If you own a TV, games console or network connected blu-ray player and you happen to have a PC or laptop floating around your home, chances are you have all the ingredients to watch videos stored on your PC’s and/or network storage. There is no need for any additional hardware – you do need to purchase any additional appliance or gadget to achieve this – assuming you have a well designed home network in the first place.
For quite some time now your TV, games console and some blu-ray players have had the ability to be networked – a network socket is on the back of most of these devices. We find, that surprisingly few people actually bother plugging these devices into their home network. The chances are your TV can deliver a whole host of features that you could very well be missing out on by not networking it.
Most of the premium brand TV’s have sported networking capabilties for several years now, if you have bought a decent TV in the last few years, chances are it has the ability to be networked – when connected to the internet a whole load of interesting possibilities and features come to the fore. Sony’s PS3 and the XBOX (old and new) have featured network ports, which provide a whole host of features beyond online multi-player gaming.
Each brand or manufacturer have their own approach to the interface (menus or bits you see to control it) and also what features or services the device sports. Panasonic’s Media Server found in any networkable TV or Blu-Ray player, is dead boring to look at but very responsive and efficient. They then sport a different feature set formerly known as VieraTV, recently rebadged to SmartViera. SmartViera which provides you access to a screen full of widgets, these widgets provide you access to a host of online services such as YouTub, on-demand movie hire, EuropsortsSkype and even fully interactive services like Skype (Skype you ask?). The best looking, and by far best organised interface comes from Samsung. Samsung tout this feature as being Smart TV.
This article does not really focus much on the ‘smart’ stuff and more on the Media Server and Media Client capabilities these devices support. This feature enables you to access your personal media (that is music, photos and video files) stored on your home network – this can be on your desktop computer, laptop or network storage.
The ‘magic’ that lets you do this is a service now touted as DLNA, but those of us who have been around longer know it is UPnP. UPnP is very easy to enable – I say enable, because Vista or Windows 7 supports UPnP media services natively. You need only go to ‘Network and Sharing’, go into the advanced properties and enable Media Streaming. Then add in the various file locations into its libraries; once your media is indexed it can be browsed and viewed on your smart TV.
For those who do not like Windows Media or use a Mac or Linux), Twonky is a great DLNA application. It is a licensed product – but most TV manufacturers will give you a free license with the TV purchase (see the documentation that came with your TV) – Linn, Loewe and Panasonic are brands we are aware of that include Townky licensing.
For me these features and the advantages they bring is a significant milestone in the evolution of TV. It is something that still lacks a lot of polish and could/likely will be made a whole lot better in time. The advantages of which will only ever become apparent to you if you network them in the first place. TV viewing has evolved considerably over the past 5 years, have you moved with these changes as well?