Make Your PC a Media Hub
Most likely your TV is in one room and your PC is in another. What if you want to watch television while you compute, or to use your big-screen TV to watch a video that's stored on your system?
The Slingbox is a $250 device that transmits video from your cable box, satellite receiver, or DVR to your PC. Hook the box up to your video device, open the Slingbox software on your system, and control video playback as if you were sitting in front of the TV. The quality is reasonable, but not as good as your TV's. For higher-quality playback, add a TV tuner like the $90 ATI TV Wonder USB 2.0. TV tuners let you record shows to DVD or your system's hard drive for later viewing. The $110 ATI HDTV Wonder card captures over-the-air digital TV signals and records them to a hard drive in their full high-def glory.
Devices such as Acoustic Research's $350 MediaBridge and D-Link's $160 DSM-320 let you view shows recorded to your PC (along with your photos and home videos) on your big-screen TV, via your wireless network. The MediaBridge is also the first one we've seen that works with HD video: It can display 720p video on an HDTV set through a DVI or HDMI connection. If you just want to listen to music, a dedicated audio device like the $250 Squeezebox or the $150 Roku SoundBridge M500 can play back all of your digital audio on your hi-fi. If you use a Windows XP Media Center PC, an extender device like the $250 Linksys Dual-Band Wireless A/G Media Center Extender allows you to play back content the Media Center PC records elsewhere on the wireless network. This way, you can place the noisy PC in the back room and the silent extender in the living room.
If you want to make your media available across the network without involving a PC, a combination like ViewSonic's Wireless Media Gateway WMG-80 and WMA-100 Adapter will do the job: While the $349 Gateway stores the media on an 80GB hard drive, the $250 adapter connects to your TV and hi-fi to play back the media. PCs and Macs on the same wireless network can access the content, but the device can't record TV itself; another device must do that.