Hope you are all enjoying the fine summer weather that living in Spain gives us – as I write this (8th June), which I think is about my 5th article for The Big Glossy, I am in Skipton, North Yorkshire and wondering what technological snippets I might share with you this time. So far I’ve written about QR codes, keeping in touch using VoIP/Skype/Viber etc.., choosing a tablet computer, and the dangers of not keeping your computer well maintained. This edition I thought I might tell you about some of the ways that you can enjoy your media (music files, videos and photos) on your television or other devices connected to your network. First of all, to start you off, a few definitions that you will encounter when reading further about media sharing.
Streaming is a method used to deliver video and / or audio content over a network bit by bit – it is not necessary to download the entire media first before you can enjoy it. A video or audio stream can be delivered in varying levels of quality. On a network connection that is too slow, high quality streams will stutter or stick; and the application that it attempting to playback will often say ‘buffering’ – in this case try a lower quality stream if available.
Server – a computer that stores resources and makes them available over a network to other computers or devices connected to a network.
Client – a computer or other network connected device which consumes resources offered by a server.
Example – when you browse the Internet, you may well use Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari or some other web-browser. You type in a web address or click on a link, and your browser makes a client connection to the remote server at that address and asks for that web page (resource) which is then sent to your browser for display. This is the client-server relationship.
UPnP – Universal Plug and Play – a standard for communicating media information over a network. Many devices and pieces of software quite often support UPnP as well as their own systems to ensure as wide inter-operability as possible.
DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) – similar to UPnP.
Plex Media Server
Plex has 2 components, the server, and the client. Both are free (though you can pay to upgrade to get more features). If you have a computer that is turned on all the time, then you could use this with Plex Server to offer your media to other devices connected to your network – Smart TV’s, Tablets, Phones and other computers. Plex will catalogue all your media and share the details with connected devices, a few clicks later and you can enjoy it wherever you like. It is also possible to access your Plex Media Server over the Internet even when you are not at home; and you can also share with other people too. The really useful thing is in the fact that Plex will try and identify music and videos using online libraries, downloading cover artwork, a film synopsis (for films of course) and other data. If you have your original DVDs, it is possible to convert them to a computer format for use with your server (of course the legality of this may be suspect; especially if you later dispose of the DVD) – a good piece of software, though a little difficult to use is called Handbrake. Clearly having your movie collection available with just a few clicks rather than having to fish out the DVD and put into a player is super-convenient – Plex will even remember where you left off if you don’t have time to watch in one sitting. Get a list of features here plus links to download page: https://plex.tv/features
The client application is available on Mobile phones, tablets and computers. There’s even a version for Enigma2 based satellite receivers (if your satellite box says something like Open ATV, Pli or Vix when it first starts up chances are you have such a receiver).
XBMC / Kodi
Probably one of the most well known media centres (formerly known as XBMC) though often used as a client it is equally happy serving content to other devices as well. It can play videos, music, pictures, games, and more. It runs on different operating systems, and its user interface is particularly pleasing when displayed on a television and can be controlled with remote controls as well as keyboards and mice. Content can come from local and network storage media and the internet. Many of you may have already encountered it in the form of IPTV boxes, where Kodi gets TV and Movie Streams (if you have an IPTV box which has stopped working, why not call by with it and I’ll see if I can update it – I’ve recently updated MXII Boxes to use Open Elec and Kodi – much quicker than Android, and easier to use).
A Raspberry Pi is a very small British designed computer. For its diminutive size, it packs quite a bit of power, with good graphics capability, and can easily be setup to be a dedicated home server serving up your media library (though they are put to a wide variety of uses – see https://www.raspberrypi.org and http://www.instructables.com/id/Raspberry-Pi-Projects/ for more ideas!). It is also very low in power consumption too, can be mounted discretely behind a screen or monitor. It uses a memory card to store its operating system which also makes it quick to startup (also helped by the fact that it doesn’t run Windows!). A range of USB ports means that it is easy to add media storage using high capacity USB sticks or hard drives. The machine once setup can run ‘headless’ as a server – that is without connection to monitor, keyboard or mouse. Such a system would cost no more than £75 GBP, quite possibly less. If you would like to create your own such system, then why not register your interest for my Raspberry Pi workshops at http://all-tech-plus.com/pi-workshops where you can learn and experiment with your very own Pi over several weeks. There are lots of great hardware add-ons (and at great prices too) for the Pi, including, small LCD touch sensitive screens, temperature sensors, door sensor, moisture sensors, cameras, LED lighting, remote controls and relays – they really are an experimenter’s delight!
If you run a bar or restaurant or even for your home and would like a fully setup cost effective dedicated Pi player, please feel free to drop me an e-mail. More details at http://www.all-tech-plus.com/pi-player .
Network Attached Storage (NAS)
If having a computer turned on all the time and dedicated to the task of media serving doesn’t appeal possibly because it is also your main workhorse computer, then centralising your media storage by taking advantage of a NAS unit may just be an option. They are typically ‘boxes’ in which you can install one or more hard drives. Usually, domestic grade NAS are WiFi enabled though will also often have a wired network port for connection to your home router. The built in software will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, the most basic just allowing you to use as a network disk, but others may have built in software for automatic downloading of content from the internet, streaming your music and indeed videos. Such an option is great for someone who wants as easy a way as possible to achieve seamless sharing with minimum fuss of setting up. There are plenty of NAS reviews out there in Cyberspace; try this one for starters http://www.maximumpc.com/nas-storage-2015