Extend your experience

Why not serve up the music, video and photos stored on your PC with other devices in your home? Tim Dean shows you how.

The digital home of the future will have all types of digital media, whether it be music, videos or family happy snaps, on tap in any room of the house, through any device. At least, this is the vision, but there?s still quite a way to go before this vision becomes a reality.

One of the more recent developments in home entertainment technology does bring us a step closer to having our media accessible throughout the house, and that?s the ?media extender?. Essentially, a media extender, also known as a media receiver, is a fairly simple device that doesn?t store any music or video itself, but attaches to your television or stereo and then streams the media from another source, such as your PC.

This system makes sense for a couple of reasons. First of all, even if your PC is stuck in the study, it?s still a very powerful and flexible entertainment device that can store and manage your media very effectively. The only problem is getting that media to where you want to watch or listen to it.

One solution is to have multiple powerful, or ?smart?, devices around the home, such as Media Centre PCs, each of which can store all your music and videos. With a wired, or even better, a wireless network, you can then link these together to share media with each other. However, there?s an element of redundancy in this layout, as you need to copy the media to each device when you want to enjoy it in a different room. It can also become quite expensive, as each device is essentially a computer, which has its own storage, and can cost upwards of a thousand dollars apiece.

So why not simplify things and have all your media stored in your powerful PC in the study, and just stream it to existing devices in different rooms around the house when necessary? This means you don?t need a powerful, and expensive, ?smart? device in each room ? you can get by with a simple and relatively cheap solution that doesn?t have any storage of its own, but can stream and play the media when and where you want it. This is where the media extender comes in.