A flexible home entertainment system for the whole family part 3

Standard

Streaming Media to the Living Room

Place shifting allows my family to view TV anywhere I want in my home, this section deals with the reverse.  Streaming media from any computer to the living room.  The are a number of gadgets and software that have made this possible.

UPNP and DLNA

UPnP Logo

UPnP is a standard for doing a lot of things, including streaming and sharing media files. It is supported by many programs and gadgets out there but not every gadget will work.  UPnP doesn’t have restrictions on codecs, it leaves that up to the client or gadget.  This can cause a lot of headaches since things might not work out of the box.  A lot of software like XBMC support streaming to and from other devices using UPnP.

DLNA Logo

DLNA is similar to UPnP  but it’s more restricted and targets embedded systems like phones, home entertainment appliances, computers and other electronics, it is still in its infancy and only high end electronics have support for it.  The best known devices that support DLNA are the PS3 and the XBox 360.

Playstation 3

Playstation 3 Slim

Again I’m a Sony fan so I am biased here.  One of the best supported DLNA devices is the Sony Playstation 3.  Almost any media streaming software like MythTV, XMBC, Boxee etc will be able to share all sorts of media with the PS3.  The PS3 can play a variety of media, from Divx encoded video to a slide show pictures.

Have a look at the beautiful slideshow the PS3 has.

The ps3 is also a great gaming machine, and probably a good family gaming machine too because of a upcoming Playstation Move.  It’s also a powerful movie player that supports almost anything including Blurays, DVDs, audio CDs, Photo CDs etc.  It was designed to sit in the living room.

One advantage of the PS3 is that it supports HDMI CEC, which means a TV remote can be used to control the PS3, a universal remote control won’t be needed.

Some of my friends have a PS3, also PS3’s online play is free of charge unlike X-Box 360 Live.

XBox 360

XBox 360

Similar to the PS3, the XBox stream movies from any computer and display it on the TV.  Using Windows Media Player and it’s transcoding features, almost any video can be played.  It can also handle photos and music too.

XBox is also an excellent gaming machine, and probably a great family gaming machien because of the upcoming Project Natal.  It’s also a powerful movie player supporting DVDs, CDs, Photo CDs etc.

The X-Box’s build quality is a let down though.  It’s known to cause problems, also if you haven’t seen the size of it’s external power supply I recommend you see it before making a decision.  X-Boxes also are a wiring and attachment mess.  They don’t have built in WiFi, they have an external power supply.  I doubt it support HDMI CEC which means you would need another remote for a universal remote center.

Wii

Nintendo Wii

The Wii is teh best family gaming machine, and it’s cheap too at around $120!  If it’s modded, it can also be also be used as a home media center and support a variety of formats including CDs, DVDs, and pictures. It’s build quality is near perfect, and it’s nice, small, slick.  It’s a great solution.

The only let down is that it won’t work with universal remote control.  which means there will be more remotes lying around.  Also modding isn’t a good idea for everyone, it could get you kicked off the online experience.

Slingcatcher

Sling Catcher

Slingcatcher is a beatiful set top box that sits on the TV and comes with great learning remote.  It’s capable of playing a variety of codecs and works great out of the box.  A combination of SlingBox Pro HD and SlingCatcher in the home will make a great entertainment system for the whole family.

It’s also affordable costing aroudn $150

XBMC and mini-itx PCs

XBMC

XMBC is the best option for movie buffs.  It can play anything that’s thrown at it, sans Blu-ray ..for now, and it has a slick interface to boot.

However it is the most expensive solution at the moment and can be a mess when it comes to wiring and complexity.  Combine XBMC with MythTV and you have an excellent solution that blows SlingBox’s offerings away.

However it’s going to be messy wiring and it’s also the most expensive solution at around $350-500.

Read more about XBMC on the official website http://www.xbmc.org

Boxee

Boxee

Boxee is almost exactly like XMBC in features except it has a focus on social networking.  It also has an Set Top Box coming out soon. which makes this an attractive solution.  An affordable XMBC with a remote and without the wiring headaches.

Watch the demonstration on the offical website http://www.boxee.tv

Bluray Players

Sony BDP-S370 Blu Ray player with DLNA

I’m Sony biased so I’m looking at Sony again.  Most blu ray players support DLNA or USB specs.  They work fairly well and the new blu ray player are around $170 to $199 starting price.  The $199 ones will also support 3D movies soon enough.

Blu-ray players must use HDMI so they all support HDMI-CEC.  Which means you can use one remote to control both the TV and the blu-ray player, and stream movies and TV as need.  It is worth looking into.

It is nearly impossible to find out how well the DLNA features work on this device though, few people have one, and even fewer have blog posts or reviews on it’s DLNA features.  Depending on the brand, price, or model purchase the DLNA features may differ e.g. codec support, or UI.

Read more about Sony’s BDP-370 on the official website

Decision

After a long and complicated though process, I had a hard time deciding between the PS3 and an XMBC with a mini-itx case.  I also considered skipping both devices and using Blu-Ray Player and a TV with DLNA to save costs.  In the end my friends ended up buying me a PS3 for my wedding present (they refer to the PS3 as my “first wife” now) and I have to say that I am impressed with it.

One of the main features of the entertainment system in the living room was that I could do almost everything with a single remote control.  These days most apartments have a cable set top box, a game console, a TV, a DVD and Blu-ray player at least.  Each come with their own remotes and other things.  Logitech Harmony remotes and other universal remotes can handle these problems but some devices like the Boxee STB, a custom XBMC PC, a cable set top box or a game console won’t work with universal remote controls.
There are is also the complicated wiring with some devices like XBMC.  It won’t work over HDMI.  Blu-ray players and other DLNA devices aren’t usually upgradeable and are almost always limited.   Blu-Ray Players, XMBC and Boxee don’t support games.  Wii isn’t very good at streaming movies, XBox 360s and their RRoDs …

The PS3 however is able to do everything well. It’s slick, small, built well, doesn’t have much wiring, plays Games, movies, pictures, music etc.  It’s also affordable and doesn’t need an extra remote since it can be controlled using the TV remote over HDMI.  It’s also getting motion controlled games at the end of the year. Lastly most of my friends have a PS3, multi-player games here I come!

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