Streaming has become one of the buzzwords in modern home theater, offering consumers the ability to access directly on the TV a vast array of new and favorite music, video or still photos, either across the worldwide web or locally on the home computer. As always, there’s a lot to be said for the comfort and convenience of doing it all right from the couch, remote in hand, without fumbling with physical media.
Streaming devices go by many names, and there are a hundred different brands offering onramps to streaming content. There’s even a fair chance you have a networked or smart component and don’t even know it. Most Blu-ray players, as well as many HDTVs are already set up for streaming content. You just need to take a few simple steps to get them set up.
If you don’t already have a network-ready component, then there are many options. Look at the accompanying slide show for suggestions.
Are you ready for streaming? Take a look at your TV to see if it has an Ethernet port (it might be labeled LAN for local area network) on the rear of the TV. If your TV does not have such a port, don’t fret, one or more of your source components might have it, and they pass their riches on to the display. For example, all of The Big Three videogame consoles (the Microsoft Xbox 360. the Nintendo Wii and the Sony PlayStation 3) all offer some form of internet access. The latest BD-Live-enabled Blu-ray decks also offer the necessary connectivity.
Once you’ve confirmed that you have the right hardware, you’ll need to connect. Your internet service provider gave you a modem that is likely connected to your primary home computer. To gain additional ports, you can add a simple router that will enable the computer and additional devices to access that same internet feed simultaneously. For specific setup instructions, refer to the instructions included with your router, or contact the manufacturer if necessary. Many service providers (such as Verizon) include a combination modem router. If so, you’re ready to connect.
Depending upon the proximity of the home theater to the computer, and the layout of the rooms, you might be able to run a common CAT-5 Ethernet cable directly from the router to the TV or source component. Some quick/dirty solutions include drilling a hole through the wall and running the cable along the floorboard (which I’ve done), or snaking it through the floor and down a ceiling vent if router and home theater are on different levels of your home (like a do-it-yourself friend of mine).
A more elegant wired solution can be had with the addition of a powerline adapter kit which takes advantage of the electrical wiring already running throughout the house, enabling it to multitask and deliver digital data, too. These kits typically arrive in two pieces, one of which is plugged into the AC outlet nearest the computer, the other near the home theater gear. An Ethernet cable spans the short distance from the router to the first powerline adapter, and another from the second adapter to the internet-ready CE device.
Of course, more recent home theater gear allows for the addition of a wireless adapter, perhaps Wi-Fi or some proprietary version thereof, commonly a little stick that plugs in at the TV or Blu-ray player’s USB port. If your TV or Blu-ray player manufacturer does offer such an add-on adapter, double-check that it is compatible with your specific model. More and more of the latest models of components, particularly Connected TVs, are also offering built-in Wi-Fi, making the process that much simpler.
A Wi-Fi- compatible home theater requires a Wi-Fi signal, and for that there are any number of inexpensive Wi-Fi routers on the market. These connect to your modem and convert its wired signal to wireless. (Refer to the Wi-Fi router’s instructions for installation particulars.) The current state of the art in Wi-Fi is 802.11n, offering the highest data speeds (up to 300 megabits/second) and longest range from base to device (over 150 feet), although in real-world applications you likely won’t achieve these numbers.
Once you delve into the home theater component Settings menu and choose wireless setup, the device will search the surrounding area for available wireless networks in range, often identified simply by the brand of the router if you did not personalize it during its installation. You select that wireless network (from a list of networks, if your neighbors are all pimped out as well), enter the password (I strongly recommend using one if you want to avoid giving Wi-Fi-glommers a free ride) and after a brief, automated negotiation, you should be online.
Once the gear and the internet connection have been properly configured, you’ll need to set up any necessary member accounts per each service’s guidelines, including payment options in some cases. I should also point out that video streaming is particularly data-intensive, and the faster your internet service (DSL? Cable? Fiber Optic?), the more responsive and more enjoyable your streaming experience will be.
by Chris Chiarella
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