April 28, 2009

Streaming Media in Windows 7 – Media Server

Filed under: Windows 7 — Simon May @ 7:55 pm

The first building block for a home media network is to have a streaming media server.  The function isn’t turned on by default, but it’s very simple to enable and very powerful once it is.  The quickest way to access streaming media features is to use Windows Media Player, it brings everything into one place but it’s also possible to enable the server component through Control Panel.

Windows 7 as a media server

Allow device to serve To turn on the media server component launch Windows Media Player, click the Stream button and select Automatically allow devices to play my media…

A confirmation screen will pop up, to which you’ll need to select the first option to Automatically allow computers and media devices

Allow device to serve - confirm

 Once it’s turned on all the media that’s in the library on your PC will be available for any other network media aware devices on the network to use.  Those other devices include other Windows PCs (including Vista and XP machines and Windows 7 PCs) and any devices that are DLNA certified and capable of taking on that Digital Media Player role.  Have a look here for my list of devices that can do that.

From another Windows PC if you go to Windows Media Player (it’s best to use WMP 11) then look in the left hand panel then you should see the PC that’s library you’ve just shared listed under Other libraries.  Now you can play that media from the second PC without having to first move it over your network!  So if you have a house with lots of computers all around the house, and you enable the server it doesn’t matter which PC your music or video is on, you’ll be able to watch it anywhere.

One of the best features you get using Windows 7 as a media server is that it acts as something called a “transcoder” which overcomes one of the worst and most troublesome issues with digital media.  No not DRM, but formatting and encoding.  Media files can be formatted and encoded in lots of different ways, and typically the device where you want to play the media back has to be able to translate that media encoding using a codec – it’s kind of like a phrase book for a foreign language – and if it doesn’t have the codec it won’t be able to understand the file.  Windows 7 sorts this out by asking the device that’s receiving the file what it understands, then Windows 7 sends the file in that format, it acts just like a translator meaning you can throw the phrase book away!  Obviously the Windows 7 machine acting as a server needs to know what to do with the file, so it needs the codec.

If you ever want to turn media streaming off then just do the above, but select Do not automatically allow computers and media devices from the confirmation pop up window.

There are some more advanced settings too that you might like to adjust, and they’re available from Stream > More streaming options…  The options here allow for more advanced control over what’s streamed, where it’s streamed to and a couple of other nuggets…but I think that’s another post…

Posted by Simon May, follow me on Twitter or if you like email me
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