Pimp Your Pad (Part 1)

4/28/2012 9:04:20 AM

Get all your devices kvt connected to enjoy video, music, photos and more

New technologies kill off older ones. It's the nature of the evolutionary beast. Greater convenience, faster running, improved quality and more features enable newer technology to kill off its older, dawdling, dribbling-in-its-soup, if still loved, predecessors. Video tapes were usurped by DVDs, and if things followed Sony's master plan you'd be sat there reading how Blu-ray saw off HD-DVD and DVDs, were it not for the internet and high-speed broadband.

Broadband has changed how we all consume and enjoy digital entertainment. It's no longer just enough to read web pages. We expect to stream live TV, films and music direct to all of our device We expect to be able to consume and enjoy what we want, where we want, when we want.

If you pick the right kit, all of this and more is possible. Take the humble TV, an internet-connected television - whether that’s built in or via an external set-top box, laptop or home theatre PC - it offers you something infinitely more than a standard HD Freeview digital set could ever dream of. It transforms that dumb goggle box into an all-entertaining, all-knowing, interactive Google box. All of this and more is yours, extending to all your 'smart' gadgets, but if you don't know where to start then let us guide you through the maze.

Connect 4

The internet that's out there in the big, scary world is, simply put, a worldwide network. If you pay a nice company money, it'll bring broadband internet to your home via the phone line or a Fibre optic cable and a suitable networking box. You then have your own network in your home. It could be just a series of Ethernet cables, but these days most supplied broadband boxes also offer wireless networking (802.11b/g/n).

Networks are like Lego sets - you can build them up by plugging in new parts, and any PCs, laptops or network-aware devices like Android or iOS phones and tablets can all connect, talk and, with the right tweaks, share media. So just as you can plug in a wireless adaptor, you're able to plug in a host of other devices, from network-attached storage to power-socket network adaptors, and to all of this you can connect your Wi-Fi-capable devices, letting you enjoy your stored and streamed media.

Description: A host of recent HDTVs and Blu-ray players offer embedded internet services

A host of recent HDTVs and Blu-ray players offer embedded internet services

In the beginning

Before we worry about connecting and streaming to specific devices, turn a thought to where your content is being stored, how it's connected to the network and where you want to view it. Often the answer to the first question will be your main work desktop or laptop.

This is hardly ideal - if it's a gaming rig, it's going to be sat sucking 300 watts and more, just so you can show off a few shots of you wearing red trunks at Rhyl Sun Centre to your granny. Perhaps that's being a little cruel - with monitors switched off, modern systems can power down to a great extent, and those red trunks are great- but for security, reliability and space reasons, opting for something dedicated is better.

One option is to pick up a NAS, or network attached storage device. It's in effect a cut-down Linux box with hard drives stuffed in it. At the bare minimum, a single-drive unit sits attached to your router via an Ethernet cable as a networked shared drive. All of these boxes provide UPnP media streaming and usually limited internet access. Higher-end models offer two or  more drives and include RAID modes for invisible data back up. Noise levels tend to be minimal and power draw is around 6-60 watts.

Another storage option is to use an old laptop. With power usage under 20 watts, a full Windows client included and the ability to tuck it away, the main disadvantage could be disk space. That's where, for want of another name, a server comes in. Any old PC box on your network will do, but choosing a low-power processor and a bunch of attached hard drives does the job. A Shuttle-style box is a good starting point, or HP does a line of fully equipped ProLiant systems that are good value. These solutions will draw around 60 watts.

Jargon busted


You've heard of it, but what does it mean?



The plug that connects modern HDTV and video equipment.  It comes in a standard and mini forms. Newer PCs and their graphics cards, laptops and tablets tend to come with HDMI built in.


A PC-specific connection that happens to be compatible with HDMI. It's possible to convert one to the other using a simple and cheap adaptor.


An older analog PC video connector called both VGA and D-Sub, this isn't compatible with HDMI, but many HDTVs do provide VGA connectors.

HD (720p/1080p)

The term HD tends to refer to two specific resolutions. The lower standard is 1,280 x 720, aka 720p, and the higher is 1,920 x 1,080 or 1080p. There are, however, many intermediate resolutions that will work on HD displays, like 1,366 x 768.


Local area network, the shorthand used to describe the wired network in your home. The wireless element is usually referred to as the WLAN.


The term used to describe wired network cables, sockets and plugs. The standard speed is called 100BaseT, and provides around 12MB/s of bandwidth. A more recent specification is called Gigabit, which increases this speed tenfold to 120MB/s - faster than most standard hard drives.


The code given to the latest generation of wireless networks. Previous versions were called 802.11b and 802.11g. Newer versions are backwards compatible and offer users higher speeds, longer ranges and better security with compatible devices.

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