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What You Should Know About Digital Content

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

Soon, the Internet will be the primary way you get digital content (including music, TV shows, movies, and home videos) into your home theater. Until recently, most of the content destined for your home theater came in the form of DVDs, camcorder tapes, VHS videos, MP3s, CDs, and audio tapes.

High-speed Internet connectivity will enable you to download a lot of content for viewing whenever you like. Here’s a rundown of the key concepts you should know about digital content:

  • File encoding: Digital music and video files are encoded (converted to digital formats) using specific encoding formats. For audio, MP3 is most common, but many others are out there, including Windows Media Audio (WMA), and Advanced Audio Code (AAC). Similarly, there are a number of video formats (such as WMV and MPEG).

    Your home theater equipment (be it a PC, a media player, or something else) must support the audio or video format you’re downloading.

  • Streaming versus downloading: There are two predominant ways of sending audio or video content: streaming and downloading. Streaming video means that there is no local copy of the video on your device. It plays while it is delivered over your home network, or the Internet, or both. Many Internet connections aren't fast enough to play really high-quality streaming video, so you find that many Internet movies are downloaded to your machine instead.

  • Internet radio: Internet radio is exactly what it sounds like — radio stations broadcasting in a streaming fashion over the Internet. So if you are a college student and you miss your favorite radio station back home, you can still listen to it via streaming audio over the Internet.

  • Podcasts: Podcasts are the equivalent of downloaded Internet radio. These files contain audio (and, more and more, video) that often is packaged like daily newscasts or commentary. Podcasts are so-named because they initially were targeted toward easy dissemination of content to iPod users.

  • Video search: Video search is catching on fast. Video search engines scour the Web and find content based on keywords and file formats and then make this available through an onscreen interface. Google has perhaps the best-known search interface at Google Video, but there are others, such as Yahoo! Video.

  • File sharing: File-sharing networks are networks set up for, not surprisingly, sharing files. These sites are typically used for sharing files that may be too large for e-mail attachments.

  • Peer-to-peer: Peer-to-peer (P2P) means that you directly connect to other people’s computers to download files, instead of going to a central file server. Peer-to-peer networks allow multiple users to share files simultaneously — you’ll often be downloading and uploading different “chunks” of a file to and from numerous folks at the same time. Peer-to-peer is not just used for file sharing — you also probably use it for some instant messaging services, too.

  • Digital rights management (DRM): If you download a lot of iTunes songs, you’ve run into DRM restrictions when trying to load your songs to other devices. If you’ve ever tried to copy a DVD, you’ve encountered DRM. In many instances, you cannot record or copy content because special coding in the content itself prevents you from doing this.

    DRM exists for a reason — to protect the copyright interests of the music, movie, and other content owners. Managing who has rights to do what with which digital assets is a key function of any DRM system.

    The rules for sharing content are defined both technically and legally. You can do a lot of stuff technically — that does not make it legal. You can safely assume that the law says you can’t copy anything unless you are told you explicitly can. You also can pretty much assume you cannot rebroadcast or retransmit the content in any way.

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