Media Steamers (also known as Streaming Multimedia Receivers) and Audio Streamers/Audio-Steaming Devices
Many TVs now provide built-in access to Internet services – BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Facebook, etc. – A media streamer (MS), also known as a streaming multimedia receiver, can add that kind of service to a TV that doesn’t have built-in access to them.
It is possible to buy dedicated audio streamers, which are dealt with on this page.
A media streamer can also display photos and movies and play sound files from a desktop or laptop computer, network attached storage (NAS) device that acts as a file server to a home network and external drive, aggregating the different categories of media under headings – movies, photos, music. etc.
The more expensive media streamers provide onboard file storage making a NAS device unnecessary.
Note that many TVs and Blu-ray players, mostly used to play movies in the Blu-ray disc format, have media-streaming capability, which means that they can link in to a media-streaming service, such at the BBC’s iPlayer.
In 2009, in the US, Samsung and LG included Netflix steaming in all of their standalone Blu-ray Players, thereby mixing Blu-ray movies with streaming video capability. Netflix is an online movie provider that became available in the UK in Feb. 2012. LoveFilm is another online movie provider.
How to connect a PC to a HDTV in order to stream video, etc., to the big screen
It is easy enough to connect a laptop or desktop PC directly to an HDTV by using an HDMI cable, but it is an inelegant or impractical solution with a laptop and desktop PC respectively. If you have a standard-definition TV, a composite connection is used. Most media streamers provide both ports, but check before you buy if you need to use a composite connection. If the TV only has a SCART port, a composite-to-SCART adapter can be purchased for about £3.
However, if the HDTV (or a device attached to the TV, such as a DVD player) has Internet access, it should also be able to access a home network, which is a much better way to stream media from a PC to an HDTV. Here is the information required to do that:
1. – Find out if the HDTV can be connected to a home network – that is, if has an Ethernet port that can be used to connect it to an Ethernet port on a broadband router with an Ethernet cable – and that the TV provides built-in options for streaming from online services such as Netflix, LoveFilm, etc.
2. – The HDTV has to support the DNLA (Digital Living Network Alliance) standard, which allows media sharing over a network. Most network-supporting HDTV’s support it.
3. – If the TV doesn’t support the DNLA standard or has no networking support at all, an Internet-ready device has to be connected to the TV, such as Blu-ray player, game console (Xbox 360 , PlayStation 3, etc.), which must support the DNLA standard.
4. – The best choice is an inexpensive Blu-ray player. Most models costing around £100 support the DNLA standard and also provide the ability to stream content from multiple Internet sources and also provide the ability to play Blu-ray and DVD discs, providing improved image quality from DVD discs into the bargain.
Note that if you use Apple’s iTunes, the best solution is to buy an Apple TV, which is really not a TV but a box that connects most HDTVs to a home network. It doesn’t support DNLA, but it does support any iTunes installation.
How to connect an HDTV to a home network
1. – Connect the HDTV to the wireless broadband router by using an Ethernet network cable (Category 5 cable) connected to the Ethernet ports on the TV and the router. A wired Ethernet connection provides the fastest data transfer rates and the most reliable connection. The maximum length for a single cable is 100m (328 feet), which should be long enough for most users. A repeater or a switch has to be used to increase the length of the connection using more than a single cable.
2. – A wireless Wi-Fi connection can be used, most recent media streamers have Wi-Fi built in, but it can be problematic (poor signal strength, interference, etc.). If the HDTV doesn’t support Wi-Fi, a USB wireless network adapter (dongle) can be used if the TV has a USB port. If you want to use a Wi-Fi connection, you should make sure that it is supported before buying a new HDTV. If the media streamer doesn’t have Wi-Fi, you can use a Wi-Fi adapter designed for use with media streamers, such as the Netgear Universal WiFi Internet Adapter, which is an inexpensive device that converts any wired Ethernet port into a wireless one.
If the wireless network is based around a router and its WPA, WPA2-TKIP or WPA2-AES security setting is enabled, the only way for an additional device to be added to the network is by entering the password (encryption key) that was set on the router’s web-browser-based configuration page, which is accessed by entering the router’s IP address in a web browser. This only has to be done once, but it has to be done by using the TV’s remote control. The TV’s user manual should provide instructions.
3. – If a wireless connection is not suitable for one or more reasons, HomePlug powerline adapters, which use the mains electricity cables to form a network or connect to an existing network, can be used. Near-wired-Ethernet performance is achieved. The setup is easy. One adapter is plugged into a mains socket near the router and connected to the router using an Ethernet cable (all ADSL wireless routers provide at least 4 Ethernet ports) and the other adapter is plugged into a mains socket in the room in which you require a network connection, also being connected to the network device there by an Ethernet cable.
When the HDTV or the networking device attached to it is connected to the network, it requires access to the PC that is holding all that media or which can access it online, which DLNA server software makes possible. Many free programs are available for Windows (and other operating systems). Windows Media Player (WMP) versions 11 (for Windows XP and Vista) and version 12 (for Windows 7/8.1/10 only) is provided with those versions of Windows and can be used as DLNA servers. These following article and YouTube video provide the required information. I have looked for equivalent information on Windows 8.1 & 10 but it was not available by Oct. 2015. It shouldn’t be too difficult to apply the information provided to Windows 8.1 & 10.
Stream your media to devices and computers using Windows Media Player [Windows 7 & WMP 12] –
Setting up your Computer (Windows Media Player) to Stream Content –
The current LG Blu-ray Player with Media Center can play the latest Blu-ray and DVD movies and connect wirelessly to a desktop or laptop computer equipped with an inbuilt or external wireless adapter/dongle or a home network based around a wireless router to connect to the web and thereby stream movies, videos, digital photos and music to a TV.
File-format support used to be fairly limited but now (Feb. 2012) almost every media streamer supports a comprehensive range of codecs, which are hardware devices or computer programs that encode or decode a digital data stream or signal, and screen resolutions up to 1080p (Full HD).
The media streamer that you buy should have at least one HDMI port that connects it to your TV with an HDMI cable and a 10/100 Mbit/s wired network Ethernet port that connects the media streamer to your home network, most of which are now centred around a wireless router that provides wireless and wired networking – wireless via an 802.11g or 802.11n adapter and wired via Ethernet ports. Most wireless routers have four Ethernet ports.
Most media streamers also have composite and component video ports that can be used to connect older TVs that don’t have HDMI ports or on TVs that run out of HDMI ports to connect devices. Most of them also provide analog audio and digital S/PDIF audio ports that can connect them to an amplifier and at least one USB port to connect a flash drive. Some media streamers provide an eSATA port that allows the connection of an external hard disk drive and a memory-card reader.
Most current media streamers allow the connection of a keyboard to navigate their menus and some of them allow the connection of a mouse.
The best and most reliable connection is provided by a wired Ethernet connection. HomePlug network adapters that create a connection by using the mains electricity cables in a building can be used to stream to devices out of range of a wireless provision, which most media streamers also provide. If there is no wireless provision, it can be added with an inexpensive USB 802.11g or 802.11n dongle.
Note that HD video requires much more bandwidth than standard video, therefore its delivery can be problematic over a wireless connection that can be interfered with in many ways and has limited range.
Media streamer video/audio format support is now excellent. All of the most commonly used file formats – AVI, MPEG4, WMV – are supported. Note that Apple media streamers, such as the Apple TV (2nd Generation), is currently (Feb. 2012) are the only media streamers that can play Apple’s protected AAC files and the Audible audio book format, but provides limited support for the other available formats.
HD video is usually encoded in the MPEG4, H.264 and WMV-HD video-compressed formats. Most media streamers support screen resolutions up to 1080p, but some, such as the Apple TV media streamer only support the lower 720p resolution, which looks fine if you are playing a HD 1080p video file on a 32-inch TV, but picture degradation will be noticeable on larger screens.
Full HD (1080p) video requires an HDMI on the media streamer and TV. A component connection can output HD video up to the inferior 1080i (interlaced), which doesn’t involve a progressive scan, but an intermittent one. A coaxial connection provides poor, standard video.
An AV receiver (audio-video receiver) amplifies sound from several audio sources and can send video signals to a TV from several sources. An AV receiver can be connected to a media streamer.
Some media streamers can be fitted with a hard disk drive for the purpose of storing and sharing files without a computer.
The main purpose of a media streamer is to play files stored on a server. Most NAS devices can act as media servers – usually iTunes and UPnP servers – but a desktop or laptop computer ca easily be used to serve music or video over a home network, most of which are centred around a wireless router.
Windows users that have Windows Media Player 12 (WMP 12) installed have media server software installed. If your desktop or laptop PC has an earlier version of WMP installed, upgrade to the latest version, which, unfortunately, can only be used with Windows 7. Its UPnP server has limited format support, but, fortunately, most media streamers support Server Message Block (SMB), which is also provided by Windows. Microsoft made SMB2 available in Windows Vista and it was improved in Windows 7.
When a media streamer connects to a shared folder in Windows that uses SMB, the streamer (receiver) lists all of the files that it can play instead of only those supported by a UPnP server. Unlike UPnP, with SMB server software doesn’t have to be running, because the capability is built into Windows.
Two media streamers provide everything that anyone could want from one – smart, clear interfaces, superb file support and a wide variety of excellent online services. They are the D-Link Boxee Box (£158), the most desirable of the two, and the Western Digital WD TV Live (£80). The Boxee, which many reviewers regard as the best media streamer currently available, has a full keyboard on the other side of its remote control that can be used to conduct searches for media, acts as a standard media player and supports both UPnP and SMB media servers. It has a stereo phono output, an optical S/PDIF port and one HDMI port. The WD TV Live has one of each of the following ports: optical S/PDIF, HDMI composite. It also has built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi and a front USB port, which is handy for playing files from a flash drive.
Media Streamer reviews [including audio streamers, dealt with below] –
Dedicated audio streamers/audio-streaming devices
It is possible to buy a dedicated audio streamer that forms the centre of your world of music, whether just in your living room or to anywhere else in the house you fit speakers. Note that most audio streamers have integrated speakers. Speakers specify their maximum rated power in watts RMS, with the higher number usually indicating better-quality speakers, but that is not always the case, because some manufacturers state a high number than is supported, which results in sound distortion at higher volumes.
Since a data stream of sound does not require much wireless bandwidth, Wi-Fi is ideal to stream audio. Note that some Apple iPod docks that you plug the device into use mains electricity and charge use AirPlay, which is the wireless standard used by Apple’s iOS operating system. Non-Apple devices shouldn’t be able to use AirPlay, but several Android applications designed to be used with Google’s Android operating system can spoof (impersonate) AirPlay, allowing an Android-based smartphone or tablet PC stream music. Note that most AirPlay-compatible docks and streamers are designed for Apple products, so only a device using Apple’s iOS operating system can be charged when using one.
The sound-file support provided by most sound streamers is usually good with support provided for the most common file formats, such as MP3, Wav, AAC and WMA, but some audio streamers might not support the FLAC and Ogg formats. If not, you can convert any files using unsupported formats into supported formats.
Most audio streamers can use Wi-Fi and can therefore be used within range of your wireless network., so, if your garden is out of range you won’t be able to stream audio there unless you have a streamer that uses its own proprietary wireless standard that is kept separate from other wireless devices. Most audio streamers support wired Ethernet network connections. The ZonePlayer provided by audio steamers made by Sonos (sonos.com) is a highly reliable wireless mesh network that supports multiple Sonos devices, with each device being a wireless repeater that extends the range of the network, thereby providing excellent coverage. Only one piece of Sonos equipment is required in order to be able to connect to a shared broadband connection.
The more expensive audio streamers allow you to play the same music to all the rooms set up to receive streamed music, or completely different music in each room. Some streamers provide storage for files, which allows them to stream sound independently of a PC, but most of them are designed to make use of media servers, such as a network-attached storage device or a PC that can act as a server. Windows Media Player 11 and 12 (not earlier versions) can act as UPnP servers that can be used to make a laptop or desktop PC serve music files across a network. WMP doesn’t support the Ogg file format, so, if you don’t want to convert Ogg files into other formats, use a search engine to find a codec pack that adds Ogg support to WMP. How to set up a server in a computer is dealt with in the next item on this page.
Note that many audio streamers are able to access Internet radio stations and paid-for music services, such as Last FM, Napster and Spotify. It is advisable to examine the range of services provided before you sign up for one or more of the music services.
Sound streamers that received good reviews up to April 2012 are the Logitech Squeezebox Touch (£200), the Roberts Stream 205 (£127), the Sonos Sonos (£259) and the Sonos Connect.Amp (£399). Sonos is currently the best-rated manufacturer of audio streaming devices.
How to set up a UPnP server in Windows Media Player 12 (WMP 12) in Windows 7
If you have a network attached storage (NAS) device to store your files and it has a built-in UPnP server, enable it so that you won’t have to leave your computer switched on, which you will have to do if you use WMP as your file server.
1. – Open Windows Media Player 12 (WMP 12).
2. – Make sure that all of the media that you intend to share is available to WMP. The content in the Music, Picture, Video and Recorded TV folders are selected by default.
3. – To add content stored in other folders, click Organise => Manage libraries, and, depending on which type of media you want to add, select Music, Video or Pictures. A Library Locations window opens from where you can click Add and then browse to the location of the media that you want to add. If you are working from within the Administrator account, not a User Account, you have Administrator privileges and can add files from the libraries of other users’ User Accounts. That way everyone’s content is accessible from a single share. User Accounts are administered from User Accounts in the Control Panel. The files can’t be accessed until they are all indexed, which can a long time is there is plenty of content.
4. – To share the indexed content with the rest of your home network, click Stream and enable Automatically allow devices to play my media, which allows you to view UPnP content from your media streamer.
5. – WMP can’t play all of the main file formats by default, but it can be made to support many unsupported file types by adding codecs, such as the DivX Codec Pack, which adds support for the DivX, XviD and MKV and most other file formats from http://www.divx.com/en/software/technologies/hevc.
6. – Resetting your library might be required. To do that, right-click on Videos in WMP and click on Manage Videos Library. Select each existing folder in turn and click on Remove followed by OK and then add the folders containing videos by using the instructions provided above to add content.
Note that broad, inexpensive (£12) third-party format support is available from websites such as twonky.com.
How to set up an SMB server in Windows 7
As mentioned earlier, most media streamers support SMB file sharing, also known as Samba, or CIFS sharing and Windows Network File and Folder Sharing, the use of which won’t involve adding codecs, because all of the main file types are supported. It is easy to set up in Windows 7 as follows:
1. – Make sure that Windows is set up to share folders and files by opening the Control Panel and opening Network and Internet (category view) or Network and Sharing Center (listed icon view).
2. – Open Choose HomeGroup and sharing options.
3. – Click on Change advanced sharing settings and scroll down to and enable File and printer sharing.
4. – Browse to the folder that you want to share, right-click on it and click on Properties, click on the Sharing tab and then on the Share button, which opens a window in which you can select with whom you want to share the folder. Click on the drop-down menu, select Everyone and then click on the Add button, followed by Share. You have to repeat this process for any other folders that you want to set up as SMB shares.
When other users connect to the share, the username and password of the computer providing the sharing has to be provided. To get rid of that requirement, get back to the Change advanced sharing settings window and scroll down to Password protected sharing and choose the turn-off option. If you need more information on file sharing in Windows 7, read this article:
File sharing essentials –