Confusion in the Living Room: Playing Streamed Videos, Part 1 of 2

One of the greatest joys of a living room networking setup is having everything within arm’s reach. I barely have to shift any weight on my couch to press my network storage device’s On button, and I can use a remote to fire up my TV or gaming console, which can receive streams of all the movies on my storage device.

But it hasn’t always been that easy. My first forays into movie streaming were a bit difficult due to one simple fact: There are a ton of different file formats that represent video files. And not all playback devices — HDTVs, consoles, or set-top boxes — can seamlessly go from selected file to streamed film.

You’d think the process would be easy. A device that claims to support AVI files, for example, should be able to do just that: Play all the videos on your network storage device that end with the extension .AVI. But a claim that a device “Supports .AVI streaming,” for example, may in fact be patently untrue. And are other tings that make you go, “Huh?” What does it mean when a manufacturer claims that a product supports H.264 playback?

The confusion stems from the fact that we don’t always know how videos are actually created, and how certain aspects of video technology affect your ability to view a streamed file.

Just don’t go blaming your network storage device for the dilemma: D-Link’s ShareCenter line of network storage devices does a great job streaming videos to your playback device. But that does you little good if said device doesn’t support a video’s container or codec.

Containers? Codecs? Aren’t files just files? When it comes to video, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes that can prevent you from actually playing a movie format that you thought your player could support. And you can’t just assume that a device that supports certain codecs or containers can play files using those containers or codecs. Videos are a lot more complicated than, say, .html files, which you can generally expect any Web browser to display.

Stick around for my next blog post, and I’ll take a deep dive into what containers and codecs are. As a follow-up to that, I’ll show you some of the more common combinations that might work with your particular streaming setup — and workarounds in case they don’t!

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