If you've thought about purchasing a media center computer, you have almost certainly asked yourself the question, "Why should I buy one of these when I already have multiple other devices that perform the same functions as a media center computer?"
The answer to that question is "simplicity."
In days gone by, we used multiple devices for consuming different kinds of content. However, we no longer need a CD player for music, a television for TV shows and a console for games. The devices we use these days are capable of playing various types of media. Devices like smartphones, portable media players, laptop computers and tablets fill all those needs and more in a way that was simply unthinkable only a few years ago. But these devices are designed for media consumption on an individual basis, and often the storage space is limited on these platforms.
Enter media center computers. These units generally have much more storage space to consolidate your media collection, they are relatively portable and they offer more power than personal media devices.
Media center computers perform all kinds of media-related tasks with ease and proficiency. Their optical drives act as CD, DVD and in some cases a Blu-ray player. Not every product has Blu-ray capabilities, which is somewhat of a letdown. However, in the not too distant future disc media may disappear completely.
Since trends seem to be moving toward disc-less content consumption, all the media center computers we reviewed have outstanding internet streaming capabilities. Services such as Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, Pandora, Spotify and many more all allow you to browse, purchase and rent all types of media. Frankly, these services are what media center computers are designed around. You don't even have to use up any hard drive space to enjoy music, movies and TV shows online.
However, we're not living in completely in the cloud, yet. The best media center computers have mammoth hard drives that allows you to store all the digital media you've been accumulating for the last decade. The manufacturers have been wise to include storage in the 500GB to 1TB range. This is more than enough space to store the media libraries of the average user, with plenty of room to grow.
To put it succinctly, a media center computer acts as television, music player, movie rental service, digital storage device, web browser and much more. It's pretty much every device you use to consume entertainment, all wrapped up into one package.
Moving your television from room to room is a chore, to say nothing of transporting it from one house to another. This is also true of moving a stereo system into the backyard for a party, and truer still of hauling a desktop computer system to a friend's house for a LAN party. These media center computers are designed to be much more portable than other media devices.
All the media center computers we reviewed are essentially one-piece systems; the monitor is integrated into the rest of the computer's guts for easy portability. This way, instead of transporting a monitor, tower, cables and more, you can just pick up the unit itself and put it wherever you want. Furthermore, media center computers are quite a bit lighter than a television or a beefy stereo system, and they pack a lot more power and functionality.
All the devices we reviewed have powerful Wi-Fi antennas that make them ideal for connecting to a wireless network once you move it to its new location.
There are devices that perform many of the tasks that media center computers execute, but on a much smaller scale. Your smartphone can play music, video and games. However, you trade in size and power for that portability. Granted, you can't fit a media center computer in your pocket, but you also cannot play a movie for a larger audience or fill the room with music with a smartphone's integrated speakers. The media center computer pick up where your personal devices leave off.
With power, portability and massive storage space to consolidate all your media, the media center computer fills the need between small portable devices such as a tablets and smartphones and large media devices such as HD televisions and home theater stereo systems.
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