Turn your PC into a media server

Turn your PC into a media server

Learn how the video, music and photos stored on your computer can be shared with other networked devices, including your smart TV and mobile

These days, your Advent PC is the perfect hub for all your media. You’ll have ripped your music collection to its hard drive (and possibly synced it to your mobile phone), watched catch-up TV on your computer and maybe even followed our guides to both watching and recording TV, and editing all that video footage into slick home movies.

The problem is watching and listening back on your main PC isn’t always the most convenient thing to do. You may already be using programs like iTunes to manually transfer video and music to the other devices in your home in order to watch them on the move. But not only is the whole transfer process unwieldy and time-consuming, it can also quickly swallow up precious storage space on your mobile device.

Streaming media

There’s an elegantly simple solution to this problem, and it’s called ‘media streaming’. Simply put, your main PC becomes the central storage location on your home network for all of your media. You can then configure it to share that media with all of the other devices – laptops, tablets, phones and even your smart TV – over your network.

The PC sharing the media is called the ‘server’; devices connecting to the server are known as ‘clients’. Media files tend to be large, so if you were to transfer the file across from the server to the client before watching it you’d possibly have to wait a long time for the transfer to complete. Thankfully, this problem is avoided by a process called ‘streaming’ – instead of copying the file in one go, the server transfers a small chunk. The client then starts playing this section of the file while the next chunk is transferred, and so on until the entire file has been watched or listened to.

Streaming media allows you to enjoy your home media collection through a wide range of devices

Not only does streaming speed up access to your PC’s media, it also means the client doesn’t have to download a complete copy of the file, freeing up their storage space as a result. And with all your media stored in one place, it makes it easier to organise and keep track of all your music, photos and video.

Set up your media server

Start by designating a single PC in your household as the media server. We’d suggest assigning this role to the most powerful PC you own, such as an Advent DT2315 desktop PC. Next, transfer all your media to that PC. You don’t have to store all your media in your personal pictures, videos and music folders; you may wish to store videos on a dedicated external USB hard drive, for example. But if you choose to store media elsewhere, you’ll need to add the folders they’re housed in to your music, pictures and video libraries.

To do this, open a folder window and click /Libraries/ in the left-hand pane. When the libraries view appears, right-click your chosen library and choose /Properties/. Then click /Include a folder…/ to locate and select the folder containing your media to add it to your library.

With your media libraries all in place, it’s time to turn your PC into a media server. You’ll find all the functionality you need is already in place, built into Windows Media Player (if your PC is running Windows XP, you’ll first need to update Windows Media Player to the latest version through Windows Update).

Switch on media sharing from the /Stream/ button in Windows Media Player

Media sharing may already be switched on if you’ve set up a Homegroup on your network, but if this isn’t the case, simply open Windows Media Player and click the /Stream/ button, selecting /Turn on media streaming/ from the drop-down menu. Read the warning and click the option again to turn your PC into a media server.

Now give your media library a name. You’ll see this name when attempting to connect to the server from your client devices. By default, any device on your local network can now access your media server. Click /OK/ to confirm this choice, or click /Block All/ to manually accept connections from each client as it tries to connect for the first time.

Access your media remotely

Your server is now set up and ready to share. Because Windows Media Player uses a common streaming standard called DLNA (also known as UPNP), it’ll work with more than just other PCs on your home network. You’ll also find it works with many smart TVs and some set-top boxes like the WD TV Live. Just check the unit’s instructions to find out how to connect to your network and then locate your server PC. Once opened, you should have access to all media currently stored in its Windows Media Player library.

The WD TV Live allows you to connect to your media server and watch video on any TV

Access from other PCs is also simple. If you’re running Windows Vista or later you’ll find you can connect to your server PC through Windows Media Player itself via the /Other Libraries/ section. You can also connect through Windows Media Centre. Just browse a particular library type such as /Video/, then click /Shared/ to connect.

Other computers, including PCs running Windows XP and Macs, can connect to your server PC through a free program called XBMC. Similarly, mobile users will need to install a third-party app in order to gain access. iPhone-users should try Media Link Player Lite (a separate version is also available for the iPad), while Android users should try VLC BETA.

Enjoy your media, anywhere

You may experience problems trying to play some video on certain devices due to compatibility issues. To get around this, try converting the video into another format with the help of a free program such as Any Video Converter Free. Try the MP4 version under /Video Files/ if you’re trying to play back media on an iPad or iPhone, for example.

Any video converter can help when you can’t play back certain video formats on one of your devices

And there you have it. Your Advent PC has just gained another string to its bow as a fully-fledged media server. Now you can watch and listen to your media collection from just about any mobile or networked device you own, with just a few clicks and without having to lose time transferring files or gobbling up that precious storage space in the process.