The concept
Cambridge Audio from England makes a fully integrated hard disk server slash CD player slash CD burner that nicely summarizes the concept of HD-based functionality.

The graphic is self-explanatory and shows two ways to import music files to hard drive for later playback - via the Internet or from CDs. The only difference with this particular example? The hard drive is integrated into a so-called external server rather than your computer. This eliminates computer-based noise issues and makes appearance and integration friendly for audiophiles who consider themselves computer illiterate or challenged. In that case, disregard the left half of the diagram altogether. All you are doing is load a CD into what appears to be nothing other than a CD player. Let it grab/rip the CD's content to the internal hard drive and play it back. Its 160 Gigabytes of storage equate to roughly 3,000 uncompressed tracks or 300 CDs. Using the composite or S-video output, you link this server to your TV and, via the included remote, access your hard drive music library on-screen to add novel functionality like playlists, instant access to any track and burning compilations for your car. Multiple of these servers can be slaved if you want playback in more than one location in your house.

Otherwise, this Cambridge Azur behaves just like an ordinary CD player and will sit atop your audio rack to patch into your preamp, integrated or receiver. Should you feel adventurous, one front-panel USB slot can connect to an iPod and quickly exchange files for on-the-go consumption. Naturally, the 640H isn't the only such device on the market. It merely stands in here to serve as an example for a one-box solution that does convergence for you without involving any computer at all (though its inbuilt connectivity and functionality allows it to interface with the Internet if you so chose and its mouse, monitor and keyboard terminals turn it into a quasi computer). If, like reader Paul Dixon, you "mistrust the longevity of hard drives", this may still not be an appealing proposition though splurging on a $200 back-up drive -- to upload whatever content you ripped to the Azur to it via USB -- is really a small price to pay. Paul "likes the hands-on experience of loading CDs (or more likely, vinyl) and reading cover information". Even that can be done if you avail yourself of the Internet connection and download album art and display it on your television screen while listening to the Azur.