Picking the Right Media Client

By Dave Salvator  |  Posted 2003-06-18 Print this article Print

The choices are still pretty limited for now, but they're getting better, offered ExtremeTech reviewer Dave Salvator. He's impressed with TiVo and the Prismiq, while repurposed PC hardware still provides a good option.

Whats the right product to buy? Were impressed with TiVo and the Prismiq, but still see PC alternatives as offering the best mix of features. There are a lot of different ways to get a media client into your living room, and each one is a study in tradeoffs. Of all the offerings we surveyed here, there are two shipping products that come closest to satisfying our ideal: Prismiq and TiVo with the Home Media Option. We also found that a repurposed desktop or laptop PC offers another decent way to get your audio and video files flowing into your living room. This is a good option if youve got a machine youre about ready to retire anyway.
Finding the right media client is a tough balancing act between power, features, and cost, and its also a function of what features you really want. Theres also the matter of whether you want this to be a "tinker box," or a CE device that you leave well enough alone and just enjoy.
Going the PC hardware route obviously opens up a lot more tinkering opportunities, though the TiVo is also a tweakable, and less expensive system. The Prismiq media player is an interesting alternative if you already have a PC-based TiVo app like SnapStream or ShowShifter, since you can stream that video to your TV and play it via the Prismiq player. We expect to see more Prismiq-like devices in the coming months that offer up audio, digital pictures and video in a compact, affordable package. Once you decide what features you really want, and what your budget is, theres a media client thats the right fit for you in this vast array of options. What to Buy
No Muss-No Fuss: If you dont already have a PVR app running somewhere in your house, or you own a Series 2 TiVo, then the new Home Media Option package offers up some very cool added features to an already-cool product for $50 bucks. We need to spend some more time playing/living with the TiVo HMO package, but at this point, it looks very encouraging. Lean and Mean: Prismiqs media player is a good option if you already do your PVR recordings using a PC, and want to get that video content, along with audio and digital still images into your living room. The PC Way: Buying a new PC will put you well over the $400 price ceiling were aiming for, but it is certainly a valid option. A better way to go is to repurpose an aging desktop, or possibly laptop, to act as your media client, since you can go this route with little or no cost. Small form-factor PCs are an interesting possibility here, like Vias EPIA M10000, or one of Shuttles XPC-based systems, but again, unless youre harvesting components from existing systems, the costs here may be more than you want to spend for a media client box.
Dave came to have his insatiable tech jones by way of music—,and because his parents wouldn't let him run away to join the circus. After a brief and ill-fated career in professional wrestling, Dave now covers audio, HDTV, and 3D graphics technologies at ExtremeTech.

Dave came to ExtremeTech as its first hire from Computer Gaming World, where he was Technical Director and Lead (okay, the only) Saxophonist for five years. While there, he and Loyd Case pioneered the area of testing 3D graphics using PC games. This culminated in 3D GameGauge, a suite of OpenGL and Direct3D game demo loops that CGW and other Ziff-Davis publications, such as PC Magazine, still use.

Dave has also helped guide Ziff-Davis benchmark development over the years, particularly on 3D WinBench and Audio WinBench. Before coming to CGW, Dave worked at ZD Labs for three years (now eTesting Labs) as a project leader, testing a wide variety of products, ranging from sound cards to servers and everything in between. He also developed both subjective and objective multimedia test methodologies, focusing on audio and digital video. Before all that he toured with a blues band for two years, notable gigs included opening for Mitch Ryder and appearing at the Detroit Blues Festival.


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