Digital Living III: Video Streaming Clients

AV Streaming Clients

In our last installment, we looked at NAS devices with integrated media servers. Today we’re focusing on the other end of that chain, namely specialized receivers that let you play back music, movies and images stored on your PC or a NAS device over a network. To that end, we checked out three video streaming clients for the home network. So please welcome today’s guests from Fujitsu-Siemens, Netgear and Zyxel to our lab.

In many households, DVD players or even recorders have replaced the old VCR. Movies and recordings of TV shows are often stored on DVDs now, making them compatible with practically any device.

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Until recently, this has not been the case with movies and videos found on the Internet. These currently tend to favour the WMV9 and H.264 formats, meaning that you either needed a dedicated player or had to be content with watching on your PC. The newest development in this field attempts to change that, as companies are presenting so-called audio/video clients that can play back content such as images, movies and MP3 music from your PC or a NAS device. These receivers do not store any of the files, acting solely as a playback device, similar to a Pay-TV decoder that decrypts the received video material and passes it on to the TV. You could think of these A/V-receivers as set-top boxes integrated into your home network via LAN or WLAN. Each of our review samples comes with a remote control, giving you full command from your sofa. If you have a uPNP server on your home network, the A/V clients can play back any of the files shared on it on your TV. By comparison, things are a little more complicated with the DVD – you’d have to burn your content to a disc first before you could put it in the player and play it back. That first step is no longer necessary, since you can now simply play the content over the network without having to copy or burn it to a medium. This streaming functionality also allows you to skip ahead or go back within a movie or music file.

The manufacturers of these receivers even promise support for High Definition Video (HD Video) in addition to Standard Definition Video (SD). Potential buyers are also wooed with buzzwords such as H.264 and HDMI. However, buying a HD-capable playback device alone won’t get you anywhere. In addition to the A/V players, you’ll also need a TV or TFT that can handle high definition video content (at least "HD Ready"). If you want to stick with your old TV for now, you’ll still be able to hook up any of these devices via S-Video or SCART – but of course you’ll only be getting standard definition video.

Today, we are attempting to find out whether the conventional DVD player is really ready to be retired by taking a look at the three A/V clients in our lab.

AV Streaming ClientsAV-Streaming Clients

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