Extra Network Hardware Round-Up (Part 2) - NAS Drives, Media Center Extenders & Games Consoles

5/31/2012 3:35:42 PM

NAS Drives

We won't dwell too much on network attached storage (NAS) drives, since we have already talked about them comprehensively in our NAS round-up and buyer's guide, but the role of a NAS has evolved far beyond a simple drive that provides discrete storage for computers on a network. Modern NAS drives from top manufacturers like Synology and QNAP not only serve data, but also double up as iTunes media servers, FTP hosts, BitTorrent and eMule clients and even dDNS, print and mail servers. For many users they replace the need for a dedicated server, delivering much of the same functionality and performance in a far more affordable and compact form factor. NAS drives range in price from less than $80 each to several thousand pounds depending on the number of drives and performance they accommodate, but for most home networks a simple single-disk NAS drive is an unbeatable way of managing your backup, media serving and file sharing requirements.

Description: This homemade NAS drive features 16TB of RAID 5 storage and a 1.66GHz Intel

This homemade NAS drive features 16TB of RAID 5 storage and a 1.66GHz Intel

Media Center Extenders

Windows Media Center is a TV-friendly interface built into Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows XP Media Center Edition. It's designed to be controlled purely with a remote control and allows easy access to all your videos, music and photos. It also has built-in support for internet TV channels, internet radio and allows you to schedule, record and play Freeview and Freesat television shows providing you have a compatible TV card. This is all well and good if the PC in question is plugged into your main television, but not particularly convenient if you have to watch all your recorded content on your monitor! A Media Center extender solves this problem by acting as a networked attached extension to your PC's Media Center application. The first step is to pair a Media Center extenderto your Media Center application within Windows. This is done by entering a six-digit code generated by the extender into your PC. The PC will then find the extender on your network and pair with it. No data is actually stored on the extender; it streams content stored on your PC instead, be that recorded TV shows, live television or movies and music using an identical interface to the one on the PC.

Description: Linksys Media center extender

Media Center Extenders

Media Center extenders have diminished in popularity as the capabilities of network media players have improved, since they're typically more expensive yet support a limited number of different codecs. It's not enough for a codec to be installed on the host computer for it to stream successfully; it has to be supported by the extender as well. A fully featured Windows Media Center extender is built into the Xbox 360 - currently the only such device still in production.

Games Consoles

Description: PlayStation 3

PlayStation 3

All games consoles currently in production support wired and wireless networking. This allows you to use their respective online services and download demos, 'marketplace' games and other content. In the case of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, the network capabilities now stretch far beyond those originally implemented. Online streaming services such as iPlayer, 4oD, Netflix and Lovefilm each have applications for both consoles, for many replacing the need for a media PC. They can also stream video and audio content from the rest of your network. The Xbox's close integration with Windows makes this extremely simple, and it's fair to say achieving the same results with Sony's console is more complicated. An easy way of bypassing the tricky setup process is to use an application called Tversity - a media server that supports all current consoles. The lovely thing about this application is that it transcodes video content stored on the PC into a format fully understood and compatible with your console, removing limitations caused by incompatible codecs. By using TVersity you'll never have to convert videos from one format to another just to get them working on your console!

The only downside to using a games console as a streaming device is the noise. The latest generation Xbox 360 and PS3 consoles are both very quiet, but older versions have annoyingly loud fans that will certainly impact on your enjoyment of music and video files. Nevertheless, with slim Xbox 360 consoles available for less than $208 now, this is a cost-effective way of streaming content to your television, even if you have no interest in the excellent selection of games available!

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