Entertainment at home is an ever-evolving thing. If you're part of the generation who can remember deciding between a VHS or a Beta player, you can truly appreciate the beauty and convenience of streaming video and music into your living room. Services like Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Pandora and Hulu Plus bring instant entertainment to your whole family.
The best media players don't simply stream entertainment into your home –they also allow you to organize and access your own media library using the same interface. You can watch home movies, listen to your music and view photos from a compatible computer, smartphone, eReader or other device. Many digital media servers, such as the Sony PlayStation, also have internal storage so you can actually download and save content onto the unit’s hard drive to access anytime you want. The PlayStation 4 allows for hard drive expansion, so you’ll never run out of space.
Home media servers function as the hub of your digital entertainment world, giving you the ability to pull up a piece of entertainment in a matter of seconds from various digital sources.
Many of the media streamers have a QWERTY keypad on the remote which makes finding the content you’re looking for easy. User-friendly interfaces like those found on Apple TV and Asus Cube also make finding content quick and easy.
You can also use these multi-functional media devices for video sharing from YouTube, streaming music from Pandora and Spotify or sharing photos from your family vacation via Flickr and Facebook on your HDTV.
The best home media servers are Apple TV, Xbox and PlayStation. These media players perform well and give you a lot of options. For more information and details about these and other devices, check out our other articles on home media servers.
Most home media players allow you to access movies on Netflix, music on Pandora or view videos on YouTube. Additionally, many of them allow you to rent movies or television episodes through dedicated online stores such as the Apple Store, Google Play or the PlayStation Store. Some can also be networked with your personal computer to play your personal digital media through your home entertainment center.
The products on our list each have their strengths, and you should look for the media streamer that will best meet your needs. If you're mostly interested in streaming online content, look for a player with a vast selection of apps. However, if you already own a large digital media library, you'd be well served by a home server that can access that content from your computer's hard drive.
Some of the important features to look for as you choose the best home media server for you include:
Look for a device that can access videos, music and photos through websites such as YouTube, Pandora, Netflix, Flickr and others. You will have access to a wide array of online content though each device's main menu, and additional apps are often available through individual online stores. With the help of a home media server, online content can look and sound fantastic on your home entertainment center.
Play Personal Media
Several of the best media players let you play back home movies, music and photos you already have stored on your computer. Some will simply provide USB drives, which allow for limited playback, while others will allow you to mirror your content from a smartphone or tablet and play it on your TV. You will want to select the device that best meets your needs when it comes to accessing your personal files.
Video & Sound Quality
It is important to know what kind of video and sound quality the player can support. At the very least, the player should support standard definition (SD) quality. High definition (HD) compatibility is important if you plan to play content on and HDTV. Look for a resolution of 720p or 1080p. Most units now support 1080p, but 720p is excellent video quality as well. Audio should be stereo surround sound. As this technology advances, the quality of the streaming will continue to improve and you will want a device that supports the best video and sound quality available.
The best home media servers allow you to purchase or rent movies or TV shows. If the media player is attached to a dedicated online shop, it's generally very easy to purchase digital entertainment to play through your home server. Some of these devices also have access to music you can purchase. Consoles like the PlayStation and Xbox, of course, have prime access to gaming, both to rent and to buy, with all the internal storage you need to save them directly on the consoles hard drive.
Help & Support
Setting up your home media streamer is generally quite simple, but if there’s a problem, or if you have questions about ways to get the most out of the device you choose, the type of tech support available to you is important. Look for manufacturers who offer you a variety of support options, including phone and email support, live chat, user forums, FAQs or a knowledgebase, and a user manual.
Once a home media server is connected to your entertainment center, you can access a whole new dimension of home entertainment. Imagine streaming the latest movies right to your television, accessing photos from last summer’s beach vacation on your HDTV, or listening to your own music playlists through a surround sound system. With a home media server, your possibilities are nearly endless.
At TopTenREVIEWS We Do the Research So You Don't Have To.™