can get an HD media player and connect it to your TV. Then connect it to your home network and suddenly you have a wide variety of material to watch on your HDTV. These units support HDMI output, 1080P resolution and play almost all formats of video and audio files. These files can be on a USB drive connected to the unit, on any computer on your home network or from one of the supported video services on internet. The unit comes with a remote control and an easy to use user interface.

Having such a unit in your home theater setup is almost like having an HTPC at a fraction of the cost and complexity.

While there are several HD media players available today, two inexpensive (around $130 street price), but interesting units to consider are:

Seagate FreeAgent Theater + HD Media Player


Western Digital TV Live HD Media Player

In order to play digital media today, you don’t have to follow the difficult and expensive path I took back in 2002.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post.

    Missing in this equipment are TV tuner, PVR functions and DVD player? If they are available, my HTPC will converge to this tiny little budget friendly device.

    Seagate looks prettier and has better wife-approval score compared to boxy WD device.

    Any idea what OS they run? Can we access them as normal disks over the network? Any custom app development possible?