Media network overview: What it takes to build a network

Articles about “smart homes” often cite the story of “Mr. Ripley’s Electric House” from the work “One-Story America” by Ilf and Petrov. Recall that the book was published in 1937, and this project was an advertisement for the capabilities of General Electric. Naturally, at that time, such projects could not become widespread due to the cost and complexity of manufacturing the equipment used. The first “smart houses” appeared in the 50s of last century, of course, only a few people could afford them. The term refers to the ability to combine several systems into one – usually a home entertainment system, home and climate control, and a security system.

home network

We will talk about the entertainment system – the media network. Gone are the days when buying a new DVD was the event of the month, and video libraries rented against a deposit. Now cable TV and numerous sites give you almost all the variety of the world audio and video library, and packs of your own CDs are slowly pushing the owners out of the apartment.

What would it cost us to build a network?

A distant prototype of the modern media server can probably be considered the first mechanical piano, “Tonophone”, produced in 1896 by Wurlitzer. Later, as we know, this miracle of technical thought was transformed into jukeboxes, familiar to us from gangster movies. By the way, old-time readers remember that similar machines were in the USSR in the 60-s, they could play a chosen song for 5 kopecks. With the advent of the CD era, CD players were already serving as jukeboxes. In the beginning, the players could be loaded with 5 disks, then – more, the device Sony CDP-CX350 could hold 300 disks.

The same thing happened later with DVD-players, for example Sony DVP-CX 995V could hold 400 disks with films or music, expanding the access opportunities were in quantity, not quality – of course, it could not last forever. And it’s not just the size – working with a large number of physical media requires good mechanics and correct operation of the processor. For example, in the last device, users were annoyed by the slowness and failure to remember the last viewing location.

A step forward can be considered a player equipped with a hard drive, in 2007, Sony specialists have created a media server HES-V1000, equipped with a changer for 196 discs in any format, including. ch. Blu-ray, and a 500GB hard drive. The server could broadcast content over a wired and wireless connection, cost $3,500, and looked like a black fridge about a meter tall. Of course, not everybody liked such monsters and the internal hard drive began to replace the “multi-loader” drives, saving the size and cost. For example, a media server Olive O3HD, specialized for music, with a CD-drive, a 500 gb disk and support for internet broadcasting, costs around 1500 dollars today. Of course, a certain role in this was also played by the World Wide Web – the availability of media content forced at first to download terabytes of information and not to switch off the computer for weeks.

Now everything is settled, legality has suffered a fiasco in the fight against piracy and by natural selection only favorite movies and quality music have remained on the disks, everything else has been erased to save space. Many of us have moved our collection to hard drive to save space in the apartment, what next?

And further we want to make our life more convenient – such a simple natural desire..

So all the content is stored on your hard drive, to watch it on the TV or over a projector you have to copy the files to a disk or a flash drive. And if you consider that the old DVD players can only read files in projects – VIDEO_TS folders, then to create and burn to a “cassette” such a project of two movies also takes time – about an hour on a 4-core computer.

Even if there’s only one TV in the house, access “directly” to the drive makes life easier, and if there’s more than one, the idea of a home media network seems natural.

It is clear that the convenience and proper operation of all devices directly depend on the funds invested, but in a simpler variant it is possible to organize everything not so expensive as it may seem.

Home network description

So what do we mean by “home media network”?? It should be said that with all the variety of possible configurations, equipment used and, accordingly, the cost, the essence is the same: access from different devices to media files stored on a single source. All the components can be conditionally divided into three groups: the source, the switching equipment and the playback equipment.


1. Source

So let’s look at what can be used as a source. The simplest solution is to use a computer with all the things that are supposed to “talk and show” connected to it – televisions and audio systems. But this method will not suit everyone. Firstly, a switched on computer can be uncomfortable for people who are sensitive to sound, because it does make noise. Besides, there is a psychological moment – not everybody likes using a computer “for its intended purpose”.

home network

So as a storage device for media files you can use t.n. NAS network attached storage .

In essence it is the same computer, only without a video card and I/O devices, keyboard, monitor and DVD drive. Its main function is to store all media content, so the main characteristic of the device is the size of the hard drive and the openness of the architecture, i.e.e. The ability to connect more drives as needed.

But that is not the only requirement. It is important that the NAS has a variety of switching options LAN, USB , the ability to connect via Wi-Fi and a built-in torrent client. Recall that the average size of an HD movie is 8-10 GB, which requires large resources – buffer device and CPU performance, otherwise the video can be very slow.

Examples of NAS are 3QHDD-N375-PS500, Plextor PX-NAS500L 1000 L – 1TB , Seagate ST310005MND10G-RK, HP EX475 MediaSmart, LaCie Ethernet Disk mini.

Synology DS 211j is a bit more expensive than the above options. However, its wide functionality with its help it is even possible to create a home surveillance system and support for two 3Tb disks will completely solve all the problems of both an advanced user and those who are at the initial stage of building a “smart home. Intuitive graphical interface allows fast setup and easy and comfortable work with the drive in the future.

Sometimes you can come across the term “network disk” – essentially it is the same NAS, only in a more consumer-friendly language, which means a more convenient product for marketing and sales. Often “network drive” is called a simplified version of NAS, which has one physical hard drive and is not able to make backups, but has a more flexible system of adaptation to the rest of the equipment – more opportunities to connect, reflash, update torrent downloads, etc.d.

A good example of such a device as well as from the cumulative analysis of reviews from the forums can be Verbatim 47591 and 3QHDD-N375-PS500. For example, the Seagate STAM 1000200 at under $150. Has a capacity of 1 Tb and the ability to connect an additional drive via USB when the amount of internal drive will be exhausted .

Western Digital WDBACG0010HCH WD My Book Live due to its characteristics belongs to the network drives, although with reservations: it can backup data from computers in the local network. Moreover, in the near future the expansion of My Book line of devices is expected. The new My Book Live Duo with two drives will get a RAID mirror function RAID1 .

It must be said that the idea of connecting external hard drives to the drive is not without logic, just as audio and video cassettes used to stand on the shelves, now perhaps their place will be taken by hard drives labeled “comedy” and “music”.

As the most economical option it is possible to use an ordinary hard drive external hard disk , connected to the router, but there are some pitfalls. Firstly, the router must have a USB-connector, and secondly, it must be fast enough, otherwise “heavy” files will slow down. And if you consider that many routers come with “raw” firmware, not even providing the advertised speed, the selection of equipment in this way can be a very laborious business.

Besides, in this case the requirements to a media player or a TV with a media player become higher: in order to find the necessary file on the disk and to decode it, the device must fully understand its “colleague”.

Another option could be media players with built-in hard drive such as WD TV Live Hub, Tvix Slim S1 and 6600N, Xtreamer Pro, and Xtreamer SideWinder – they perform the functions of content storage and playback simultaneously. And if you turn your eyes to the iXtreamer, it will serve as an Apple device dock in addition to the features described above.

A few words about RAID arrays. When choosing a media storage device, you might come across this term in the description of the 4-disc WD Sharespace, for example. RAID Redundant array of independent disks – a means of combining several independent disks into a single drive. RAID is of several types, the most common are 0, 1, 5. RAID0 simply combines two disks into one big one, data is written and read from both disks simultaneously, we get speed gain as a result, but failure of one of the disks will result in complete loss of all data. RAID1, the mirror, simply duplicates data from one drive to another, so while we lose some storage space we gain in reliability: a failure of one drive will not lead to a loss of content. Finally, RAID5 distributes useful information on several disks RAID5 needs at least 3 and accompanies the information with service data for recovery. So a failure of any of the disks will not be fatal for your data. RAID5 is more economical in relation to disk space than RAID1 using three disks the volume of the array will be equal to the volume of two, i.e. the loss is 1/3 instead of 1/2 , but their level of reliability for home use is comparable.

If you are building a collection of rare movies or music, or if you have a very large home archive, more reliable storage can be useful. Creating reliable storage with RAID can be done on a network drive with multiple drives. For example, RAID0 and RAID1 can be configured on the Synology DS 211j. Of course, equipment with RAID functionality costs more, and we should take that into account.

2. Switching

(Digital Living Network Alliance – a standard that allows compatible devices to transmit and receive various media content images, music, video through a home network, as well as display it in real time.

When connecting the TV, projector or audio system remotely it is important to make sure that the devices are compatible – even if the device to be connected, like a TV, has an Ethernet jack there is no guarantee that it will “see” the drive when the cable is connected.

The most reliable, and most importantly the fastest, is the connection using regular twisted pair cable – speeds can be up to 1 Gbit/s in reality, of course, less .

A Wi-Fi connection may require a bit more effort, but it’s not as complicated as it sounds. Naturally in this case there must be a Wi-Fi source/receiver on both sides. If the NAS or a network drive does not have it, you again need a router that broadcasts media content over Wi-Fi. On the receiving end must be not only Wi-Fi module, but also a media player. It must be said that many media players are now able to go online via Wi-Fi, having either a built-in adapter as in Tvix 6600N model , or bought separately and connected via USB, as it happens in case of the same WD TV Live, so to pick up such a device will not be a problem. The Dune players have proven themselves. Some of them Dune HD Lite, Dune HD Smart can be used for watching Kartina TV , but with a minimum monthly fee of 15 EUR per month for the ability to watch American language channels and access to virtual media library, something tells me that in our country this will be of little relevance.

With all its apparent attractiveness the connection via Wi-Fi has many disadvantages. First of all it’s low data transfer rate – 54 Mbit c, which is very low for viewing “heavy” files. Even 720p video can be very slow, not to mention 1080p. Therefore, this method is applicable for the transmission of audio or video files of small size, in addition, all equipment must be fine-tuned. By the way, some modern AV receivers Haman/Kardon AVR 460 have a video delay function – for cases when sound and image are out of sync.

In addition, Wi-Fi-equipment, of course, costs more than laying the cable, and the corporate policy of compatibility can complicate life, forcing you to look for Wi-Fi-adapter, the same brand as the TV – if it comes to America at all ..

Do not forget about the possibility to show your channels to the neighbors, just as it happens when you hear music from the neighboring car, if the driver’s FM-transmitter works on the same frequency as your radio. If the neighbors have a joker schoolboy who can connect to the Internet through your router – so to speak, there are options..

As always, there is a golden mean – the transfer of information through the power grid. In this case, there is no need for laying additional cables – it is enough to have an electrical outlet next to the source and receiver. Transmission speed can be up to 200 Mbit/s, but it is desirable that the distance between the transmission points is less. To make the “input” and “output” switching you need two modules, two network adapters with Ethernet ports.

This way has the HomePlug AV standard, and the price of a pair of modules ranges on average from $100 to $200. Examples of such devices are TP-Link TL-PA201, WD Livewire, ZyXEL PLA400 EE and TRENDnet TPL-305E.

Of course, here you should also take into account the state of your electrical network and the ratio of costs to the expected, and most importantly – the obtained result. If the wiring is old, as is still found in homes during the Khrushchev era, or to the outlet, to which you want to connect equipment, several other devices are connected, the result may be different from what you expect. That’s why when buying you need to be sure that if something doesn’t work, you can make the money back without any problems.

3. TVs

It should be noted that many models are equipped with the possibility of independent access to the Internet. TVs “can” show YouTube videos by the way, some DVD players can do this, too , access Twitter and Facebook, view photos from Picasa, check the weather, provide the ability to communicate via Skype, and some even have the ability to work with a built-in web browser.

home network

It is clear that in the “fight for the customer” manufacturers are trying to equip their products with as many interactive features of Smart TV smart TV as possible.

Almost every major company has its own version of the television interactive. For example, LG TVs feature NetCast™ Entertainment, allowing you to watch video on demand VIEWSTER , access Accedo casual games , watch the best moments of baseball MLB.TV , listen to Internet radio vTuner , view maps on Google, and chat on Facebook and Twitter. Yota Music and Yandex internet services News, Weather, Traffic Jams, Quotes, Photos and TV program are introduced specifically for our country. Each section is presented as a page adapted for viewing on a large screen and navigating with the remote control.

NetCast™ function is implemented in LG LX9500, LE8500, LX6500, LE7500, LE5500, LD750, LD650 LCD and LED TV sets as well as PX960, PK960, PK760 plasma TV sets.

The “higher” TV-sets come with Magic Motion remote control designed for navigating through the applications. Another example. PHILIPS has implemented new services in its new line of TV sets starting from the 6000 series. To play back media files on the Net, you need two things: to be connected to the Internet, to be able to play back previous TV shows Net TV and to be able to use movie rentals from network video stores.

PHILIPS products have always been rich in functionality, so it’s not surprising that they introduce Smart USB and Pause TV. The first allows you to record video to a USB memory stick, and the second allows you to pause the digital TV viewing – of course, by recording video in real time on your hard drive with the possibility of simultaneous viewing.

Recall that such a feature has already been implemented in CRT TV Philips and Samsung about 10 years ago, so there is nothing revolutionary here, but it is nice.

It must be said that the use of TV for Internet surfing is perceived by many users ambiguously. If access to YouTube and other video resources is somehow functionally justified, then the ability to communicate in social networks on a wide screen and use most often a limited number of sites is sometimes perceived as “Internet for the poor” ..

Back to the possibilities of using TV in your home media network. In order to playback files from the web two conditions are necessary: of course, the ability to connect to the network and the ability to play media files. Simply put, before you buy, you need to pay attention to whether the TV has DLNA support and a media player. Note that the presence of a media player does not imply support for DLNA, some televisions simply allow you to connect a flash drive or hard drive via USB and watch videos or photos with the built-in media player. If there is DLNA support, it does not mean that you can watch video when connected to a home network – DLNA can be “truncated” and, for example, allows you to watch only photos. Moreover, sometimes in the TV description especially on the Internet you can see that the TV set has a Wi-Fi receiver, but in fact it can be not true. t.e. You can simply connect a Wi-Fi module to your TV – the inscription “Wi-Fi Ready” says exactly that LG 50PK760, LG 50PK960 , but as a result of “difficulties of translation” the information was distorted. For example, Sony UWA-BR100 USB adapter is required for SONY TVs from 4000 Dollars. . In general, the advice is not new – read the manual.

The pitfalls

Of course, it is impossible to describe all the details of a home media network in one article. You may encounter some difficulties while making the settings, and we’ve already mentioned some of them see “Configuring the Dune product” on page 54 . above . Conventionally, all kinds of pitfalls can be divided into two groups: incompatibility or partial compatibility of equipment and restrictions caused by license rights.

Of the first group, “raw firmware” is the most common. Some network drives have unpleasant features, for example, Verbatim 47591 has a built-in torrent client failed, often you can not run it at all. Another example – to use a torrent client in 3QHD-N375-PS500 you need to format it to ext3 beforehand.

It should be said that probably the most flexible, when it comes to “patching holes” are the products by Dune. The company’s specialists work with forums, and with American ones, which allows them to promptly respond to customer requests.

It is true that some lower priced Dune devices become very warm due to the lack of a fan, but that’s another story.

As for licensing restrictions, let us recall that Sony products at one time did not support mkv Sony SMP-U10 – apparently, the company thus fought piracy.

The latest model Sony SMP-N100 introduced mkv support, but still has some limitations Profile codec.High@L5.1 will not go anymore . It is fair to say that this codec is a “headache” for many devices, so this should also be taken into account.

For lovers of HD sound we remind you that you can’t transmit it through coaxial or optical cable, only through HDMI.

If we talk about TVIX models, they have a user-friendly developed “friendly” interface and quality components. Of the innovations it is worth noting media players Xtreamer, which appeared in a wide range in America. To improve the functionality of these models and update the software you can use USB or the network for free.

In general, there are a lot of options to create and develop your home media network. So before you build your home network you should know exactly what you want – to watch only video, or listen to music, or… something more complicated? Today any of your tasks can be solved, and the best thing is that it can be done within a small budget.

home network

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