Although, the application of wireless networking to the creation of highly configurable entertainment networks is in its infancy, many of the pieces you need to create such a network are starting to be introduced.
Some of these devices are conventional adaptations of components you already have in a sound system, such as the 900 MHz Sony Wireless Speaker system. The wireless station of this system broadcasts an audio source from a receiver or TV to a couple of wireless speakers (or headphones).
Other devices, such as the SMC EZ-Streaming Universal Wireless Multimedia Receiver (SMCWMR-AG), are relatively new types of low-cost file servers specially configured for streaming media files over a wireless connection.
The typical streaming multimedia device is limited in the file formats it can work with, and that is one of the reasons for selecting one device over another. We'll look at the wireless devices that you can use to stitch your home entertainment network together, and what capabilities those devices offer.
Wireless technology makes great sense in home entertainment networks because of the relatively low cost involved in adding wireless capability to devices, and because of the convenience they give you. When you factor in the speed of some of the more recent 802.11 protocols, even streaming large video files is workable.
With wireless technology you have a much greater degree of freedom in placing the components where you want them. Most people do not live in homes or work in buildings that have special audio/video (AV) wall jacks, nor do most homes have CAT5 Ethernet pulled through the walls.
Although you can retrofit buildings to accommodate new networks, it is both costly and troublesome. The flexibility that wireless links provide also allows you to manage your entertainment WLAN from different locations and with different devices and software, shifting to better technology as time goes by.
Digital media transmission also allows you to remove physical barriers to entertainment access, as well. Through the use of network shares and servers, you can access digital libraries of audio and digital video files from anywhere you have wireless coverage, resulting in entertainment and information on demand.
A wireless MP3 jukebox (when they finally become available as a standard feature) would allow you to choose the music you want to listen to at any time by downloading just those tracks from your audio library before you head out the door to the gym or to work.
With a Personal Video Recorder, or PVR, you can record just the programs you want and view them later (time shifting), and eliminate commercials, which greatly improves the quality of what you watch.
Devices such as TiVo (which, after all, is a special-purpose Linux box) as well as specially configured computer systems you’ll learn about later can be part of your entertainment network, and they can dramatically improve the TV viewing experience.
Networking computers has always made sense because it lets you share precious resources; and with an entertainment network you get the same value. So many different approaches exist to creating a home entertainment network that it’s impossible to delineate them in a stepwise fashion.
You’ll find that some people add entertainment devices to networks with a wireless connection, others add a computer such as a PCTV or Windows Media Center edition to their entertainment system, while still others find that they have a network provided for them by their cable operator.
There’s no right approach, but there are differences in the requirements for the use of wireless networking to tie all these different approaches together. It is “early days” for these technologies with lots of new products coming to market every month, so it’s also impossible to know which product types will become consumer and industry favorites. Still, there are sensible principles you can apply.