Am I possessed by the things I possess? I have audio CDs of music in my study, with a copy of most of them in a separate collection in the drawing room. Some have been converted and compiled into MP3 CDs. A smaller collection travels with me in one car, and a smattering in another.
There’s also a collection I like to play on the home theatre system in the bedroom. The DVD-video collection sits next to it, but I also like to watch some videos downstairs. Another TV sits in the lounge, but has no DVD player connected to it. The iPod has its own collection of music, and both my wife’s mobile phone and mine are loaded with photos, music and videos that are too precious to lose. In addition, hundreds of photos lurk in two digital cameras, but it’s too awkward to have people crowd around their tiny screens. Hours of video recorded by the camcorder collects dust on mini-DV tapes and recordable-DVD discs.
Yet, surprisingly enough, the use of this home gear is nothing compared with my computers. I watch more hours of video on the computer than I do on regular TV. Friends email photos every day, and I share hundreds of photos over Flickr with friends and colleagues across the world.
(Left) Linksys Media Center Extender DMA2100 $299.99, (middle) NetGear EVA9150 Digital Entertainer Elite Rs35,000, (right) D-Link DSM-510 HD Media Player $199.99
My biggest collection of music, videos and photos is scattered across my network of computers in a plethora of file formats—some under the Mac OS on my Apple laptop; others under the Linux partition on the same laptop; some on an external USB hard drive, some on USB thumb drives of odd sizes and shapes; and some in various partitions and folders on a Linux desktop.
Add to these the files on my father’s and brother’s computers, digital cameras, MP3 players and mobile phones. Naturally, I dread the moment when I need to locate a specific song or photograph.
Also, I can’t help noticing that there’s a growing chasm between my home gear and my computer-driven lifestyle. My hi-fi home stereo lies abandoned as I listen to otherwise high-quality Internet radio broadcasts over tiny computer speakers. At a recent party, a guest requested me to pause the audio CD on the home stereo and log in via my laptop to share a song he discovered on YouTube. All good, except for the tinny sound from my laptop speakers, and the choppy video in a Web browser that was badly out of sync with the audio. That, too, on a computer screen too small for a roomful of people. By now, my home theatre system must have taken to looking on mutely at its own Shakespearean despondency.
Play it again
You’ve guessed right: The Wireless Home Media Player solves all these problems. This gadget looks deceptively similar to a home DVD player, and comes in the same pizza-box shape. It fits smoothly under the TV, and can be plugged in with regular home cables and connections—RCA composite and component video, S-Video, optical, and HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface).
Similarly, it plugs into any ordinary home stereo as well. Yet, what the wireless home media player can do is extraordinary. Using its built-in ethernet LAN port as well as its Wi-Fi connectivity, it can simultaneously connect to your entire home computer network as well as the Internet. You can then set it to automatically scour your collection of music, photos, and videos scattered across various folders and devices, and intelligently sort it all. It’s sheer magic. Play music or video from any Windows, Mac or Linux computer over Wi-Fi, without running wires from each machine. Provided you’ve got fast broadband at home, you can watch full high definition (HD)-quality videos streamed straight from the Internet to your LCD TV.
This means consumers can finally experience HD without having to wait for actual TV-signal broadcasts over the subcontinent. Most media players also come with pre-programmed Internet radio stations so you can enjoy them on full-blown amps and speakers in your den. Take home entertainment to the next level by running slide shows of photos on the big screen at home or share Web-based photo galleries from Flickr and Picasa without having to use a computer.
Every media player ships with one or two USB ports. Freely plug in thumb drives, external hard disks and your digital cameras, mobile phones, and MP3 players to keep the creative juices flowing. These sleek boxes deliver hundreds of hours of entertainment and thousands of files without requiring any physical collection to media or individual discs. You don’t need to keep all your computers running: Almost all media players have a large embedded hard disk that syncs and stores all files locally. A few players can even remote-boot a computer if required.
For all their wizardry, be forewarned that not all can play copyrighted music protected by digital rights management (DRM). YouTube may work on all, but not necessarily all other video websites, and you must check for the range of features offered on each model. My only grouse is the lack of Bluetooth connectivity for wirelessly syncing with mobile phones and headsets.
Nevertheless, the wireless media player is a quiet revolution that will irrevocably alter the digital lifestyles of every Indian home. You just need to possess it.
HD over congested Wi-Fi networks
Many wireless media players can upscale the quality of DVD video to high-definition (HD) quality. Even with adequate broadband speeds, you may face choppy video problems as several factors, including congested Wi-Fi networks, can slow speeds. A wired connection would actually give you better speeds on the same connection. With most models, you can apply any upgrades or patches to avoid crashes.
NetGear EVA9150 Digital Entertainer Elite
D-Link DSM-750 Wireless N HD Media Center Extender
D-Link DSM-520 Wireless HD Media Player
D-Link DSM-510 HD Media Player
Linksys Media Center Extender DMA2200 with DVD Player
Linksys Media Center Extender DMA2100
Matte over glossy
Apple has announced that it will offer a matte screen as an option to the glossy glass LCD on the 15-inch MacBook Pro models. But it costs $50 more. The anti-glare option has also been available for the 17-inch Pro. Glass remains the only choice on the 13-inch MacBooks and the MacBook Air. Why matte? Why glossy? There are pros and cons for both. Glossy screens, with their mirror-like finish, reflect ambient light and add glare to the visuals but they invariably provide higher contrast, and most users find the colours more rich and stark. Glass screens look better than matte screens in the off position. Matte displays can appear fuzzy to fussy users, but over the long term, they seem to offer less fatigue, especially in bright environments. Designers, graphic artists and engineers say they prefer matte for intensive work.©2009/THE NEW YORK TIMES
Creative Sound Blaster
The $150 Sound Blaster Wireless for iTunes from Creative streams music from a laptop to your stereo’s amplifier and speakers anywhere in your house. The starter kit, for $150, includes a USB dongle for a Mac or PC, and a single receiver with 35mm and RCA stereo output jacks. Additional receivers for stereo equipment in other rooms are sold for $70 each. Creative’s device employs old technology—streaming along the ancient 2.4-gigahertz frequency—but the results, for the most part, are seamless. It’s not foolproof. Over a distance with a laptop—say, up two flights of stairs—the music can drop out. Creative suggests that users in homes with wireless or Bluetooth networks may encounter problems with the music streams during “intensive” file transfers. ©2009/THE NEW YORK TIMES
Recipes on Flickr
A picture is worth a thousand words, but certain snaps on Flickr may also supply you with a few hundred calories as well. In the Recipes to Share group pool at www.flickr.com/groups/recipes , photographers post pictures of food and also include the recipes (or links to them) on each photo’s Flickr page. Searching the site for “recipe ingredients” also rounds up plenty of photos and instructions. ©2009/THE NEW YORK TIMES
Save camera start-up time
Have you missed too many spur-of-the-moment shots on your digital camera because you had to wait for the company’s splash screen to go away when you turned it on? Many cameras will let you disable the logo screen and jump right into the live viewfinder, which saves start-up time. Just go to the camera’s menu or settings area and look for a “start-up screen” or similar option, then choose not to use it; check your camera’s manual for specific instructions. Within the camera’s menus, you should also be able to adjust the length of the review time each photo stays on the LCD screen after you click. By decreasing the time the last image stays on screen, you can get back to shooting photos more quickly. ©2009/THE NEW YORK TIMES
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