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Understanding Client/Server Networks

When you have media players and media extenders on a network, they require a server where they get media content files to play. This setup creates a more traditional client/server network, as shown in Figure 3.2.

Figure 3.2

Figure 3.2 A client/server network has a main PC acting as a data server to both PCs and media player devices such as TVs and stereos connected to media extenders.

As shown in Figure 3.2, the primary PC that is used as the media server is connected directly to a router. It acts as the network hub and controls access to files from the other PCs and devices on the network. It also controls access to an Internet connection and other PCs and devices in the network access the Internet through its connection. With media extender devices or even other PCs, they can all use the security and firewall of the hub computer.

To understand this configuration better, a look at media extender devices is required.

Using Media Extenders in a Client/Server Network

Media extenders are relatively new devices, and they are essential additions to any home entertainment network. Here’s why.

It really doesn’t make sense to buy a full-powered PC that is capable of connecting to a TV, stereo, or powered speakers when all you use it for is viewing media files. And in many ways, a computer is a little too complex for the task: It requires keyboards and a mouse, and it’s big, clunky, and expensive.

A better solution is a small device that can connect directly to a TV or stereo and allow you to view video or photos or play music anywhere on the network.

Such devices, called media extenders, are now available at most major electronics stores, and they are changing the makeup of a home entertainment network. Selling for about $100 to $250, it’s a small computing device designed to work on a Windows XP home network. Each media extender contains its own simple user interface and TV and audio connectors; you connect it to a TV and a stereo. Using a supplied remote control, you can easily find and play a media file from your server PC.

Figure 3.3 shows a typical media extender and its connections for networking and attaching to a TV or stereo.

Figure 3.3

Figure 3.3 Media extenders connect to your network and play media files on TVs or stereos.

The media extender uses media player software that installs on a PC to play media located on that PC via the extender. It is essentially a client to a PC acting as a server. The media extender has the ability to interact with the media player software on the server and pull media files through the network and play them.

Media extenders are client/server networked devices. When you have several media extenders in your home, you find that the strategy of a client/server network works well for the media extenders and also for other PCs (although they do not require any special media serving software). The other PCs can simply use Windows Media Player or other media playing software accessing files shared from the main server PC.

Using PCs on a Client/Server Network

One of the advantages of a client/server network is that you can use PCs as clients. When acting as a client, you can use a PC that has a minimal configuration. You do not need client PCs to have large hard drives, DVD burners, or much of the power that the server PC has.

It’s okay if the client PCs are fully powered and as well equipped as the main server PC, but it’s okay if they’re not. As long as they meet the minimum requirements for running Windows XP (detailed in Chapter 2, "Configuring Your PC As an Entertainment Server") and are equipped with a network connection, either wired or wireless, you can access media files from your main server.

For a PC in a home entertainment network, even though you don’t need some of the large storage and processing power that the server PC has, you need the following to use the client PC as a media playing device:

  • TV-out display card—Your display card should have a TV-out connector so that you can view video, recorded TV, and pictures on a TV connected to the PC. You can use a TV rather than a computer monitor to view media. If you have a large enough computer monitor and it is used in a smaller room, you might find a computer monitor connected to a client PC adequate for most media viewing.
  • Powered speakers or connection to a stereo—Whether you are listening to music files or viewing video on your client PC, you want a good sound system connected to it. Your client PC is essentially becoming your home stereo device, and even TV viewing is enhanced with a good sound system.
  • Wireless keyboard and mouse—As with any PC used as a media player, you want the freedom and flexibility of a wireless keyboard and mouse when using your client PC.

With the preceding equipment, just about any PC functions well as a client PC. In addition to the benefits of playing media content from the main server PC, the client PC continues to function as a traditional PC in your home, making it a great multitasker.

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