Network places replace cables with small box

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iol scitech june 23 internet pic REUTERS

Munich - There's good news for people who are tired of looking at all the cables their entertainment system seems to need to send signals between televisions, DVD players, computers and the like.

In today's increasingly wireless world, it's no longer necessary to have a DVD player or computer directly connected to a television to transmit a movie. That job can now be done wirelessly or with a network cable via a media player, a small box that saves space and helps people regain control of their living rooms.

In some cases, they can pull new material straight from the internet onto your television. Even better, you don't have to buy something terribly exotic or expensive to set up such a system. A LAN box with a maximum data rate of 100 megabits per second (MBit/s) is more than enough to stream high definition films.

“A gigabit LAN with 1,000 MBit/s is not necessary, which is why only a few products support that standard,” says Andreas Frank of the German magazine Video-HomeVision.

That said, if you want to set up a completely wireless network, you'll need to be sure to buy hardware that supports the 802.11n standard to make sure high definition material is sent without disruptions, or complete interruptions, to your video transmissions.

Regardless of whether you opt for a wi-fi or cable connection, content will either come from a special network hard drive or a PC with a video or music folder set aside for the home network. Media players tend to use the DLNA standard. Airplay is also great to make sure your wi-fi streaming with a Macbook, iPad or iPhone isn't too complicated.

If you don't want to stream, but prefer to connect an external hard drive to your media player, you're not bound to using a USB 3.0 connection.

“That only brings advantages if the media player has a built-in hard drive and it's important for you to have fast transmission of data from the external to the internal hard drive,' explains Frank. Plug in an SD card for easy transmission of photos from a digital camera.

The final product is sent to televisions with an HDMI cable, explains Frank. “Just about every device can support full HD, which means 1,920 X 1,080 pixel points, with 24, 50 or 60 full images a second.” That's important, especially with bigger televisions.

In a test of 10 media players, German magazine PCWELT plus, was critical of the image sharpness with some devices. “Only six models offered really breath-taking, sharp, detailed pictures with an HDTV transmission,” says Frank.

If you're going to plug in an older television you'll need connections other than HDMI, like a cinch cable or a toslink box to make sure the sound from a media player gets through.

Ever more network media players are also allowing clients to access online offering. There are video sites like YouTube or the libraries of public television channels from which to choose. Photo galleries like Picasa and Flickr are also accessible.

Social networks are also in on the act, allowing people to check updates from friends before starting a night of viewing. But online connectivity varies from player to player. It's best to look at this critically before making a purchase.

Despite their range of abilities, the media players remain relatively affordable. PCWelt plus' top-rated player costs 120

euros (158 dollars). Other well-reviewed devices start at 100 euros.

A good player will be able to handle multiple video formats, like AVI, MKV, WMV, DivX and MPEG formats like MP4. Audio purists will want to be on the lookout for the ability to support the FLAC format. Manufacturers have long recognized the potential of media players. There's also decent demand. At the same time, the lines are blurring between media players and other devices.

“The trends are showing a great variety of combinations between TV reception and recorder functions,” says Roland Stehle of the of the German Society for Entertainment and Communications Technology (gfu). “Blu-ray players and TV devices are increasingly integrating network player functions.”

Some media players can even now transmit high definition 3D films to a television, although there are limitations.

“The devices can only play one-to-one images from 3D Blu-rays, so-called ISO data,” says Frank. MKV video with 3D content still don't work with media players. But most players can process 3D films in side-by-side format with no trouble, although they can't offer the same quality as 3D movies on Blu-ray. - Sapa-dpa

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