Media Server Extenders for Windows Media Center PC
Turn your Windows 7 Media Center PC into an HTPC DVR
A Media Center Extender can turn an ordinary PC into a full fledged Media Server. *With a CableCARD Tuner, Windows 7 Media Center and an HD Antenna it will transform your PC into a Free DVR that can record, pause, rewind and play back Free over the air HD TV.
Home Theater Computer or Media Server Advantages over a Simple Media Streamer
Apple TV or Roku two of today's biggest sellers, they are somewhat limited or restricted on which media files they can play. The Apple TV as it comes from the factory, only plays mp4 files. This is what all their movies are encoded in when you rent them from iTunes. To play avi or mkv files, you will need to jailbreak it. Unfortunately, not all models can be jailbroken.
Transcoding avi and mkv files to mp4 and adding them to your iTunes library is another alternative option. This is a time consuming process that can quickly become tiresome and inconvenient.
Roku is a little more flexible and will play most avi and mkv file types, although some if encoded incorrectly, can actually lock up your Roku. Or, they simply freeze and won't play the video all the way through. Roku media streamers play most files encoded in mov, mp4 and m4v file formats fine.
A media server or home theater personal computer (HTPC) will play pretty much anything. You are never restricted to a particular file type. If if ever a new popular file format becomes popular, just install the latest codec package and your on your way again.
*SiliconDust HDHomeRun PRIME 3-Tuner
For Cable cutters check out the HDHomeRun Dual. It contains two ATSC over the Air HD TV Tuners.
HTPC Offers More Control Over Software
An HTPC or Home Media Server offers much more flexibility, When you purchase a media streamer you are limited to the OS that is installed by the manufacturer. With an HTPC you can install Windows 7 Media Center, which is excellent and is almost a turnkey installation for most media servers and HTPC setups. You also have the option use Plex or XBMC.
Windows 7 Media Center Extenders
Size is where media streamers rock. They are silent, small and unobtrusive hockey puck size devices that can easily be hooked to your television. With their onboard WiFi they can be placed in any number of convenient locations. A media server or Windows Media Center PC is usually much larger, noisier and often unsightly so no one really wants one sitting next to their wall hung LED flat screen TV. Although some of the newer ones from Assassin HTPC are shrinking in size and look quite impressive in a media cabinet.
There a couple of ways to get streaming content from your Windows Media Center HTPC when it is in another room or not positioned directly next to your television. Run a HDMI cable up to 50' long, along with a wireless keyboard/trackpad or remote control input device. Optionally to control and access it without a keyboard or mouse, add a remote access VNC app to a tablet or laptop.
Even though fishing cable through ceilings and walls can often prove difficult sometimes, ultimately this is the best way to watch content from your media server as you are using your television as an extended monitor to your Windows Media Center HTPC. There will be no lag due to interference with WiFi or barrier distance limitations. If your HDMI cable needs to be longer than 50' they sell HDMI boosters or amplifiers that simply connect to a power source at each end of the HDMI cable.
Use your Roku as a Windows Media Center Extender
The Roku Wallop Channel will also play back your recorded content from a HDHomeRun. Plus with Roku you have access to over 1500 Roku channels both private and public channels many which can be found here on our Private Roku Channels List.
Use a Roku with Windows 7 Media Center or Plex
With the Plex channel installed on Roku it will give you access to your file library on your Media Server or Windows Media Center HTPC.
You can also install the Plex server software on your HTPC and use it instead of Windows Media Center along with the Plex Roku Channel.
Use a Jailbroken Apple TV with XBMC
If you are fortunate enough to own a 1st or 2nd generation Apple TV, you can jailbreak it and install XBMC on it to access your Windows or Mac media files from your media server or HTPC. These files will play fine on your Apple TV. The only hardware limitation is they will only be available in 720P instead of 1080P HD. It was not until the Apple TV 3 that their hardware supported 1080P. Unfortunately their is still no jailbreak available yet for this model.
GBOX-Midnight MX2 with XBMC
Using XBMC on a GBOX Midnight MX2 is another great media server extender that will also give you access to play all your media files from your Windows or Mac PC. This little media streamer is very powerful and will give you full 1080P HD resolution. Read more about the GBOX Midnight MX2.
While there certainly quite a few more alternatives, these are today's most popular extenders for accessing content from a Media Server or Windows Media Center HTPC.