OK, After looking at some nice threads on AVSForum and Google Searches here are some of the possible solutions.
Network Routers – Wired and Wireless
1) If you are going to do any streaming via the internet, get a Wireless-N Gigabit router.
The best solution will have you connect the router to your AV room via wires. That is right, if you want the full monty. That is streaming BluRay ISOs, then the best throughput will be via that Gigabit network wired connection. Cat 5e or Cat 6 cable. Otherwise, you will not get choppy video and not so perfect audio.
If you don’t need to stream BluRay ISOs, then the Wireless N is still a must to get the best speed, and reduce the chances of any “freezes” in your video playback. The speed is definitely more important for video streaming. And I mean either video streaming off the internet or from your Hard Drive.
Some of the higher end Wireless-N Gigabit routers even include USB connections to your external hard drive.
NAS Drives/External Storage
2) You should have a NAS drive or some way to get a HD accessible from your set top box.
The best solution is a NAS drive system, where you can hook up multiple eSATA Hard Drives in a RAID. RAID for “backup” purposes. And put them in a good hiding place to not clutter up your room. Also to keep any extra noise away from your AV room.
The second best is connecting your HD via Firewire or USB to a device that can then have that data accessible from your living room/TV. This could be the Wireless-N Router, one of the set top boxes like AppleTV, etc.
Cheapest route is to always have your computer turned on that your external USB hard drive is attached to. But cheapest is relative to the electric bill you have for your computer always on.
As, I said in the first section, some routers allow the connection of an External Hard Drive via USB 2.0. Products like Apple’s Airport Extreme and all the normal Router companies like LinkSys, NetGear and blah have equivalent products in the $120-$180 range. Although I did see a Belkin router that does all this for $70 at Target this weekend.
3) You should have a Media Server that will be connected to your AV room. This is the one where there are so many Media Server boxes and options out there that you can go crazy. As if I wasn’t already.
The highest end Media Server that I saw seems to be the Dune Media Server, it also seems to be one of the only ones that truly support BluRay ISO playback with complete loss-less Audio. It has some great reviews and if you live in the USA you can get yours at DunePlayer.com
The AVSForum appreciation thread on the Dune Player is here
Arthur from DunePlayer posts in this thread and is extremely helpful, from what everyone says. I haven’t called them yet to help me out.
The one downside, I see, with the DunePlayer is the UI. There are a couple of applications that are nice like Torrents and Internet Radio, there isn’t an application for say viewing YouTube content. Now if FLV is supported you can manually enter in a URL for streaming video off the internet, but who knows all the URLs of the videos you want to watch. Also, how do you watch DiggNation from Revision3? But maybe, you can buy two media servers. The DunePlayer to get all your media on your Hard Drives including BluRay stuff, and then use another Media Server for the other cool apps.
So, do you need loss-less Audio? If not, then many of the other Media Servers will work for you. Although a little bit more pricier than other Media Servers, I like the AppleTV after it is hacked. With it being hacked you can install so much more stuff, like Boxee. However, the AppleTV’s CPU is not the top of the line and if you are streaming any HD content from your HD, the AppleTV will not do the trick. So if you want to stay with Apple here, then the next step up will be the Mac Mini.
Because, I really like the Boxee UI, I am really looking forward to the LinkSys’s Boxee box.
Other options just lying around the house.
If you already have an XBox360, PS3 or Tivo HD, you can also use them as a Media Servers, and automatically configure them to connect to your NAS drive, and watch/listen to the content on them. However, from what I have seen, the UIs for them aren’t the best, and you might be doing a lot of hunt and pecking to find the exact media file you want to watch.
I have a Tivo HD and my wife hates that you can’t still watch what you were watching when you go through the Tivo UI. And I totally agree, it is annoying, but it doesn’t bother me as much as her