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How to Gauge Network Requirements for Digital Content

2 of 8 in Series: The Essentials of Accessing Digital Content for Home Theaters

Figuring out your digital content’s impact on the computing and network requirements in your home theater is similar to calculating out how much space you need in your living room for books. There are big books, small books, fat books, thin books. Music, videos, and even pictures, are a little more predictable than book sizes because of the following:

  • You can usually decide the quality of the content recording you are obtaining or making.

  • You can determine how long you want to have the content.

  • You can determine when you want to have it.

If you want to download the biggest movie at the best quality and you want to keep it stored on your hard drive, you’re going to need a lot more capacity than someone who merely wants to stream a movie to his or her small TV set in average-quality mode and be done with it.

Figuring out the basics

You’ll hear companies talk about the number of songs or movies you can store on their MP3 players and other digital content media. To make these statements, the manufacturers have to make an assumption about your encoding format, and they will generally assume a lower-quality format to boost the number of songs they brag can fit on their devices!

  • For music, 384 Kbps encoding is very high quality to most people, and that implies that you can fit about 6,600 songs onto an 80GB hard drive. Many folks encode their songs at lower bit rates, such as 192 Kbps or even 128 Kbps, allowing even more songs to fit on the drive. You’ll have to make your own judgment about quality versus space.

  • For video, near-DVD quality is about 1.5 Mbps bit rate and full DVD quality is about 4 Mbps. At these bit rates, you can fit about 130 or so near-DVD-quality movies on a 250GB hard drive, or about 50 full-DVD-quality movies on the same size drive.

  • For photos, a high-resolution photo is about 2.5MB. You can fit about 30,000 pictures onto an 80GB hard drive.

If you’re going to be streaming a lot of content from the Internet, you should probably have at least a 4 Mbps download speed from your broadband access service — though you can get by with less if you’re going to forgo trying to stream high-definition content.

Broadband access into your home is typically asymmetrical, meaning that your download speeds are different — and almost always higher — than your upload speeds. Download video sources will compress their files to lessen the amount of time it takes to download a movie or show.

Checking your in-home capabilities

In addition to the capabilities of your PC and of your Internet connection, you need to understand the capabilities of your in-home network connections — the wired or wireless networks that carry content between your broadband modem, your computers, and your home theater and networked source devices in the home theater.

The size of the network within your home is not as asymmetrical, and files are flying all over the place between computers, your modems, printers, scanners, cameras, and so on. So your home’s computer network is considered symmetrical and is designed as such. Thus, you see home networking measured in terms of overall bidirectional capacity at any one time, such as 10 Mbps.

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