As nice as streaming digital audio is on a home entertainment network, seeing your digital photos and videos on your TV is nicer still. Computer technology adds considerable value to the display of pictures and video content, and high-quality pictures really come alive on a good monitor.
Most people think in terms of watching TV or storing recorded shows on their home network, but any digital image can be transferred and displayed with the power of computer software applied to the enterprise.
Most digital images stored on home computers tend to originate from digital cameras, and are thus stored as JPEGs. Other sources, such as scanners, might store TIFFs to disk.
The process of transferring images from these sources to your computer is rarely done wirelessly, although that could change in the future. Most of the digital image capture devices are wired devices, usually with USB or FireWire connections; whereas older devices tended to use SCSI (as do high-end devices).
There have been some introductions of wireless technology applied to source transfer, although most wireless devices produced to date have tended to use Bluetooth instead of Wi-Fi.
An example of one digital camera that does offer Wi-Fi capabilities is the Nikon D2H camera. By adding its WT-1A add-on adapter or the WT-1 for Europe and Asia you create an 802.11b connection between this camera and your computer.
The D2H can transfer pictures through an infrastructure or ad hoc connection to a computer, with image transmission using FTP software. The WT-1 connects to the D2H by attaching to the tripod thread and draws power from the camera. It also connects to the camera’s USB port.
The D2H is a professional digital camera, meant for someone who takes a lot of pictures. The attraction of a Wi-Fi connection to a PC is obvious: it removes file size and storage limitations for an extended shoot.
Although wireless source image transfers are uncommon, displaying stored pictures over a wireless connection is not. All of the streaming media servers that will play audio could in principle display pictures from your computer on your TV, but many of the early models offered music support only.
Newer devices include the ability to display photos in a slide show, as the D-Link DSM-320 does (Figure below).
You’ll also find devices such as the GoVideo D2730, LiteOn LVD-2010, and the Gateway Connected DVD Player, which are combo DVD player and streaming media players.
All these players support JPEG, TIFF, or BMP; the LiteOn, DSM-320, and the HP ew5000 receiver also support PNG. Rarely you will find support for other formats such as JPEG 2000 on the DSM-320.
Depending on resolution and format, most picture file sizes are similar to audio file sizes. This is especially true of compressed formats such as JPEG. Therefore any of the 802.11b wireless receivers should work equally well for displaying pictures in a slide show.
However, the actual ability of these devices to display pictures varies considerably. Some of the wireless media receivers’ software gives you valuable features for controlling a slide show, letting you vary the time displayed, stepping forward and backward through images, and offering remote control of the display through their included remotes and so on.
Personal Video Recorders
Personal Video Recorders (PVRs, also called Digital Video Recorders or DVRs) have been available for a few years as an outgrowth of the video capture and TV tuner component market.
ATI, Hauppauge, and others have sold TV tuner boards based on chip sets from manufacturers such as Philips, and mated those tuners with graphics boards. The Gateway Destination PCTV series that appeared in the late 1990s offered TV display on a large screen CRT monitor, as well as a rudimentary record function.
Early models of the Destination shipped with Windows 98 (first edition) and with STB Video Rage II boards. Later models moved to the ATI All-In-Wonder (AIW) integrated tuner/graphics cards.
The best known PVR on the market today is the TiVo player. Companies such as Philips, Sony, and Toshiba license the technology and create PVRs with TiVo branding. The first model TiVo shipped in March 1999, the same month that competitor ReplayTV shipped its first model.
SonicBlue’s ReplayTV 4000 is another good PVR implementation that differs from TiVo in that it can share recorded programs, as well as provide a commercial skipping feature—features that SonicBlue was forced to defend against litigation from the entertainment industry.
TiVo has the form factor of a set-top box, but is really a Linux computer in disguise. Once people realized that TiVo was a computer, enthusiasts began to open the box and modify it, something the company didn’t actively discourage, although it voided the warranty.
The early models offered 20- and 30GB drives, with an hour of video equaling about 1GB of storage (depending on the quality of the video you choose). Among the things you can do with your TiVo is to add larger hard drives (up to two), and even add a networking function.
TiVo was meant to be a closed solution, not to be networked, and definitely not to be shared, but even in Series 1 workarounds were developed. A Google search on “TiVo hacks” or “TiVo add-ons” will give you some idea of how large this enthusiast community is and what it is doing.
With TiVo you buy a subscription to the TiVo guide service in addition to purchasing the equipment. We believe that the TiVo interface is one of the very best programs ever created on a computer for non-technical users (we have the religion, pass the clicker!).
However, the death of TiVo has been regularly predicted by analysts. Although no competitor has yet captured TiVo’s ability to predict desirable content, manage subscription lists (what they call season passes), and present a coherently organized system of finding content, TiVo has not been able to enter the set-top box market.
Cable companies are not willing to pay TiVo’s subscription rates and have gone a different route for programmed TV features like on-demand services. Both current models of ReplayTV and TiVo are networkable and can be made into wireless devices.
Although in theory you can use 802.11b, it is recommended that you use 802.11g devices for better performance. One site known for selling TiVo upgrades is PTVupgrade.com. It sells its TurboNet network cards for Series 1 with 802.11b capability; g is not supported.
This upgrade lets you add telnet, FTP, and TiVo Web browsing to this product. The DVRchive Server and Client tools software has been written that can convert the TiVo video storage format to other formats that you can play on your laptop.
Another well-known TiVo site is 9th Tee Enterprises, and it sells a wireless Ethernet adapter called the AirNet for Series 1. With Series 2, TiVo added USB to the system and offers the Home Media Option. It is on board new systems, but the software also has been downloaded to earlier Series 2 models.
You’d expect it to be straightforward to wirelessly network a TiVo so that it can download program updates from the Internet instead of calling through its internal modem. It is not. First you need version 4.0 of the OS, and TiVo is very sensitive to the wireless adapter you use.
ExtremeTech.com has an article on the subject of hooking up a wireless connection. The more important problem with TiVo’s networking implementation is that its wireless file sharing is meant to go between TiVo boxes only; TiVo stores video in its proprietary file format.
So if you want to play TiVo files on your laptop, or stream them through another device, you will need to use thirdparty software to access the files and do the conversion. To wirelessly network a ReplayTV 5500 series is much easier than TiVo because that system already has Ethernet.
First you configure a bridge to connect to your wireless access point or wireless router. You may need to use a crossover cable to do so. Then you connect the ReplayTV to the bridge. If you have more than one ReplayTV, each one will require a bridge of its own. ReplayTV’s documentation contains additional details.
If you want to record TV to files that you can move about your network wirelessly, and you don’t need the program guide capabilities of the aforementioned appliances, you are better off creating your own computer-based PVR.
Microsoft’s Media Center 2004 has this capability if you want a canned solution. You can purchase computers with this OS from a large number of Microsoft’s OEM partners, in desktop, laptop, and even tablet format. It’s just as easy to add a tuner/graphics card in a PC and use software to record to standard video formats.
The integrated solution is to buy a single board with both tuner and graphics on the same card, with the best-selling vendor in this area being the ATI Radeon-based All-in-Wonder (AIW) cards. Recent AIW cards come with FM radio, and ATI still sells a PCI version of this card.
Hauppauge also sells quality products with either a tuner only or a combination TV/tuner (and sometimes FM radio) combination. Similar products exist for nVidia-based graphics boards, and they work equally as well. When you use a graphics board/tuner combination, you are essentially installing a TV inside your computer.
When you use the tuner for channel control you enable a number of nice features that aren’t normally found on TVs, such as channel surfing—the software draws a thumbnail of the TV channels and updates them sequentially.
Better yet, because it is PC-based, you can add exactly the wireless capability you need; and these vendors write video in standard file formats such as MP2 so you can play them over a network.
PCTVs that you build yourself require program guides for scheduled recording, and the best of these are Web-based. When you install a Hauppauge WinTV Radio, that product sets up to use TitanTV.
This is a free service (ads sponsor the service), and you can sign up for TitanTV whether or not you have a tuner that you can control scheduled recordings with. TitanTV has information about programs, sorts and finds, and is a good solution.
ATI’s AIW uses Gemstar Guide Plus from the same company that owns TV Guide. Neither of these setups is as easy to work with, intuitive, or as sophisticated as TiVo or ReplayTV, but both are solid implementations.
Probably the best software for a PC-based PVR (and our current choice) is SnapStream’s BeyondTV!. Previously called SnapStream Personal Video Station, BeyondTV! has the ease of use of a TiVo, a very similar interface, and the ability to control cable boxes in the same manner as a TiVo.
Its native program guide in the desktop player isn’t as good as TiVo’s, but SnapStream offers a program guide in its Web interface that lets you set subscriptions, and that implementation is quite good indeed.
What makes SnapStream particularly good is that it writes standard MP2 video files, lets you set many video qualities, and has a number of convenience features that no other PVR has, such as program padding, commercial delineation in the video buffer display, and more.
MP2 files not only play in the SnapStream player, but will play in almost any multimedia player such as Windows Media Player. All you have to do is share the folder containing your recorded programs located in your profile and any system that can view your share.
That makes streaming video to your entertainment network about as easy as it is going to get.