When researching my book Home Theater for the Internet Age, one of the most significant things I recognized was the versatility and power of the latest generation of Blu-ray players. We think of them as simply playback mechanisms for physical discs. Which is understandable, considering that’s how CD and DVD players worked. In reality, however, modern Blu-ray players offer so much more. Especially if you’re a technology-embracing, mobile device-toting, wi-fi connected person or family.
Backward compatibility has always been a strength of much consumer technology. Microsoft Windows and Apple’s OS X will run software designed for significantly older versions of their respective operating systems. Likewise, Blu-ray players can handle nearly all previous generations and standards, including CDs for music, DVDs for movies, and discs featuring any type of media burned on your computer.
What most consumers either don’t understand or simply don’t utilize is the fact that physical discs are only one of three avenues for getting media into your Blu-ray player—and pumping through your surround sound speakers and widescreen display panel.
The other methods? USB flash drives and any type of network connectivity.
Most Blu-ray players feature a USB port on either the front or, less conveniently, the back of the unit. This allows you to copy music, photos, and videos from a computer or network storage device to a flash drive and plug it into your player. Although primitive in some respects (this used to be called sneakernet in the computer world), this is a valid way to get media files from a computer or storage device in your house to your home theater.
The third method, network connectivity, requires either wi-fi or Ethernet. In this case, your Blu-ray player is simply connecting to another computer or storage device in your home to gain access to media files. Sometimes this involves a dedicated media streaming technology, like DLNA (a capability that must be built into your Blu-ray player). This is my favorite method. Many people have thousands of family photos and songs residing on a computer or network storage device in their home. Using either a hard-wired Ethernet or wi-fi connection to your Blu-ray player, you can have access to them all. You can run photo slideshows, choose from among hundreds of ripped music albums, or play family videos (or those purchased online).
Yet, despite this capability, most consumers never do more than drop shiny discs in their Blu-ray players. What a waste! In theory, these folks are getting only one-third the functionality and value out of their players.
The very best content you can pump through your home theater—in terms of fidelity and quality—is a Blu-ray disc. They offer the most crisp video and the very best audio. Hands down. But ignoring the sometimes voluminous personal media many of us have and continue to accumulate (regardless of the technical quality of that media) is leaving dollars and fun on the table. So check your Blu-ray player. Does it feature a USB port? An Ethernet port? Does it have wi-fi built-in? If so, you could be accessing your archive of family/personal media on a regular basis.
So remember, as Kyle from South Park would say, we learned something today. Most Blu-ray players can receive input from sources other than the disc tray. Archived media is great for simple preservation and passing on our legacy to our children and grandchildren. But not utilizing that media for our personal enjoyment and the enrichment of our family is, well, wrong. You saved it for a reason, right? I’d argue that the media you preserve isn’t just for future generations, but also for the enjoyment of you and yours right now.
Now where did I put that flash drive?
Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:
- Home Theater for the Internet Age ($9.95)
- Understanding Personal Data Security ($4.99)
- Understanding Home Theater ($4.99)
- Understanding Cutting the Cord ($4.99)
- Understanding Digital Music ($4.99)