Would you like a media server for your music, photos, and videos at central storage and then wirelessly access these media from various devices? Are you willing to receive download and store them automatically without you being required to do anything? Here are various combinations of software and hardware that will ensure that you achieve your goals:
You start with the server, which will have an operating system, memory, processor, and a large hard drive to be hub storage of all your media files. The server runs whichever media streaming software you select to use. At last, each of your devices runs a separate program to display whatever the server sends it’s way.
All the components you want to use could be developed by a single company. This is what Apple did with Airplay thus all devices that support Airplay are manufactured by Apple. Alternatively, you can select all the components to work to a common standard, usually Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) and Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA). The standards should ensure that all the bits work together appropriately. If you wish a non-proprietary solution, almost any other manufacturer’s component apart from Apple supports Digital Living Network Alliance.
Picking a Server
Your server could be a Network Attached Storage (NAS) or PC and should be on all the time. Intel-based computers are normally more versatile and more powerful, and they include HDMI ports and graphics cards, but they may be noisier, bigger, and more expensive. Network Attached Storage boxes usually have slower ARM processors and 2-4 empty drive bays, but they come with a media server software because streaming is a common requirement.
It is recommendable to have a PC instead of a Network Attached Storage. This includes “home theatre PCs” that the majority of the people normally plug directly into their main television set, and use to stream media to other devices. Personal Computers can transcode files, stream movies from services such as Netflix. This will enable you to do everything an Apple TV-type device or Roku does such as downloading things from the internet.
Transcoding is crucial, especially when using small devices like smartphones. Transcoding is used to convert movies into a different format or to a smaller size to suit the client display. When transcoding, NAS or a low-power server may shutter, especially if it is serving several streams at once.
Media Centre Software
There are a lot of programs that will transform your NAS or PC to function as a media server. At the moment, Plex seems to be the one at the top. The main alternatives include Universal Media Server, XBMC, Serviio, and PS3 Media Server. All of these run on Mac OS X, Linus and Windows.
If you decide to use a PC with Microsoft, there is a DNLA/UPnP media server built-in for Windows 7. However, the majority of the users install XBMC, Plex, and other programs as an alternative to using Windows Media Player.
If you select NAS, you will limit your choice of software. Synology Disk Stations support UPnP/DNLA as a standard and the majority of its NAS servers can run Plex. QNAP’s Network Attached Storage boxes also entail XBMC, Bubble UPnP, Twonky Media Server among others. It offers Qfile mobile apps for Android, Apple’s iOS, and Windows Phone 8.
All players that support UPnP can play streams from your media server, and that includes the widely supported-VLC media player. The two ways to approach client programs are: hunting down the best UPnP app for every of your device or using the same software on each device. Use Plex due to its advantage of having mobile apps for Windows, Android and iOS, Plex Home Theatre for Windows, and apps for Amazon Fire TV, Google TV, Roku, Samsung Smart TVs, and Google chrome cast. However, there is no app for Ubuntu, but the server version of Plex comprises the Plex Web App, which includes a player.
Whether you decide to use a NAS or a PC, ensure that it takes at least two 3TB drives. If you do not need 6TB, you can use one bay to back up the other drive or leave it empty. Alternatively, you can use one or more than one external 3TB USB hard drives for your back-ups.
A PC running Windows or Ubuntu will be able to download and stream or save files from the internet. When purchasing a Network Assembly Storage, ensure that it will be able to fit your needs. Some NAS is not able to handle certain streaming services or downloads.