December 12, 2007
| by Rachel Cericola
For those of you who have made the leap to TiVo or some other digital video recorder, you know there’s no turning back. Now imagine adding the same convenience for audio into that mix. Get that Journey retrospective and umpteenth Led Zep compilation ready—because you can. Even though they hate to admit it, A/V manufacturers have learned a little something from the PC. Adding a hard drive into the entertainment world has created a new category, known as the media server. This new crop of electronics gear also allows said companies to throw around the word “convergence,” marrying the computer and A/V realms. Let them have their fun; you’ll be too busy loading and enjoying the vast amount of content now available at your fingertips.
TiVo handles your ever-growing TV addictions and lets you watch whatever you want, whenever you want; the iPod similarly transforms your entire music collection. The media server essentially brings the two together to make the greatest pairing since the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. According to research firm Parks Associates, 50 million media servers will be sold annually by 2010. That’s some serious sweetness.
What Makes a Media Server?
Media servers come in many shapes and sizes. There are stand-alone audio servers, which store and deliver audio anywhere the system is connected around the home. There are even some servers that deal with the video side. However, to truly qualify as a full-fledged media server, the device must also be able to handle those one-hit wonders, videos of baby taking her first steps, and thousands of digital holiday photos overstuffing your PC.
Some servers allow you to share work presentations, Word documents and other important files, too. Your 50-inch flat-panel TV probably wasn’t made for PowerPoint, but computer-based systems make it an option anyway. The Windows Media Center operating system is very popular among set-top boxes, but the OS is also readily available in the very familiar desktop PC. Intel’s Viiv platform also promises media server–styled features, and even Apple has gotten into the A/V act with its Apple TV.
The vast media server maze can cover just about anything that converts, stores and shares digital files. Dissect some of the specs, and soon you’ll be a multimedia master.
Examining the Specs
When shopping for a media server, the first thing to look at is the unit’s hard drive. Exactly how massive do you want this machine to be? Just like your iPod, the unit’s memory will dictate the number of files that the device can store.
Over the past 15 years, Rachel Cericola has covered entertainment, web and technology trends. Check her out at www.rachelcericola.com.