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Option 6: Network Media Hub

Thanks to our friends in the personal computer industry, there's yet another new option for whole-house audio. If you have a large music collection stored on your computer's hard disk, you can use a series of network media hubs to stream that music to multiple rooms in your house.

A network media hub is essentially a wired or wireless connection to your home computer network. The hub accesses your main PC (via the network), and streams your stored music files to the hub for playback. To listen, you connect the media hub to any receiver and speakers.

The nice thing about using a network media hub is that it lets you get use out of all the music you download from the Internet. The bad thing is that it isn't a self-contained unit; you need to feed the signal to an amplifier or receiver.

So here are the advantages of a network media hub system:

  • Very low cost. Most media hub devices sell for $200 or less—although you'll need to invest in separate amplifiers or receivers for each room in your system.

  • Easy to connect. Those units that have built-in WiFi connections are particularly easy to set up.

  • Takes advantage of your PC sources. Let you listen to any music stored on your PC's hard disk, including CDs you rip and audio files you download. Most units also let you listen to Internet radio stations.

And here are the disadvantages:

  • May be complex to operate. Not quite as user-friendly as solutions from consumer electronics manufacturers—requires some degree of computer proficiency.

  • More equipment needed. Requires a separate amplifier or receiver connected to each media hub.

  • Limited sources. Limited to the music stored on your PC's hard disk—the network media hub doesn't stream music from CD changers or other equipment.

Bottom line, the network media hub solution is ideal if you want to listen to your downloaded music throughout your house; it's less ideal for those with CD-based music collections. Read more in this related article.

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