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Revamp your Computer into a Home Media Server
Written by | Mark Healey
If you’re like the 1.4 million Americans who in 2014 pulled the plug on their cable or a satellite subscription in favour of on-line services, then it’s time to get a jump on the next trend: home media servers.
A home media server is essentially a small computer (often built to be the size of a desk trashcan), that stores converted DVDs and Blu-ray discs, music, and serves as a web browser to stream products like Netflix or Hulu. The computer hooks up to your TV or projector, and then you can use Chromecast or Bluetooth on your phone or a wireless keyboard and mouse to control the unit. This is similar to any other set-top-box like Roku or Amazon Fire TV, and it’s almost like the dozens of apps newer smart TVs come preloaded with, but by building your own media server you get to personalize the experience more than any store-bought product offers. Plus the cost isn’t that much more.
Smart TV versus Media Server
Smart TVs are all the rage right now. For people who were previously restricted to watching Netflix on laptops or hunched over a home desktop monitor, the change is welcome. Console gaming fans have had access to the apps that smart TVs provide for years, but even for them not having to run an external machine can be a nice way to save on the electricity bill. But that pales in comparison to the customizability a media server, or straight up computer, brings to the equation.
If you’re using XBMC or Plex as the basis for running your media server, then the possibilities of what you’d like to watch or listen to are virtually endless. Do you want to watch something on Netflix, HBO Go or Hulu? Then go for it.
Feel like visiting some obscure streaming website so you don’t have to pay for watching your favorite shows? You can do that, too. You can even stream converted DVDs and Blu-rays via Chromecast if it suits your fancy. If you’d like to take a break from on-line videos and music and watch a converted DVD or Blu-ray, or even read a book on your TV, then that’s okay as well. The power of a media server rests in its options. The lack of options on smart TVs is the biggest drawback, because typically you’re stuck with whatever pre-loaded applications are already on your ‘smart’ TV. And within a few years it’s entirely possible those apps will eventually become obsolete. On a media server you don’t face that issue. As another bonus, media servers can be set up to stream content to any wireless or Bluetooth enabled media device within your home.
Upgrade at Will
The unique pleasure among people who build their own media server is that you can upgrade your hardware whenever you’d like. Feel like you want a solid-state drive so your movies load incredibly fast? Want a massive amount of storage for your entire music collection? All you need to do is find the upgrade and install it. Building a computer isn’t as hard as you would think. Newegg has an excellent video tutorial, and the process works nearly the same for a media server. With top-box sets or smart TVs, you’re stuck with whatever hardware the device is initially shipped with.
You Probably Already Have a Viable Device
The greatest part about media servers is in actuality they’re simply smaller computers built around playing videos and music. You can reformat laptops to work as a media server. The same goes for upgradeable desktops, too. Tablets don’t work quite as well, but it can be done to a smaller extent. Practically any computer you can load XBMC or Plex on will work. Linux and Windows also work, although they require some finagling.
Featured Image | MovieNite Plus by D-Link