What You Need to Know About Media Servers

In the world of digital media, there’s no doubt that you have downloaded movies and/or music, and saved digital photos to your computer. Now you want to watch them on your TV and home theater. Before you can stream the movies, music or photos from your computer, networked external hard drive, or network attached storage (NAS) drive, the media player must first find the sources—“see” the device where you have saved your media files. The computer or device where your files are saved is called a “media server.”


In order for the media player to find a Media Server on a home network, the two must “speak the same language” (protocol). Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) standards and Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) are the protocols that are used in most streaming devices and media servers. When a media player and Media Server are DLNA and/or UPnP certified and connected to the same home network, the media player discovers the media server and lists it as a source from which to choose the videos, music or movies you want to stream.

Setting up a Media Server

It is important to understand that a computer or other device must be set up to act as a media server. You can’t just expect a media player to find the music and video files on your computer, hard drive or NAS drive simply because they are connected to the same home network.

To set up a NAS drive or a USB external hard drive connected to your home network router, you need only turn on the media server setting in the device’s dashboard. The dashboard is typically accessed via a program on your computer or using your web browser. Look in the setup menu for “media” or media streaming. There will be a check box for you to choose to enable or turn on media sharing. Once you have saved the setting, the drive will show up in the list of sources on your media player. Browse through the folders to choose music, movie or photo files.

Media Server Software for PCs

Software must be properly configured in order for a computer to be recognized as a media server on your home network. If your PC has Windows 7, Windows Media Player can easily be set up to stream media. Go to the “Stream” menu in the player and choose “Turn on home media streaming.” Note that other media server software is available, for PCs and Macs, which can be useful if you use media file formats that aren’t supported by Windows Media Player.

Macs don’t have DLNA or UPnP software installed. Instead, Apple opted to include proprietary AirPlay software that streams to Apple TV and other AirPlay-enabled devices. If you want to stream movies, music and photos from your Mac to a Smart TV or non-Apple media player, you have to download and install third-party media server software. Once installed, you can tell the software which folders contain your videos, music and movies. You can also direct the software to find media folders on an external hard drive connected to your computer.

Learn more about media players, and what you need to set up media streaming in your home.

max-greece's picture

From the article:

"You can’t just expect a media player to find the music and video files on your computer, hard drive or NAS drive simply because they are connected to the same home network."

Funny that - this is exactly what my new (2 days in my house) Media player did. I have just purchased a unit called the Crystal Acoustics Appstreamer. I bought it as my original WD HD TV box was not network aware and worked with 2 500 Gb USB drives connected directly to it.

My network is a windows workgroup setup with various network shares enabled. It did not occur to me that the Appstreamer would see these so I had already setup both the Windows media player (WMP) and Media Monkey as DNLA servers as well as DLNA server on my HTC Sensation XE phone (Android ICS).

I spent an entire day battling to get the setup about right - first with WMP, which won't recognize a slew of files I have, and then with Media Monkey which works on the basis of sharing playlists which I had to create and then share separately.

It was only after doing all of this that I realized there was a third option on my file system menu on the Appstreamer.

The first option was for USB - local storage and the third was for UPNP. The second option is for Network and this was the one I hadn't touched.

Clicking on that showed my Home network and after logging into the main computer on there it showed my shared folders - which include all my media folders.

These can all be played directly.

In fact it seems that the only real use for media servers on my network is to allow direct access to the photos and videos taken on my phone.

ninjadanny1993's picture

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