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Media Machines

It's a perennial problem. Increasingly you have a whole mass of great media content streaming down from the Internet, with a lot of it accruing on your PC. You're downloading music, TV programmes, podcasts and maybe even movies, while ripping CDs and DVDs to disk. Yet the last place you want to spend time enjoying it is at your desk. Wouldn't it be nicer to chill out on the sofa in the lounge, switch on your HDTV, turn up the speakers, and enjoy? Increasingly, products are arriving to help you do just that; to stream or physically transfer the content downloaded onto your PC and play it back on the big TV screen.

Here at TrustedReviews we try to look regularly at devices like the A.C.Ryan ACR-PV72100 Playon! Network DVR or the Linksys DMA 2100 Media Center Extender but we thought it might be interesting to look at how some other options might work within your PC and home entertainment setups, including games consoles, media PCs and Apple's own iTunes-friendly box, Apple TV. Can they provide the missing link and give you other compelling services as well, or are they too complex, ugly or noisy for the job. We intend to find out.

Media streamers like the AC Ryan ACR-PV72100 get the job done, but they're not the most user friendly or stylish devices around.

Before we get to the players, a few notes on the sort of infrastructure you'll need to support this sort of thing. All these playback devices will stream high-quality standard definition and HD video, but only if you have some way of getting that stream to the player at a consistently adequate transfer rate. If you have your PC and your player connected by a standard WiFi 802.11g connection, then you can forget about streaming HD content. Even with the faster 802.11n draft standard, we'd recommend having one of the two devices physically connected to your router, either using a 100BaseT or Gigabit Ethernet connection or - if that's not possible - a 200Mbps HomePlug AV connection, which uses adapters plugged into your mains wiring to carry the signal.

Similarly, while some of the movie download services we'll be discussing will now allow you to start watching the feature during transfer, this isn't always practical with HD video if - like me - you don't live in an area that offers true, high-speed ADSL or Cable connections. The maximum 8Mbps speeds of your average ADSL Max connection can be well under half that theoretical transfer rate depending on your distance from the exchange, the quality of your wiring and the number of people using the network at that particular time of day.

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