Home Theater Review

 

Media Servers and MP3 Players Reviewed

Even the most enthusiastic fans of vinyl and Compact Discs are starting to admit that they can see a day when there won't be any more shiny silver discs needed to play our music and movie content. How we will get from the world of Blu-ray Players and iPod Docks to full media servers and everything in between has yet to be determined however. Until then, here is a full compliment of the best in audiophile and videophile grade media servers to help aide in your search for the best server for your high performance AV system.

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Control4 Wireless Music Bridge Reviewed

Control4 Wireless Music Bridge Reviewed

By Adrienne Maxwell

Overall Rating
4 Stars
 

As part of my recent review of the Control4 HC-250 control system, the company sent me the Wireless Music Bridge (C4-WMB-B), which allows you to integrate your smartphone, tablet, or computer into the Control4 ecosystem as an audio source. Thanks... Read More

 
Home Theater Review's Best of 2013 Awards

Home Theater Review's Best of 2013 Awards

By HomeTheaterReview.com

Overall Rating
0 Stars
 

It's that time of year again. The HomeTheaterReview.com staff has discussed all the products reviewed over the year and decided which ones rated the best. Check out our list of the best of 2013. Read More

 
Seagate Central NAS and Media Server Reviewed

Seagate Central NAS and Media Server Reviewed

By Adrienne Maxwell

Overall Rating
4.5 Stars
 

Seagate jumps into the media server or NAS drive fray along with players such as Apple, Roku, Google and so many more. See what being one of the top hard drive makers in the world brings to your home theater in this Adrienne Maxwell review. Read More

 
Google Chromecast Wireless Media Bridge

Google Chromecast Wireless Media Bridge

By Adrienne Maxwell

Overall Rating
5 Stars
 

The Google Chromecast's goal is simple. The device is designed to take a regular television and turn it into a smart TV. Adrienne Maxwell tries the device out to see how well it achieves this goal. Read More

 
Kaleidescape Cinema One Media Server

Kaleidescape Cinema One Media Server

By Adrienne Maxwell

Overall Rating
4 Stars
 

The Kaleidescape experience has been something consumers have paid a heavy premium for in the past. That's all changed with company's Cinema One. Adrienne Maxwell reviews the Cinema One to see what it's like. Read More

 
Colorfly C4 Portable Music Player Reviewed

Colorfly C4 Portable Music Player Reviewed

By Steven Stone

Overall Rating
4 Stars
 

The Colorfly C4 is another entry in the growing category of high resolution music portable players. However, the Colorfly C4 seems to offer several things that others have not. For a price, of course. Read More

 
Roku 3 Streaming Media Player

Roku 3 Streaming Media Player

By Adrienne Maxwell

Overall Rating
5 Stars
 

Roku has a new streaming media player out there, simply called the Roku 3. Adrienne Maxwell, who has a lot of experience with streaming media players, puts the Roku 3 to the test to see how it measures up. Read More

 
Astell & Kern AK120 Portable Music Player Reviewed

Astell & Kern AK120 Portable Music Player Reviewed

By Steven Stone

Overall Rating
4.5 Stars
 

If an iPod just doesn't cut it for you in terms of sound quality, you may be interested in the Astell & Kern AK120 portable music player. Steven Stone tests out the player to see how its high resolution performance measures up. Read More

 
Vizio Co-Star GoogleTV Media Player Reviewed

Vizio Co-Star GoogleTV Media Player Reviewed

By Andrew Robinson

Overall Rating
5 Stars
 

Vizio offers it own solution to the streaming set-top box market with the Co-Star, which happens to have GoogleTV included as well. Andrew Robinson puts to the test to see if it buckles under pressure. Read More

 
Astell & Kern AK100 Portable Music Player Reviewed

Astell & Kern AK100 Portable Music Player Reviewed

By Steven Stone

Overall Rating
4.5 Stars
 

An audiophile quality portable music player has been desired by many. Now, that player may have arrived in the Astell & Kern AK100 portable music player. Steven Stone investigates in this review. Read More

 

Everything You Need To Know About Home Theater Media Servers and Music Servers

1.0 Overview of Media Servers and Home Theater PCs (HTPC)
2.0 Apple's iPod and Beyond
3.0 Dedicated Music Servers
4.0 Dedicated Video Servers
5.0 Home Theater PCs (HTPCs)


5.1 Frankenstein Home Theater PCs


1.0 Overview of Media Servers and Home Theater PCs (HTPC)
Media servers have become an integral part of any home theater and/or home automation system. With solutions ranging from a simple iPod connected to an AV receiver to a multi-terabyte Kaledescape distributed audio and video system, consumers have options for media servers that range from under $100 to well over $20,000, with the sky as the limit as to price, storage and functionality.

There are two basic types of products in the server category. The first is the dedicated, close-ended system designed for one or just a few functions, such as being a music server. The second type of product is more of a computer designed with home theater functionalities in mind. These are known as media center or home theater PCs (HTPCs). These powerful, often Microsoft Vista-driven systems can be a music and video server with affordable and large storage capabilities. Downloading music at standard-definition (128 kbps) levels, as well as above CD-resolution HD music files, is also possible through companies like Music Giants. Apple's "HD" files have much less resolution than a compact disc at this stage. HTPCs can do much more, including surfing the Web, managing photos, computer functionality, recording HD video from cable TV at blazingly fast speeds, and much more. The best HTPC or Vista systems, such as Life-ware, provide complete home automation functionality that can compete with close-ended home automation systems such as Crestron, AMX and Control 4.

2.0 Apple's iPod and Beyond
The easiest way to add a media server to a home theater is to simply connect an Apple iPod. The iPod, dominant in the handheld music server arena, is affordable and the iPod docks required to make them work in your music system are equally affordable (or included with today's receivers.)

The problem with Apple's iPod is that its native file format is a small fraction of the resolution of a compact disc, somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 percent less. This is such low resolution that even non-audiophile listeners will notice the poor sound on the most modest of music playback on home theater systems. While high-end companies like Krell and Wadia have high-end iPod docks, there is only so much you can do with a purchased low-resolution music file. Users can rip or store their CD collection at higher bit rates, even equal to the CD itself, but out of the box titles and tracks from services like Apple's own iTunes or Amazon are hugely compromised and compressed.

AppleTV Take 2 is a wireless networking device that allows you to connect files bought from iTunes (at relatively low resolution), as well as files you rip from your compact discs at their native resolution of about 1100 kbps throughout your home. AppleTV, in conjunction with the ever-evolving iTunes, also allows users to view, rent and purchase video content on their HDTVs. While the video quality differs, depending on the title or age of the release, many current or "new" releases are offered in HD for a nominal fee. AppleTV Take 2 also offers you the chance to link together other Apple TVs and Apple network devices into a single home theater system. Sadly, AppleTV Take 2 still doesn't have RS-232 control so that it can be integrated into serious home automation systems.

3.0 Dedicated Music Servers
Dedicated music servers are often purpose-built for one function, which is to give the music enthusiast control of his or her music collection in the main home theater system, as well as possibly other rooms or zones. These systems usually download meta-data from a subscription-based service and allow you to rip one CD at a time while setting the resolution of the rip as you go. Many systems can connect to services like Music Giants for HD downloads or even iTunes. At the very least, they will synch with an iPod or two (or more). The best dedicated music systems allow slick control of music via album covers, playlists and other parameters and will even suggest music for you to buy based on your likes and dislikes. It is important with any media server, especially a music server, to back up your data. The investment in secondary hard drives when making a purchase of this type is small compared to the heartbreak that comes from losing all of the music you spent weeks ripping to your dedicated music server.

Some dedicated music servers can be wireless network devices, such as Sonos or Apple TV. Most are hardwired components designed for audiophile or home automation use.

4.0 Dedicated Video Servers
Dedicated video servers are much like dedicated audio servers and often also can manage music files, yet have the storage capacity to record and archive movies. While the high-end home theater world has moved on to Blu-ray as a format, most dedicated video servers are still dealing in the standard-definition world of 480i DVD-Video. The ease of use and convenience of having a large collection of DVD-quality movies in your theater, as well as possibly throughout your home, has been something home automation clients have been willing to invest tens of thousands of dollars to have.

5.0 Home Theater PCs (HTPCs)
Home Theater PCs are purpose-built for audio and video use, but offer a much more robust feature set than dedicated systems do, thanks to the power of Microsoft's Vista operating system. It's not uncommon to see home theater systems capable of recording HD video from digital cable (not satellite) system and surfing the Internet, as well as managing full home automation systems. Home Theater PCs can control lighting, electric shades, motorized or "masking" screens, HVAC control and much more. Some installers stay away from home theater PCs because of the open-ended nature of the devices and fears of service and programming issues, but even these detractors will admit that the possibilities with an HTPC are gigantic and that HTPCs are getting more and more powerful and stable.

5.1 Frankenstein HTPCs
Frankenstein home theater PCs (HTPCs) are pieced together using more mainstream consumer parts and can make for a powerful music or video server with all sorts of neat DIY add-ons for the more adventurous and advanced home theater consumer who has some solid IT chops. You can make a Frankenstein HTPC from a Mac, but they are more often than not built from PCs and use a Windows or Linux-based operating system. Frankenstein HTPCs are only good for the most advanced enthusiasts.