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Turn your game console into a media hub


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341w ago - The Good: Universal plug-and-play (UPnP) application; works with all three video game consoles and other IP-enabled devices; no real limits to how much content you can accumulate with the software

The Bad: Graphical user-interface isn't the sleekest; learning curve might be intimidating at first, particularly when it comes to Web content; still no Mac or Linux support.

The Verdict: Bringing all that PC and Web content to your TV at the same time.

One of the biggest unknowns for someone who owns both a computer and next-gen video game console is that the two devices can talk to each other. You just need the right software to bridge them together.

TVersity is a well-known application among those who've shown a real interest in utilizing the IP-enabled features that are built into their game consoles. The software makes it easy to stream video and audio files you have stored on your computer, so that you can watch or listen to them on your living room big screen TV.

ASSEMBLING AN ARMY OF CONTENT

The Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and even the Nintendo Wii have capabilities that can turn them into would-be media hubs. Considering that they have Web browsers (minus the 360), Wi-Fi and online "stores" where you can buy new content, it shouldn't come as a big surprise that media streaming is possible, too.

TVersity is essentially a media server where you manage your media files (video, music and photos), so that they can be available to other IP devices on the home network. The gamut of content is fairly wide, since it includes Internet TV and radio stations, as well as any podcast subscriptions you might have. What this means is that you basically watch (or listen) to what you want, when you want – on a screen that's many more inches larger than your desktop or laptop screen.

But despite all that, the best part about TVersity might be that you won't have to fork over a dime for it.

That's right, it's totally free.

As a free download, TVersity is relatively easy to install, though it will require some settings tweaks here and there. Information and step-by-step instructions can be found on the TVersity website.

Once the initial settings are done, you can start to manage your media files. The user-interface doesn't look glamorous, but it's simple enough so that you know where your files are. The "Library" tab actually looks a lot like Apple's Front Row application by sorting and listing the media you have on your PC in a user-friendly menu. The "Sharing" tab goes further because you can add Web URLs for content from tons of websites. As an example, I was able to view old clips from the Real Time with Bill Maher website, as well as those available on sites like NHL.com, TSN and MuchMusic.

I went even further and added Internet TV and radio stations via RSS feeds from countries as varied as the U.S., Greece, Australia and Brazil. And on top of that, I could pull in any podcasts that I like listening to.

Using either my Playstation 3 or Xbox 360 (I did not try it with the Wii), I was able to see everything I had added and could play it all without any problems. Go to the Media tab on the Xbox Live dashboard and you'll find the console has recognized TVersity when you navigate the video, music and photo folders. On the PS3, you'll notice the same thing when going through the startup menu.

And because all this content is being streamed, there's nothing to copy to the hard drives on the game consoles. They're just simply encoded and sent across the home network. Even if a particular file is of a format that the consoles don't understand, TVersity will transcode it on the fly so that you don't have to waste any time converting files.

STREAMING IT THROUGH THE HOME

This whole scenario happens simply because the PC and game console are connected to the home network. In fact, I didn't even have to be signed in to Xbox Live to access my content. Nor did I need to have the two devices in the same room. The Playstation 3 is Wi-Fi out of the box (except for the 20GB version) and the Xbox 360 can do Wi-Fi with a separate adapter. The Nintendo Wii is also Wi-Fi out of the box.

With that setup, I was able to stream content from my PC in one room and have it play through one of the consoles on a flat-panel TV in another room. I was watching the 2006 film, Blood Diamond, this way without any problems, and all the DVDs that I ripped looked great on a 52" LCD TV. I could even rewind and fast-forward as well.

TVersity works with Sony's Playstation Portable (PSP). Again, because it's Wi-Fi-enabled, the PSP would be able to tap into everything TVersity serves over the network.

It should also be entirely possible to use TVersity with the new Blu-ray players coming out in June that will have Internet connectivity. This doesn't mean that it will work right away because TVersity has to support the players with the right patches first. But the developers have said that the software will naturally expand to include a multitude of devices, even going as far as to allow independent developers to help with the process.

OPENING UP A NEW WORLD TO ENJOY

Products like TVersity can provide an even greater impetus to rip CDs and DVDs, or at least that's been my experience. With two external hard drives and CD and DVD collections that aren't really big, I had already started to do it for backup reasons, but now I feel even more compelled to just finish the job and sell, trade or give them away after I'm done. Besides, I can access it all a lot easier and faster this way, and not have to worry about any discs scratching.

But I also discovered that there's a real abundance of Internet TV and radio out there that is interesting. TVersity's website actually has a short laundry list of what's available, but consider that more of a teaser than anything else. If you've come across some of the Web-exclusive content that's out there, then you may have a good idea of how big the scope is.

It's a shame that TVersity doesn't work yet for Mac and Linux machines, though developers have said that they fully intend to support both of those platforms as early as this year.

Between TVersity and a PVR, you'll probably have too much to watch at any given time. But to have all that content in a one-stop shop is a compelling reason to expand your horizons and discover some real Web content gems.



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