How Software Turns Your Computer into a Media Server

Software Turns Your Computer into a Media Server

Without media server software, media files may be saved on a drive, device or computer, but the network media player will not be able to "see" or access it. Devices like network attached storage (NAS) drives and media server devices have media server software embedded. However, computers often require media server software so that the network media player can access the saved media files.

Windows 7 has media server software built-in. You must take steps to share your media files in order for it to work.  A network media player can find files imported to, and playlists created by Windows Media Player 11 and above as it acts as a media server. 

Media Server Software for Computers 

When you install media server software on your computer, it will search your computer for media files in the usual places: the "pictures" folder for photos; the "music" folder for music, and the "movies" folder for videos.  Most media server software programs will also let you specify other folders where you have stored your media. If you have stored your music or movie library on an external hard drive that is connected to your computer, you can list that folder.  Of course, the hard drive must be connected to the computer for the media server software to make those files available.

Likewise, media server software must be running on your computer so that the network media player can access the media files.  Typically the software is set up to  launch automatically at startup.  While this is convenient, it uses a lot of the computer's resources and can slow down your system.  You may want to turn it off if no one on the home network needs to access the files on your computer.  

Media Server Software Does More Than Make Files Accessible

Media server software not only finds media files on a computer or device, it aggregates the media files and organizes it and presents it in folders.  When you open that media server on your network media player's list of sources, you can access the files either by "folders" that you have created on the computer or device, or you can open folders created by the media server.

The media server-created folders organize media files to make it easier to find files by grouping them together in ways that you may search for them.  Photo files may be grouped into folders for "camera," --the camera used to take the photo-- or the "year" it was taken.  Music folders may include "genre,"  "personal rating," and "most played." Video folders may include "recently played," "by date,"  and "genre." Media server software use information embedded into the media files (metadata) to organize the media into these folders.

Not all Media Server Software is the Same 

While all media server software works similarly, some have special features including what types of folders it can create, converting file formats (transcoding), and compatibility with media libraries of particular programs. This is especially important for Mac computers as iPhoto, Aperture, Adobe Lightroom, and iTunes libraries cannot be accessed by all media server software.  

Some media server software can discover the folders and files of these photo and music programs but may display the folders in confusing ways.  Often media server software can find photos in iPhoto, however they are put into "modified" and "original" folders by year.  This means you can either look at only the photos that you fixed after you imported them, or you can look at all of the originals without any of your adjustments. 

Yazsoft's Playback media server software stands out for its ability to organize and share photos from iPhoto, Aperture and Adobe Lightroom in a recognizable folder format. Rather than searching through folders of raw files, you will find photos in "events," "albums," "slideshows," "faces," and all of the other folders where you would find them in the computer's photo program. It can also make iTunes playlists available to be played on network media players.

DLNA Media Server Software Certification

While DLNA has a certification for devices that act as media servers, they have finally added a certification for media server software.  Software that is certified to work as a media server would assure that it can communicate with devices that are DLNA certified as media players, media renderers and media controllers.

For years, the TwonkyMedia Server has been used as a reference when testing DLNA certified home network devices because it has been reliably compatible.  Osama Al-Shaykh CTO for PacketVideo that developed the TwonkyMedia Server told me that they are waiting to see what will be included in the DLNA media server software certification.

Dedicated Media Servers

Some programs like "Plex" create media servers in a closed system.  These programs can only be accessed by an app on compatible network media players or networked TVs--called a Plex Client. Plex will be the basis for LG's media sharing--called "Media Link"--in their networked TVs and home theater components beginning in 2011. Plex does not use DLNA certification, instead it relies on its own software to communicate.