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Using PCs and TVs As Clients in Your Digital Home Entertainment Network

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Whether you configure your home entertainment network as a peer-to-peer or client/server network, you mix PCs and media extenders connected to TVs, powered speakers, or home stereos. Media extender devices allow a low-cost solution where existing TVs can be used as displays connected to a media extender client playing media from a main server PC. This chapter will help you integrate various media devices into your home network.
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If you have ever worked in an office or used computers that were a part of a large network, you’ve seen how one large computer acts as a "server" to provide data and even programs for a number of "clients" connected to it through a network.

You can create many different types of networks when you combine computers and share data. Although this book is using a straightforward approach without trying to complicate things with a lot of tech terms, you should know some basic networking terms. As an example, your home entertainment network can be configured as one of the following:

  • Peer-to-peer—Often referred to as P2P or ad hoc, peer-to-peer is a simple approach to networking where you connect any number of PCs together on a network, and each is an independent device with its own files and programs. Each computer can share files and devices with other computers on the network, and you can establish which files and devices are shared by each computer. You can think of a peer-to-peer network as a "file sharing" configuration.
  • Client/server—In a client/server configuration, one main computer is dedicated as a server. The server contains most all data, and the other devices on the network, clients, access and use data from the server. The server can also be the primary device connected to the Internet with client devices sharing that Internet connection. Used most often in business and workplaces, this type of network allows easy management of files and access to data.

Each of these network strategies works well in a home network. At home, if you have two computers and you network them together, a peer-to-peer network is a simple solution when sharing files and a printer or accessing the Internet is the goal.

A client/server network is a good choice when a home network is configured for entertainment. As you will learn throughout this book, you can have essentially non–computer devices such as TVs and stereos playing media files from a computer on a network. Because such devices do not have their own storage and have simple computers that power them, they become clients that require a server.

Because media files can be very large and you want to be able to access them from any device in your home, it makes sense to put all your media files on one main storage device—the server.

In a client/server network, you can put most of your investment in the main server and use relatively inexpensive devices as clients. If all you want to do is listen to music from your main PC in your bedroom, rather than buy another computer and place it in your bedroom, you can simply buy a wireless media player and put it in the bedroom connected to a TV or a home stereo or set of powered speakers. It is a "client" device and it doesn’t need its own hard drive or computer display.

Let’s take a look at how each type of network works in a home entertainment network.

Using a File Sharing Configuration

A P2P configuration (referred to here as simply file sharing) works perfectly in a home entertainment network. If you have a number of PCs, this might be a good solution. Each PC has its own hard drive that can store media, and you can configure the network in a way that each computer can share the media files from other computers in the network.

P2P or file sharing networks, as shown in Figure 3.1, work essentially as a file sharing solution. A number of PCs in one local area network (LAN) operate as self-standing PCs. When needed, the PCs in the P2P network can share files and even devices that are connected to them, such as printers.

Figure 3.1

Figure 3.1 In a file sharing network, fully equipped PCs each share data and devices such as printers or connections to the Internet with each other.

When creating a file sharing network, you can still use the strategy of making one PC on the network the primary location for storing media files. Although there are multiple PCs on the network, each with its own hard drive, it is still a good practice to use one main drive for storing shared media files.

File sharing networks work best when all the devices in the network have a true "peer" status: They are fully independent computing devices that can function without a network present. In a home entertainment network, new types of devices on the network are essentially media players without data storage or even an operating system that require a host computer to act as a server to them.

A client/server network is appropriate when you use media player devices.

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