Use an old PC as a Media Streaming Server

Have an old PC lying around? Put the old guy to use as a server for streaming media.

We bet most of you must be having an old PC or laptop lying around collecting dust. The system might be too old and the hardware would definitely be unfit for the latest operating systems and applications. But these old systems can still be used for something or the other. We have detailed how you can use your old PCs and laptops for different purposes in previous editions, and you may consider this an extension of the previous articles. Here is how you can use that old warhorse as a media streaming unit in your home or office network.
We’re assuming your older computer will definitely be equipped with an operating system—be it Windows, Mac or Linux. In this case, you will have a network-enabled unit with an operating system ready to be deployed. All you need is a large hard drive to store your media content and a simple media server utility. The old hardware will definitely not be able to play high definition videos, but might just be powerful enough for streaming high definition content over your local network.
Let’s begin by setting up the server. First is the hardware and the operating system. Your old operating system can come into use and you won’t have to spend for a new operating system. Optionally, you can use Linux as a free alternative if you don’t have a newer OS and want one with more functionality. In this workshop, we shall show you the procedure under Windows. Linux and MAC users can follow the workshop similarly, except for the installation part. Once the installation is complete, the server can be configured via any web browser.
Next, you’ll require the network to be configured. Ensure your drivers are set up and the computer is connected to a router along with the other computers on the network. Now that the computer is ready, all you need is a media server utility from Twonky. Twonky is nothing but a server utility meant to serve multimedia content such as photos, music and video to other devices on the network. It uses standard DLNA protocols that are accessible by almost all network-enabled devices available today. It is a DLNA compliant UPnP audio/video server by PacketVideo and is compatible with Windows, Mac and Linux. Twonky is available for Rs 1,200 and there is also a 30-day trial version available. Download and install the Twonky Media Manager from www.twonky.com/download. Twonky Media Manager is a utility that includes a media player and a media server.
Once you install it, you will fi nd the Twonky Media Server running in the system tray. Now we need to confi gure the server. It will take you only a few minutes to get the server set up and running. Right click on the service icon and click on ‘Settings’. This will open the settings page of the server in your default web browser. The fi rst page is the status.
Here you will need to enter the license key number if you have purchased the application. Ignore this if you want to opt for the 30-day trial. Click ahead to the Setup link. Here you need to give a name for your server. This name will be the streaming server’s name on your network and your media clients will detect it accordingly. Leave other settings as they are and save the settings. Next click on the Sharing link. This is the most important page on the settings panel. You will find a few fields where you need to give in the details of your media files’ location. Enter each location accordingly and choose the type of content from the drop-down list. You can add as many folders depending on the content types and locations. Network locations from shared folders on other computers can also be added, but you should map these locations as drives. Once you are done with the folder allocations, you have completed almost 90 percent of the setup process.
Below the shared folders list you will find the Removable Media option and Media receivers. In the Removable Media section, you have the ‘Autoshare Removable Media’ option. This will automatically share any media fi les from USB pen drives and external storage drives when they are connected to the server. The Media Receivers section option can be left untouched. This lets you see the present media receivers on the network and defi ne how they may view the media content. Save all changes and move ahead to the ‘Advanced’ link. Here, specify a user name and password for managing the server settings. This will prevent people from tweaking the settings unless they have the password. You can set up the server from any PC on the network using an Internet browser by typing the IP address with the port 9000 as the URL. For example, if your server’s IP address is 192.168.1.10, the URL would be 192.168.1.10:9000. Your server is ready and will be streaming your media fi les within a few minutes after it builds a database of media content you have shared. The time taken will depend on how much content you have shared. This is done only once until you add more shares or media fi les in the folder.

Additional settings 
The Settings page also gives you many other options for fi ne-tuning the server. You can enable logging if you wish to check for errors on your server. You can also restart the server, re-scan content folders in case there is some missing content, reset the server to default, or clear the cache in the Server Maintenance section of the page.
Now that your server is ready, you can head on to the media receivers. You can use the Twonky Media Manager to watch your content on the same PC/server. You can use UPnP compatible media players on Apple and Android devices to play your media fi les over a wireless network. Windows-based PCs can take advantage of the Windows Media Player and play the media from ‘Other Libraries’.
There are a few free media server utilities that are available around, but we found them either confusing or not too user friendly for the layman. We chose to opt for the paid version of Twonky Media Server as it is one of the best media server software available and is one of the easiest to confi gure. Windows also has a built-in media server that can be confi gured, but only versions such as Windows XP Media Center Edition, Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8 are capable of this function. If you have an older version of Windows, you won’t have an in-built option to stream media, and this is where third-party media servers can prove to be useful. You are free to try out some of the free media servers from the list below. If you have some more options, have tried it, are happy with it and would want to recommend it to others, do write to us.

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