How to build and configure your home media server?

High-speed Internet has divided people into two groups: some subscribe to streaming services, others prefer to keep their own copies of films and albums on their hard drive in the old fashioned way, especially when it comes to rare releases that cannot be found online. But Netflix or Spotify is easy to launch from any device, but how to access files stored on disk from a TV or smartphone? To do this, you need to organize a home media server. This is much easier than it sounds, and is feasible even with standard Windows tools.

What is a DLNA Media Server?
Home media server allows you to connect all available devices to a single wireless network and organize shared access to music and movies on your hard drive, flash drive and SD card. This eliminates the need to store a copy of a movie or album on a PC, tablet, smartphone, laptop and TV memory – one copy on the media server will be enough.

At their core, all these devices are a computer with a processor, video core, RAM and a disk for storing files. To turn them into a media server, you need high-speed, real-time content transmission technology. It’s called DLNA.

DLNA is a set of standards for combining devices supporting this technology into a single home network for the transmission of media content. Most often these are TVs, printers, players and receivers, as well as portable equipment – smartphones, tablets, laptops, etc. Many manufacturers use DLNA in their ecosystems under brand names:

The easiest way is to make friends with a media server TV, if the latter supports DLNA. Otherwise, connecting using a TV box or microcomputer will help.

Media server from PC
A home media server can be organized on a work PC. All you need is a router and a DLNA-enabled device, such as a TV.

If your TV and PC are connected to the same home network, Windows 10 allows you to transfer content directly to the device without unnecessary settings. Just right-click on the file and select the desired device from the list in the “Cast to device” tab.

In order not to click on files on a PC every time, but to select them directly from a TV or tablet, you will need to set up a DLNA server:

Open media streaming options and enable this feature. Give a name to your server and open access to the necessary devices.

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By clicking “Configure” when choosing a device, you can open the transfer of one or another type of content.

Now available media content will appear on TV and portable devices. However, it will not be sorted, it is impossible to store hundreds of films and albums like that. You will need to configure folders and categories. It is possible to arrange them even using Windows Media Player 11 and higher: right-click on the “Video” section, select “Manage Video Library” and add folders with pre-sorted clips to the list. Likewise with photos and music.

Finally, a DLNA server is easy to set up using software that is sometimes called media center. They allow:

Organize your library by any category: performers, directors, actors, release year, and more.
Automatically load metadata: all you have to do is load a file with a movie so that the program will automatically select a cover for it, a description, a list of actors, etc.
Work with subtitles, playlists and any video, audio and image formats.
Do transcoding – that is, transcode an old video file into a modern format that can be digestible for TV, or turn a 50 GB movie into 5 GB so that the smartphone does not freeze while watching it.
There are many media centers, the most popular of which are:

The disadvantage of organizing a media server on a PC is that you have to keep it turned on all the time for everything to work. Plus, the media center program will take away some of the resources, especially when transcoding. You can, of course, use a separate machine, for example, an old computer, but the system’s capabilities will be limited by its performance: not every old PC will be able to play 4K video on YouTube without lags.

Media server from router

Some routers with a USB or SATA connector are able to earn money as a media server. The characteristics of the router must indicate the function of the DLNA server . You will also need at least 128 MB of RAM (256 MB is better). If your Wi-Fi network is too busy in the 2.4 GHz band, a dual band router comes in handy. It will help avoid packet loss, which will result in lags and freezes. For normal operation, the connection speed must be at least 60 Mbps.

Usually, you can configure DLNA on a router directly in its web interface: you need to enable the function itself and select folders with content. Then you can connect smartphones and TVs to it. The main advantage is the simplicity of the solution, but there are also disadvantages:

Weak processor and insufficient RAM lead to slowdowns and lags
The more the hard disk connected to the router is full, the more the system slows down
Not all models are able to work stably with hard drives
Media server from TV box

What if the TV isn’t smart enough and doesn’t support DNLS? Then you can connect an additional device to it, for example, a TV box . They support DLNS and provide the ability to download your media files to a USB flash drive or SD card to view them from TV, and sometimes other devices. Moreover, Android gives these set-top boxes the functionality of a smartphone or tablet, allowing you to install applications on them, use streaming services, YouTube, play games, etc.

The TV box is easy to use: customization does not take much time, and for most buyers its capabilities will be enough. But there are also disadvantages:

Insufficient performance. Users complain about brakes and lags on consoles with a weak processor, so you need to carefully look at the characteristics and reviews.
Overheating causing throttling. Budget models are equipped with very modest cooling. As a result, the processor under high load (for example, playing games or watching videos with transcoding) reaches critical temperatures and drops frequencies, losing performance so as not to burn out.
Some devices do not support connecting a hard drive, and not the entire media library will fit on a USB flash drive or SD card.
Microcomputer media server

DIY enthusiasts can make a media server based on a Raspberry Pi microcomputer, ASUS Tinker Board, or similar. These usually come in the form of a board without a case, which has an ARM processor, RAM, video card, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth modules, USB, HDMI and Ethernet ports. Accordingly, you can connect almost any TV and even an external sound card to it.

This allows you to accurately select the model according to the characteristics for your tasks and independently design the case and the cooling system. Both SD cards and HDDs (both USB and SATA via an adapter) can be connected to microcomputers. The Raspberry Pi 3 Model B + is powerful enough to play HD movies and 4K videos on YouTube.