We're not going to make any comments about your multi-platform setup at home, because it's okay to accept that your PC can live alongside your Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, or Wii without major squabbling between the systems. But what do you do when your devices want to interact with each other? How do you get all of those movies, music albums, and Internet feeds on your PC to show up on your console and television set?
There are a bunch of solutions on the Internet today for streaming media from your PC to your console of choice. But that doesn't mean all of them are good. In fact, you'll never know whether a given tool works for you unless you spend the requisite half-hour installing it, configuring it for streaming, firing up your console, trying to connect to your PC, et cetera. It's a process. But at least allow us to do our part in reducing your streaming nightmare. We've rounded up a batch of our favorite freeware applications for streaming media from a PC to a console, as well as a handy encoding tool in case you still can't get your huge movies to work just right.
What it does: To watch most movies on your PC, you need the appropriate codec. These are the programs that allow you to encode and decode videos--without the right codec for your video, you'll be staring at a black screen on both your TV and your PC. Further complicating the matter is the fact that thousands of codecs exist in all kinds of versions and modifications for all types of video and audio. While it's actually recommended that you piecemeal the appropriate codecs together as to not overly clutter your system, we'd rather error on the side of caution. The Combined Community Codec Pack is a one-shot install that doesn't overburden you with features, options, or installation packages. It's easy to uninstall if you need to, and contains the default codecs that should allow you to watch a large majority of possible encodes.
What it does: This no-fuss transcoding application is geared for the PlayStation 3. It allows you to stream movies of all kinds, including support for AVI, MP4, TS, and MKV files. You also get lossless 5.1 transcoding for your DTS-based movies, a must-have for audiophiles and their beefy home entertainment systems. The program comes with barebones support for pulling in Internet feeds as well, giving you the ability to pull up your favorite Flickr images, Internet TV feeds, and Web radio.
What it does: While Orb also functions well with the PS3 and Xbox 360, it's ideal for use on the Wii. The program simply offers more features and a slicker interface than the comparable Tversity. Video quality on the Wii will be less than that of the PS3 or Xbox 360, as Orb converts your computer's media into a Flash-based format for play through the Wii's Internet Channel. But it's the best you're going to get on this console. Orb streams your music and your videos, even letting you view the picture of a webcam attached to your PC. The application also supports Internet video and audio feeds, as well as syndicated content like podcasts and RSS feeds. You can even play Flash games!
What it does:We've covered this one before, but this is one application that has survived the test of time. Set up TVersity on your PC, and you'll be able to connect to your computer just like you normally would via the Xbox 360's interface. The key difference, however, is that you'll now be able to stream a wider variety of movies and formats than what is normally allowed by Xbox 360's strict, native support. Tversity also supports no-frills Internet audio, video, and photo feeds. However, unlike a solution like Orb, Tversity doesn't require you to sign up for an external service. And we flat-out enjoy the power user functionality of this powerful transcoding application.
What it does: Some of the trickiest files to play on your consoles are those encoded in the MKV format. The Matroska Multimedia Container usually combines an H.264-encoded video file with AC3/AAC/DTS audio tracks, and this package is quite incompatible with both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 systems. Since these files can reach the extremes of HD quality, transcoding them becomes a nightmare of an issue as a result of the processing power of the host computer and the available network bandwidth. GOTsent helps you convert MKV files into other supported formats. It takes some finagling, but it'll have you up-and-running when the Matroska format would otherwise leave your TV in the dark.