|All About Convergence: 2006 Edition|
|Home Theater Feature Articles Other|
|Written by Adrienne Maxwell|
|Friday, 01 September 2006|
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The i Factor
Right now, the most popular type of convergence product is one that lets you access your computer’s digital music files through a higher-end home entertainment system. After you’ve invested countless hours ripping your CDs onto your hard drive, editing track and album titles, and creating playlists in a music manager like iTunes or Windows Media Manager, you’ll probably want to play that content in as many places around the house as possible. Sure, you could just carry your digital audio player from room to room and plug it into an auxiliary input on whatever audio device you’re using, but that’s so twentieth century.
Digital music players, such as the Roku SoundBridge or Sonos ZonePlayer, link your computer and audio system over a home network, so you can access your digital music and Internet radio stations from other locations. If you have a home network and a TiVo Series2 DVR, you can do the same thing through your TiVo. The catch with these types of products is that your computer must be on for them to work.
Companies like Escient, Philips, and Yamaha have embraced this networking concept, but they’ve adapted it for music lovers who may not want to rely on a computer to get their music. These companies sell central music servers that you use for ripping and storing your music collection, as well as clients that can access the server’s music from remote areas of the home. These clients may be complete audio systems in themselves, or you may need to connect them to a receiver or speaker system. Some of the products work through your network, while others establish a closed network of their own.
There’s no denying that the insane popularity of the iPod has pushed this convergence category to the forefront. “iPod peripherals” is now its own consumer electronics genre, and a ton of traditional A/V companies have entered the mix. Pioneer, Denon and Harman/Kardon are just a few manufacturers that sell receivers with matching iPod docks or iPod inputs that let you control the device from an onscreen menu. Even high-end whole-house audio companies, some of which sell multi-thousand-dollar audio servers of their own, have decided to cash in on the craze with iPod-friendly in-wall docking stations and keypads that let you access your iPod’s music in any room in the house from one central location. ADA, Russound, SpeakerCraft and Xantech are just a few of companies that come to mind.
V for Video
In just the past year, spurred by yet another iPod product – the iPod with video – the popularity and accessibility of digital video has exploded, prompting more people to seek out devices that further blur the line between the living room and the workstation. This convergence actually goes both ways: we want to use our computers to find and watch high-quality video and we want an easy way to send that video from our computer back to our TV or home entertainment system.
There are a host of online channels to access video content that was once reserved for your television and/or DVD player: iTunes, Google, CinemaNow, MovieLink and Guba (to name a few) let you stream or download movies, sporting events and TV shows, usually for a fee to rent or purchase. If you don’t want to pay for those TV shows, companies like ATI and Elgato sell systems that add NTSC and ATSC tuning to your computer, transforming your hard drive into a DVR and your video monitor into an HDTV (if it has the resolution).
As for packaged media, you can pop practically any store-bought DVD into your computer’s DVD drive and watch a movie, provided you have the right software. But PC users have actually been ahead of the curve when it comes to HD-quality software content. Artisan and Image Entertainment were the first to exploit the Windows Media Video (WMV) HD format to include HD-quality versions of movies like Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Step Into Liquid, exclusively for viewing on your computer, as part of the DVD package. Of course, with the arrival of high-definition DVD formats comes HD DVD and Blu-ray disc drives for the computer, so you’ll be able to watch high-def movies and burn to disc all of that recorded high-def content taking up space on your drive.
Few of us really want to watch movies on the computer, though. The trick is to get the content back to the comfort of your living room or home theater. For this we look, once again, to the digital media player. Roku, TiVo, D-Link and Elgato are a few of the companies selling devices that let you stream video and photos (and music, of course) from your computer to your video system over a home network. Some A/V manufacturers are wising up to the fact that they can build this functionality into their own devices. GoVideo sells a “networked” DVD player that will go get the content from your computer to play back through the player, and Hewlett-Packard is about to release a WiFi-enabled LCD HDTV that can do the same thing. Remember those iPod-friendly products I mentioned earlier? Some of them include S-video or composite video connections, so you can exploit the full potential of your video iPod through your A/V receiver or whole house system.
Companies like Akimbo and MovieBeam are bypassing the computer altogether, offering set-top boxes that connect directly to your TV or receiver. For a fee, you can order and download video content. The MovieBeam service even allows you to order high-definition content for playback through the HDMI or component video connections on your HDTV.