After a decade of intensive research, digital media streamers became a household term in late 2000, when a small Silicon Valley upstart introduced the first audio-only receiver. By the time the company received two patents for its innovation in 2006, larger companies had already developed the technology to incorporate streaming video in devices that processed digital files at a much faster rate than the audio-only receiver processed at the beginning of the decade. Devices that streamed audio and video files paved the way for gaming boxes to add a third component to media streaming devices. By 2010, consoles such as the Xbox 360 allowed users to play games against people from all over the world and stream videos of their favorite television shows. With technology developing at an accelerated pace, consumers need to know what features to look for in a media streamer.
What is a Media Streamer?
Media streamers employ digital technology to access music, image, and video files that are stored on a personal computer or some other type of networked media server. Users access the digital media files from an internal or external hard drive and the files stream through a digital media receiver (DMR). A DMR also goes by the names media extender, digital media hub, digital media adapter, and media streamer. DMRs play numerous types of multimedia and the list continues to grow as technology advances. However, license restrictions prevent media streamers from playing certain types of digital files. A company that streams proprietary audio files may not be able to stream another company's proprietary video files. File formats also differ between media streamers. File formats include AVI, MP3, WAV, and JPEG. Media streamers are categorized by manufacturers, while devices that have limited multimedia capability are classified by their multimedia specialty.
How Media Streamers Work
Streaming media may seem like a recent technological breakthrough, but the fact is any that any sound waves traveling from audio sources are streaming audio. The same principle applies to video waves that are transmitted from cable, satellite, or radio signals. During the early phases of media streamer development, audio and video files traveled from a server to a computer, which a plug-in decoded, that allowed people to access stored audio and video files. The Internet was the primary source for streaming media files. However, people now store files on their computers and then access them via digital media streamers. Media streamers have made plug-ins obsolete.
Streaming media players decode and display data at a speed that is a bit slower than the speed in which they retrieve digital files. The information backlog stores in a buffer, until the streaming catches up to the digital file retrieval. It does not matter if a user has a plug-in or a media streamer. In either case, the program that runs media streams discards the digital data files as they are used. A copy of a digital media file never exists on a computer, so it cannot be repeatedly accessed. This differentiates streaming media from progressive computer downloads.
Users have two ways to connect a media streamer to the source of audio and video files. Wired or Ethernet connections transmit digital files at a rate determined by how much a routing device can handle. The router capacity is often referred to as broadband width. Data transmission through an Ethernet cable connection can slow down due to bandwidth limitations. In addition, wired connections require extensive work on the part of the user, especially if connecting devices are not available inside of a home or office. This is why many media streamers put a wireless connection at the top of their media streamer features list.
Wireless media streamer connections offer both convenience and fast digital file transmission speed. A wireless connection between a DMR and a server allow users to get their streamer set up quickly, without the hassle of dealing with cables and other wiring devices. Nonetheless, service interruption sometimes usurps convenience and speed. The same issues, such as missing video frames and repetitive audio, that plague wireless computers can also diminish the advantages of a wireless media streamer connection. As with a wireless computer connection, it is recommended that wireless media streamer users install their media streamers as close as possible to a wireless network.
Popular Digital Media Streamer Features
Ask ten people to list their favorite media streamer feature and expect to receive ten different answers. However, ask the same ten people to list their favorite features and expect many of the same features to appear on each list. Just remember that with the speed of innovation and media streamer enhancements, that the favorite features of today may become the obsolete features of tomorrow.
The type of media streamers chosen by users is determined by the services that they prefer. YouTube, Pandora, and Hulu fans have to research streamers that accept each service. Hulu restricts its service to just a few media streamers, while Netflix is available on a number of digital media receivers. Service type should be near the top of anyone's media streamer features list.
Most media streamers decode popular file formats, such as MP3, MPEG, and WAV, but certain older formats may not allow users to access them using some players. This applies to older compact discs and DVD files that used older generation file format. It also applies to image files, the type that people use to store family photographs. Media streamers that download older file formats have become more popular as file formats continue to change.
Users that can control a streaming media device with an iPhone or Android may experience more enjoyment out of their player, than those choosing to use more economical remotes with a lack of features that may end up frustrating them.
External USB Hard Drives
External USB hard drives enhance a user's media streamer experience. They add files to the multimedia library that users can access with the click of a remote. USB ports allow users to connect directly to the external drives that store additional digital media files. Otherwise, users can only stream content straight from the media player.
High definition capability is especially important for users that have HD screens larger than 42 inches. Since most content streams in compressed files, those who have smaller HD televisions do not have to worry about this feature.
It is important for users to be able to organize digital media files. Most media streamers provide users with organizational capabilities. Still, make sure any media streamer considered for purchase has interface capabilities to organize files and provide straightforward navigation.
Media streamers that have integrated video recording capabilities have become popular among users who do not disconnect their cable or satellite service after they purchase a media streamer. Media streamer DVRs perform the same way that TiVo's do.
Where to Buy Media Streamers
Before you decide to shop for a media player, you should write down a list of features that you want. If you want the latest model or a streamer that is new or in mint condition, brick and mortar electronic stores offer the best option. These stores not only stock new media streamers, they also carry most of the accessories that users need to enhance their experiences. Also, brick and mortar electronic stores employ knowledgeable people who are experts in media streamers. Big box retailers that have electronics departments tend to have a narrower selection of media streamers and fewer accessories.
A growing retail trend is the development of second hand stores, which include stores in the electronics niche. If price is a major consideration for you, then second hand electronics stores may have a media streamer that fits your price range. These players will be used, but you will have the ability to analyze their quality in person. While media streamers appear for sale online, you cannot look and feel for quality. Buying a media streamer online poses risks. However, there is one online venue that has earned a reputation of offering high quality used media streamers.
Buying a Media Streamer on eBay
eBay, the most popular online auction portal, allows media streamer owners to run auctions that competitively price each product. You will find many used media streamer options on eBay, but you must be careful about the sellers with whom you do business. It is recommended to check out eBay's "Top-Rated Seller" designation that the company hands out to sellers who have consistently demonstrated a record of selling high quality media streamers.
You should know what brand of media streamer you want before you access eBay's product lists. This will shorten your search, since you can type a brand name into the search engine along with "media streamer" or "digital media streamer." For instance, if the Roku 2 media streamerinterests you, you can type that into eBay's search engine, which you will find on every Web page. In addition, you can sort results by price and shipping conditions.
Media streamers have revolutionized how people access audio and video programming. Since 2000, media streamers have undergone several upgrades that enhance the user's experience. Finding the right media streamer means knowing about all of the features that various streamers offer. Users need to decide the importance of having a USB port, ease of the interface, power of the remote, and what types of files a media streamer supports. Above all, users should seriously consider a media streamer that operates on a wireless connection. Aside from an occasional mishap, wireless connections provide users with convenience and faster speeds than wired connections. Researching the types of wireless services available should be a priority for users.
No one knows where media streamer technology will take users, as the digital playing device enters its second decade of entertainment relevance. Users can count on one thing: they will have to pay close attention to the media streamer industry and the numerous feature changes and enhancements that will continue at a rapid pace.