Many households have several televisions, computers, and speaker systems. The computers are often networked together so that other members of the household can access the media stored on them. A digital media receiver makes it easy to use that media on other devices, such as televisions or speaker systems. A few of these have a receiver built into them but most will require a set-top box. The receiver is essentially a digital media player with a network adapter. Manufacturers often use catchy names to describe them, including media center and digital jukebox.
Many people find it convenient to copy their optical discs to a computer, because they do not have to waste time finding a disc and putting it into a player. They can also remove the annoying trailers and other material that are shown before movies. Photos and slide shows can be viewed with their choice of music playing in the background. With a digital media receiver, any desktop computer can be turned into a home theater personal computer (HTPC). If the computer has a tuner card installed, it can also act as a personal video recorder (PVR) too.
A digital media receiver connects an audio-video device to a computer network. It allows the user to search the network for media using just the remote control. The receiver software is designed to make it easy to search for media and it has the ability to create and save playlists. Once the media is selected, it is streamed to the receiver which converts it into audio and video signals for the input ports. A receiver should support the common media file formats, including MPEG for movies, MP3 for music, and JPG for images.
The set-top box containing the digital media receiver resembles a DVD player or a broadband modem. It is usually placed close to a television or speaker system. There are not many controls on the front panel because many people prefer to use the remote control. The rear panel should also have ports for composite and component connectors, and there should be a power cord or a socket for a power adapter. Models with wireless support will also have a short antenna protruding from the rear panel. Most boxes have rubber feet and can be placed on any surface.
Installing a digital media receiver takes very little time and is no more difficult to setup than a DVD player. Cables are connected between the output ports on the receiver and the input ports on the television or speaker system. A connection to the computer network also needs to be made. If either the network or the receiver lacks wireless support, they will need to be connected with Ethernet cable. Special software will need to be installed on the computers before the receiver will be able to search them for media.
When the digital media receiver is turned on for the first time, a setup wizard will appear and help the user through the short setup process. The receiver software makes it easy to access the media stored on the computers using the remote control. It is much simpler than navigating through a file manager, but the media files need to be organized into folders and permission given for other computers to access them. The user can even create their own text for the files which will show up on the screen.
Common problems that can affect the performance of a digital media receiver include flat batteries in the remote control and issues with the network connection. Problems with a wireless connection can be especially difficult to solve. The receiver may be too far away from the access point to get a good signal, or the wireless settings may be slightly wrong, or the computers are not setup properly to share media files. The connection could also be blocked by a firewall or other security software.