Only a few years ago, the idea that video rental stores would no longer exist was virtually unthinkable. These days, many now choose to access their media through the Internet. If your next movie night is going to be powered by Netflix or YouTube, you’re going to need a home theatre system that is specifically designed to take advantage of streaming video. Not all media hubs are created equal, however – and with the web’s nearly infinite variety of file formats for music, movies, and shows, you’re going to need the right equipment for your specific viewing needs.
A quick method to avoid any compatibility issues (.mpg? .avi? Quicktime?) is simply to use your PC as a media hub. Thanks to modern leaps in connectivity, you can attach your laptop to a wide variety of TVs and projectors. The process begins once you’ve determined what kind of video output your computer is equipped with. It will likely have either an HDMI port or a VGA port. Both will serve your needs, but take note: a VGA cable is designed to carry an analog image signal, while the HDMI cable is equipped to carry both a digital image and a digital sound signal. So is there a difference in picture quality? Not really, if you’re watching lower-res fare. The difference really becomes noticeable as your resolution requirements increase – so Blu-ray fans might be better off leaning towards HDMI, to ensure the highest quality of video onscreen. Rocketfish manufactures a very well made HDMI cable for home media enthusiasts, while analog users would be best served by Startech’s ultra-reliable 16ft VGA cable – which conveniently includes a pre-attached audio cable.
Plasma televisions such as the Panasonic VIERA 55” 1080i are an excellent candidate for HDMI users. The discerning VGA enthusiast will benefit most with a rock-solid television like the LG 55” 1080p LED HDTV.
Using your computer as an entertainment hub is an efficient, cost-effective solution for media enthusiasts – but it also comes with a few drawbacks, too. Since you’re connecting this setup via a physical cable, you’ll need to keep your computer in proximity to the entertainment centre itself. This is where having a wireless keyboard and mouse really comes in handy. Verbatim has two great wireless keyboard and mouse combos – a regular-sized version, and a slimmed-down edition. They’re currently available for 50.99$ and 42.99$, respectively -- a small price to pay, if it prevents you from having to sit five feet away from your screen.
Not interested in using your computer? Some Blu-ray players can double as a video streaming device. Blu-ray players are great because they come pre-bundled with wireless remotes -- allowing you to browse YouTube or Netflix from your favourite chair. Unfortunately, those same Blu-ray players also come pre-bundled with their own Internet interfaces, and sometimes they’re not very intuitively designed. The Sony 3D Blu-ray Disc Player with Wi-Fi is a well-respected and well-reviewed device, known for its ease-of-use and great built-in apps. Make sure to update your firmware once you’ve unboxed it, to ensure you don’t encounter any compatibility issues.
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