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Media players have been around for quite some time now, and they’ve taken many different forms over the years. At one point, we thought that the Windows Media Centre would take centre stage in our lounge room, but people just didn’t like the idea of having to boot up their DVD player. I don’t really blame them either.
After the “desktop in a DVD box” idea disappeared, we then saw media players start to take off from storage and network vendors, and from a rudimentary and humble beginning, they have evolved into powerful, connected devices designed not just to play, but truly deliver entertainment around the house.
One of the first media players we ever sold at Bing Lee was the Iomega Screenplay, and its interface was as crude as you could get. It was basically a file management system using a font from the 80s. But it didn’t matter, because it just worked. It was unobstrusively small, firmware could be easily upgraded via USB to update the codec compatibility, and it even had HDMI out, to match the inputs of the growing number of LCD and Plasma TVs.
One of the secrets to designing a good device that sits in the lounge room is to “hide the software”. All users want to experience is a smooth, non-buggy front end that you can navigate without referring to the manual every time you want to go from videos to music or change the input port.
The litmus test for me? If a family member starts to use the remote control without actually looking at it, then we have a winner. Who looks at the remote when changing the TV volume or channel? Media players need to be that easy, that intuitive.
Playing content in a hassle-free manner is one thing. If you can share it, and not have to make physical copies for each room to watch, even better. Network-attached storage, or NAS drives as they’re commonly known, have really begun to show promise as a consumer-level product. These days, you don’t need to know about IP addresses or advanced networking mysteries, just load the software and you’ll get a browser-based dashboard to change settings, security levels, etc. You’ll even get a shortcut to your drive’s location for easy transfers.
The new Western Digital NAS models are moving away from commercial storage functionality to be more entertainment-focused, with DLNA support, which many TVs now offer, and easy detection by other media playing devices including PS3 and Xbox 360. They will even deliver photos to an iPhone or iPad via an app no matter where you are in the world. The WD media players are no slouches either, with HDMI, 1080p output, and a pretty comprehensive format support.
The connected home is no longer just a catchphrase or throwaway line – we’re here, even though it’s probably still an open secret to many. Here’s the segment we produced for Bing Lee to help bring that secret out into the open. Check out how far media players and network drives have come.
Have you taken the step towards a connected home? What’s your experience been like? Feel free to comment below.