Digital media player
Digital media players (DMP) are home entertainment consumer electronics devices that can connect to a home network to stream digital media (such as music, pictures, or video). They can stream files from a personal computer and network-attached storage or other networked media server to play back the media on a television or video projector for home cinema. Most digital media players utilize a 10-foot user interface, and many are navigated via a remote control.
Some digital media players also have Smart TV features, like allowing you to stream media from the internet or popular streaming services and online media sites like YouTube, Vimeo, Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, and Amazon.com. Some other digital media players also allow you to playback locally stored content from a direct attached USB hard disk or even direct connect a Hard disk drive externally, or even internally in the digital media player via a Serial ATA (SATA) port, therefore these types of digital media player are sometimes referred to as HD Media Player or HDD Media Player if they can support to have a Hard Disk Drive installed inside.
Digital media players are also commonly referred to as a digital media extender, digital media streamer, digital media hub, digital media adapter, or digital media receiver (which should not be confused with AV Receiver that are also called Digital Media Renderer). Today the main difference between most modern "digital media players" and many modern set-top boxes (also known a set-top units) is that the set-top boxes generally contain at least one TV-tuner and are as such capable of receiving broadcasting signal (cable television, satellite television, and over-the-air television, or IPTV).
- 1 Overview
- 2 Functionality and capability
- 3 Common connection ports
- 4 Streaming and communication protocols
- 5 Formats, resolutions and file systems
- 6 History
- 7 Connections
- 8 Other names
- 9 Market impact on traditional television services
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 External links
Digital media players fills a specific market niche, and with the popularity of both mobile digital media players, digital cameras, fast internet download speeds, and cheap mass storage, many people now have large collections of digital media files that cannot be played on a conventional analog HiFi without connecting your computer to your television, so the means to playback these files on a network connected digital media player that is permanently connected to your television and control it with a remote from your couch is seen as a convenience.
Most digital media players are usually designed for compactness and affordability, and tend to have small or non-existent hardware displays other that simple lights as indication if the device is powered on or off. Interface navigation on the television is usually performed with an infrared remote control, while more advanced digital media players come with high performance remote controls which allow intuitive control of the interface using touch sensors on them, and some remotes also include accelerometers for air mouse features which allow basic motion gaming.
These digital media player devices are not usually able to play physical CD, DVD-Video, or Blu-ray Disc media directly, and instead require a user to convert these media into playable files using a separate computer and software. They are also not usually capable of recording audio or video. Also the rapid growth in the availability of online content, including music and video and games has also made it easier for consumers use these networked devices. YouTube, for instance, is a common plug-in available on most networked devices. Netflix has also struck deals with many consumer electronics makers to have their interface available for their streaming subscribers. This symbiotic relationship between Netflix and consumer electronics makers has helped propel Netflix to become the largest subscription video service in the U.S., using up to 20% of U.S. bandwidth at peak times.
It is also common to find digital media player functionality integrated in other consumer-electronic appliances today, such as DVD players, set-top boxes, or even Smart TVs, and nowadays also in video game consoles, such as the Nintendo Wii, Sony PlayStation 3 and the Microsoft Xbox 360 support media management beyond their original gaming orientation. All these are however not in-scope for this article for this article because their primary functions are either to play video games or to watch broadcast television, and their features to play or stream locally stored content, if they have any, are only secondary features.
Functionality and capability
A digital media player can connect to the home network using either a wireless (IEEE 802.11a, b, g, and n) or wired Ethernet connection. Digital media players includes a user interface that allows users to navigate through their digital media library, search for, and play back media files. Some digital media players only handle music; some handle music and pictures; some handle music, pictures, and video; while others go further to allow internet browsing or controlling Live TV from a PC with a TV tuner.
Some other capabilities which are accomplished by digital media players include:
- Play, catalog, and store local hard disk, flash drive, or memory card music CDs and view album art, view photos, and watch DVD and Blu-ray or other videos.
- Stream movies, music, photos (media) over the wired or wireless network
- View digital pictures (one by one or as picture slideshows)
- Stream online video to a TV from services such as Netflix and YouTube.
- Play popular casual games such as Angry Birds and others.
- Browse internet, check email and access social networking site like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn on TV through downloadable applications.
- Video Conference by connecting a webcam.
There are stand-alone digital media player on the market today from AC Ryan, Asus, Apple (e.g., Apple TV), NetGear (e.g., NTV and NeoTV models), Dune, iOmega, Logitech, Pivos Group, Micca, Sybas (Popcorn Hour), Amkette EvoTV, D-Link, Western Digital (e.g., WD TV), EZfetch, Google TV, Pinnacle, Xtreamer, and Roku, just to name a few. The model however change so very frequently that so it is advisable to visit their web sites for current model names.
These devices come with low power consumption processors or SoC (System on Chip) and are most commonly either based on MIPS or ARM architecture processors combined with integrated DSP GPU in a SoC (or MPSoC) package. They also include RAM-memory and some type of built-in type of non-volatile computer memory (Flash memory).
While most media players have traditionally been running proprietary or open source software frameworks versions based Linux as their operating systems, many newer network connected media players are based on the Android platform which gives them an advantage in terms of applications and games from the Google Play store.
Even without Android some digital media players still have the ability to run applications (sometimes available via an 'app store' digital distribution platform), interactive on-demand media, personalized communications, and social networking features
Internal harddrive capabilities
HD media player or HDD media player (HDMP) is a generic term used for a category of consumer product that combines digital media player with a hard drive (HD) enclosure with all the hardware and software for playing audio, video and photos to a television. All these can play computer-based media files to a television without the need for a separate computer or network connection, and some can even be used as a conventional external hard drive. These types of digital media players are sometimes sold as empty shells to allow the user to fit their own choice of hard drive (some can manage unlimited hard disk capacity and other only a certain capacity, i.e. 1TB, 2TB, 3TB, or 4TB), and the same model is sometimes sold with or without an internal hard drive already fitted.
Common connection ports
Television connection is usually done via; Composite, SCART, Component, HDMI video, with Optical Audio (TOSLINK/SPDIF), and connect to the local network and broadband internet using either a wired Ethernet or a wireless wifi connection, and some also have built-in Bluetooth support for remotes and game-pads or joysticks. Some players come with USB (USB 2.0 or USB 3.0) ports which allow local media content playback.
Streaming and communication protocols
While early digital media players used proprietary communication protocols to interface with media servers, today most digital media players either use standard-based protocols such SMB/CIFS/SAMBA or NFS, or rely on some version of UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) and DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) standards. DLNA-compliant digital media players and Media Servers is meant to guarantee a minimum set of functionality and proper interoperability among digital media players and servers regardless of the manufacturer, but unfortunately not every manufacturer follows the standards perfectly which can lead to incompatibility.
Formats, resolutions and file systems
Digital media players can usually play H.264 (SD and HD), MPEG-4 Part 2 (SD and HD), MPEG-1, MPEG-2 .mpg, MPEG-2 .TS, VOB and ISO images video, with PCM, MP3 and AC3 audio tracks. They can also display images (such as JPEG and PNG) and play music files (such as FLAC, MP3 and Ogg).
Media Server Software
Some digital media players will only connect to specific media server software installed on your PC to stream music, pictures and recorded or live TV originating from the computer.
Apple iTunes can for example be used this way with the Apple TV hardware that connects to a TV, and Apple in particular has developed a tightly integrated device and content management ecosystem with their iTunes Store, personal computers, iOS devices, and the AppleTV digital media receiver. The most recent version of the AppleTV, at $99, has lost the hard-drive that was included in its predecessor and fully depends on either streaming internet content, or another computer on the home network for media.
By November 2000, an audio-only digital media player was demonstrated by a company called SimpleDevices, which was awarded two patents covering this invention in 2006. Developed under the SimpleFi name by Motorola in late 2001, the design was based on a Cirrus Arm-7 processor and the wireless HomeRF networking standard which pre-dated 802.11b in the residential markets. Other early market entrants in 2001 included the Turtle Beach AudioTron, Rio Receiver and SliMP3 digital media players.
An early version of a video-capable digital media player was presented by F.C. Jeng et al. in the International Conf. on Consumer Electronics in 2002. It included a network interface card, a media processor for audio and video decoding, an analog video encoder (for video playback to a TV), an audio digital to analog converter for audio playback, and an IR (infrared receiver) for remote-control-interface.
A concept of a digital media player was also introduced by Intel in 2002 at the Intel Developer Forum as part of their “Extended Wireless PC Initiative." Intel’s digital media player was based on an Xscale PXA210 processor and supported 802.11b wireless networking. Intel was among the first to use the Linux embedded operating system and UPnP technology for its digital media player. Networked audio and DVD players were among the first consumer devices to integrate digital media player functionality. Examples include the Philips Streamium-range of products that allowed for remote streaming of audio, the GoVideo D2730 Networked DVD player which integrated DVD playback with the capability to stream Rhapsody audio from your PC, and the Buffalo LinkTheater which combined a DVD player with a digital media player. More recently, the Xbox 360 gaming console from Microsoft was among the first gaming devices that integrated a digital media player. With the Xbox 360, Microsoft also introduced the concept of a Windows Media Center Extender, which allows you to access the Media center capabilities of your PC remotely, through your home network. More recently, Linksys, D-Link, and HP introduced the latest generation of digital media players that support 720p and 1080p high resolution video playback and may integrate both Windows Extender and traditional digital media player functionality.
A wireless connection can be established between the media extender and its central media center. On the downside, interference may cause a "less than optimal" connection and cause network congestion, resulting in stuttering sound, missing frames from video, and other anomalies. It is recommended[by whom?] that an 802.11a or better be used, and over as short of a distance as possible.
Again, digital media player manufacturers use a variety of names to describe their devices. Some more commonly used alternative names include:
- Connected DVD
- Connected media player
- Digital audio receiver
- Digital media adapter
- Digital media connect
- Digital media extender
- Digital media hub
- Digital media player
- Digital media streamer
- Digital media receiver
- Digital media renderer
- Digital video receiver
- HD Media Player
- HDD media player
- Media Extender
- Media Regulator
- Net connected media player
- Network connected media player
- Network media player
- Networked Digital Video Disc
- Networked entertainment gateway
- Smart Television media player
- Smart Television player
- Streaming media box
- Streaming media player
- Streaming video player
- Wireless Media Adapter
- OTT player
- YouTube Player Support
Market impact on traditional television services
The convergence of content, technology, and broadband access allows consumers to stream television shows and movies to their high-definition television in competition with traditional service providers (Cable TV and Satellite Television). The research company SNL Kagan expects 12 million households, roughly 10%, to go without cable, satellite or telco video service by 2015 using Over The Top services. This represents a new trend in the broadcast television industry, as the list of options for watching movies and TV over the Internet grows at a rapid pace. Research also shows that even as traditional television service providers are trimming their customer base, they are adding Broadband Internet customers. Nearly 76.6 million U.S. households get broadband from leading cable and telephone companies, although only a portion have sufficient speeds to support quality video steaming. Convergence devices for home entertainment will likely play a much larger role in the future of broadcast television, effectively shifting traditional revenue streams while providing consumers with more options.
According to a report from the researcher NPD In-Stat, only about 12 million U.S. households have their either Web-capable TVs or digital media players connected to the Internet, although In-Stat estimates about 25 million U.S. TV households own a set with the built-in network capability. Also, In-Stat predicts that 100 million homes in North America and western Europe will own digital media players and television sets that blend traditional programs with Internet content by 2016.
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- CNET Editors' Best Network Music Players
- PC Magazine Media Hub & Receiver Finder
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- PC World's Future Gear: PC on the HiFi, and the TV