Digital home networking

How to create your perfect home entertainment environment.
 
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01 .Networking options

Digital home entertainment

Here, we look at how the latest networked and wireless technologies can help you get the most out of your digital home entertainment gear.

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Getting connected

Recent developments in digital technology mean we can watch our favourite programs when we want, and we can also watch them where we want on one of the many connected devices in the home. For example, we can now watch a TV show from a DVD or Blu-ray disc or on a media player or via online streaming services such as iView, Quickflix or iTunes. We can view them on an iPad, Android tablet or even a smartphone. With this versatility, it’s easy to be confused about your best viewing and connection options.

Netgear-XAV5501 Setting up your initial network connection

If you can’t get a network cable to your player or TV, you may be able to connect it to your home network wirelessly, with many of the latest TVs, players and personal video recorders offering wireless support. A wireless dongle specifically made for your DVD/Blu-ray player may be available, however a more affordable solution would be to use a powerline networking unit, allowing you to plug the devices into a power socket near your internet router and the other device into a power socket near the device.

The Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA)

The Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) protocol was introduced to help simplify the process of sharing content around the home, allowing connected devices to “talk” to one another as seamlessly as possible over a wireless or wired network. Companies supporting DLNA include Microsoft and Nokia, as well as home electronics companies such as Panasonic and Sony. Apple is the notable omission from the DLNA consortium, however as with all things Apple, there’s an app for that, giving iPad and iPhone users similar DLNA functionality to that enjoyed by Android device owners. A search for "DLNA viewer" in the Appstore will show available programs.

Most TVs that claim to be “Smart TVs” should support DLNA. A look at your TV’s network settings will confirm whether it has DLNA support, and it may even connect to your smart device automatically. Once selected, you can access music, photos and video through the use of the TV remote control. If the back of your TV has a LAN connection (a network port that looks like a large telephone jack) and you can get an ethernet cable to the TV, you should be able to watch online video applications such as ABC TV's iView, or access video, photos and music stored on your home network. If you have a wireless home network and a TV with wireless connectivity, you may not need to connect a cable at all.

Smart devices

If your TV doesn’t have network connectivity, all is not lost. The latest batch of Blu-ray players tested by CHOICE or PVRs are also “Smart” with the ability to access online TV programs or content stored on your home network. Once you have your player or PVR connected to your network, simply connect it to your old TV using an HDMI, component or composite cable and transform your ageing TV into a Smart TV.

Blu-ray player



 
 

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What kind of cable?

When the new love of your life, a massive 60-inch Smart TV, arrived ready to plug in and enjoy, what cables did the installer or retailer suggest to connect your gaming console, Blu-ray player, PVR or Foxtel box? Did they try to bamboozle you by throwing around specs like “uncompressed 1080p/12Hz HD video with 12-bit Deep Colour” and “eight channels of 192/24 digital audio for the ultimate 7.1 surround sound, which I can deliver for $300?” Or did they do the right thing and say, “you need a couple of HDMI cables for your new gear - I’ve got some in the car you can have for about $20.”?

Don’t get sucked into the cable rort, no-one who knows what they're talking about will be impressed with the $500 monster cable hidden behind your TV. 

idevice_hdmi

iDevice must-have

Apple has a digital AV adapter for a reasonable (for Apple) price of $45. This allows you to play anything that shows on your iPad or iPhone (audio and video) on your TV using a HDMI connection. Even though the latest iPhones and iPads support full HD (1080p) you’ll only get video at up to 720p and images at 1080p. If you decide to buy the connector from a non-Apple store, make sure the connection can accommodate both the HDMI cable to connect to the TV and the 30-pin pass-through connector to charge your Apple device while it is operating.



Maximise video and audio quality 

Cables and HD quality

Don’t expect those amazingly cheap DVDs you may have purchased while overseas to provide fantastic quality video and audio. While the upscaling feature on a TV or media player can help improve the situation, the maxim of "garbage in, garbage out" applies to all video and audio. So if you enjoy watching a movie at its best-possible quality, consider original Blu-ray titles.

However, choosing the best possible cable type will also give you the best chance at getting true HD-quality video on your TV. If your TV doesn’t support HDMI, check to see if you can use component video instead of composite (yellow cable) or S-video (cable with five small pins). The results could still give you HD-quality video, with up to 1080i resolution achievable.


Using your existing stereo system with your TV

If you don’t have a home theatre system and your TV is centrally located in your home or entertainment room, you may want to use your existing mini hi-fi to improve the sound. Simply connect inexpensive stereo cables (lengths of up to 10 metres should cost about $50) from your TV audio-out connection to the audio input on your stereo (often shown as the Auxiliary or AUX connection) and you'll enjoy much better audio than you will get from your TV, as well as having one less remote to deal with.

Sounding out soundbars

While we weren’t impressed with the audio quality of the latest sub-$800 “cinema in a box” home theatre systems, we were pleasantly surprised at the sound to be gained with most of the soundbars we tested to improve the overall TV experience. If your TV is at the centre of your home entertainment area, you may find the position of the soundbar to be ideal for listening to music as well, particularly if you want to use your Blu-ray or DVD player to enjoy your audio CD collection.

Soundbar



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