Home Entertainment Hubs Leverage Wi-Fi

By Bill Howard  |  Posted 2003-07-01

Home Entertainment Hubs Leverage Wi-Fi

How many gigs of music, photo, and video files are you storing on your PCs hard drive? Uh-huh, we are too. Thats why home entertainment hubs make so much sense. This new type of gadget serves as a bridge between your PC and your AV equipment, allowing you to experience your digital media in a rich, full way.

But if PCs are from Mars, stereos are from Venus. Even as the two grow closer together, major differences remain. Such is the case with the 17 devices we reviewed.

At the low end, diskless digital media hubs sit atop your stereo receiver and convert files from your PC into music your stereo can play. About half of them can also grab photos on your PC and display them on your TV. Most cost $200 to $300 each and use either wired or wireless (802.11b) Ethernet. At the high end, digital jukeboxes ($1,500 to $3,000) have hard drives of 20GB to 120GB that store the equivalent of 100 to 2,000 CDs.

The digital jukeboxes we reviewed can accept MP3 and WMA files that youve already ripped on your PC. They can also send ripped files back to your PC, but only after encrypting the files. This prevents files from being transferred anywhere except to the digital jukebox they came from.

How They Work

How They Work

A hub (sometimes called a client or media receiver) links your PC and stereo. If youre using a lower-priced hub, a small client program on the PC sends audio files to it, typically in compressed format (MP3 or WMA). The hub decompresses the files and forwards them to your stereo amplifier, which treats the input as just another form of music. Even wireless hubs today have enough bandwidth that you wont experience dropouts.

A digital jukebox (also called a personal audio recorder) has a CD-RW drive, which is usually slower than the one on a PC. You can rip a CD onto the jukeboxs hard drive in 10 to 30 minutes, typically using 192- or 320-Kbps MP3 compression. A digital jukebox can grab files already on your PC via Ethernet, and it can look up album and track information through online services such as AMG All Music Guide and Gracenote.

Many entertainment hubs can tune in Internet radio broadcasts. Some can display cover art on your TV. Most let you use your TV set as a display; a few pricey systems output to computer displays as well. To save costs, a few models have no on-screen displays: the cd3o and RCA hubs and the TDK and Yamaha digital jukeboxes.

A few of the products we tested dont fit neatly into either category. The Integra and Onkyo models are stereo receivers that double as digital-music hubs. And the Ideal Digital Jukebox and ViewSonic NextVision M2000 are Windows XP and Windows Media Center PCs, respectively.

For the whole story, check out the PC Magazine article.

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