Digital media storage: The basics

Some people are intuitively at home in the world of gadgets and went fully digital years ago, while others amongst us are still clinging reluctantly to our stacks of CDs and DVDs and feel perplexed by all the acronyms and buzzwords involved in digital media storage.

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If you fall in the latter category then you may find our layperson's guide useful as you prepare to get digital...

Portable media players
If you like to listen to music on the go then you'll probably already have a portable media player such as Apple's ubiquitous iPod, or a smartphone that does the same job.

They can work in conjunction with a music collection on your PC and docking station on your stereo or in your vehicle to cater for all your music requirements.

NAS drives
NAS stands for Network-Attached Storage and NAS drives are basically computers that have been designed solely to serve files via your home (or office) network to other devices - such as your hi-fi or television set.

They can use them via either your wi-fi network or good old-fashioned cabling to deliver your music, movies, radio or TV shows around the home.

Network music players
If you have a NAS drive then the chances are you'll also need a network music player to receive your files and turn it into a format that your hi-fi can understand.

These are either standalone hi-fi systems or devices which plug into your existing amp to act as a source. Dedicated controllers are available but many users operate them via their smartphones.

The market leading equipment is made by Sonos and Logitech (Squeezebox), but Google are moving into this space so you might want to hang on and see what they come up with.

Streaming to your TV
There are several option for sending music from your PC to your telly and if you are using a NAS drive you can get a set-top box which receives the video stream in a similar way to the network music player.

If you have an Xbox 360 or a PlayStation 3 you can use that to stream video to your TV - perhaps using Windows Media Centre or Windows Media Player.

Alternatively you could get a media centre PC, which is like a cut-down home computer, and site it next to your TV set (and stereo). This might cost around the same as a NAS drive and the streaming widget - being less faff but also less flexible.

And of course the newest generation of internet-enabled TVs will not need gadgets to stream media, they will connect directly to the internet to obtain the films or shows you want to watch.

Which brings us to...

The cloud
All of the above options have already been made redundant for some early adopters who have embraced the concept of cloud-based media storage.

The (quite convincing) argument in favour of this is that we don't have to own and store all our media at home in either physical or digital form - but instead we stream it from a remote server when we want it.

But of course this is also a drawback for the kind of fan who likes to "collect" movies or music - and may have already found the transition from vinyl, CDs and DVDs traumatic.

Both Apple and Google are moving full steam ahead into this arena, so expect it to become very popular very soon.

What is your favoured storage medium and why? Comment below...
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