What You Need to Play Media on a Network Media Player or Streamer

Be sure you have what you need to play stored or streamed digital media content

Tired of crowding your friends and family around your computer to view photos or watch a video? Maybe you just want to see the movies you’ve downloaded or are streaming from the internet on your big-screen TV or you just want to listen to your music away from your desk, on your full-range speakers in your living room.

It is time to get a network media player or media streamer (box, stick, smart TV, most Blu-ray Disc players) that can retrieve the media from the internet, your computer, or other network-connected devices, then plays your movies, music, and photos on your home theater.

But you need more than just a network media player or compatible media streaming device to make it all work.

The back of a typical router.
The back of a typical router. Mohd Haniff Abas / Eye Em / Getty Images

You Need a Router

To start, you need a router that connects to the computer(s) and media playback devices you want to include on your network. A router is a device that creates a path for all of your computers and network devices to talk to one another. The connections can be wired (ethernet), wireless (Wi-Fi), or both.

While basic routers can cost less than $50, when setting up a home network to share your media, you’ll want a router that can handle high-definition video. Choose a router that best suits your needs.

Network and modem cables plugged into a computer modem.
Network and modem cables plugged into a computer modem. Jill Ferry Photography / Getty Images

You Need a Modem

If you want to download or stream content from the internet, you will also need a modem. When you sign up for internet service, your Internet Service provider typically installs the modem.

While some modems are also routers, they are not the same. You will know if your router has a built-in modem if it has more than one or two ethernet connections on the back, and/or features built-in Wi-Fi.

However, a modem may not be necessary if you do not need to access the internet, but only access the media stored on your other computers, network-attached servers or other devices within your home.

Connecting Your Network Media Player, Streamer, and Storage Devices to a Router

Connect your computers and media player devices to the router either with ethernet cables or wirelessly via Wi-Fi. Most laptops come with built-in Wi-Fi. For desktops and NAS devices, most of the time you will need to use ethernet cables, but an increasing number also incorporate Wi-Fi.

Network media players and media streamers usually have built-in Wi-Fi and most also provide ethernet connections. If yours does not include Wi-Fi, and you want to use that option, you will have to purchase a wireless “dongle”, which is a device that fits into your media player’s USB input. Once connected, you must open your media player’s wireless-connection setup to choose your network. You will need to know your password if you have one set up on your wireless router.

If you connect devices or computers via Wi-Fi, you must be sure they are on the same network. Sometimes, when a router is set up, people choose one network for their own use and another for guests or business. For the devices to see each other and communicate, they all must be on the network of the same name. The available networks will appear in a list of selections, both on computers and when setting up a wireless connection on a network media player or media streamer.

Forgo Configuration Hassles by Using a Wired Connection

The easier and more reliable way to connect is to use an ethernet cable to connect your network media player or media streamer to the router. If you have a newer home with whole-home in-wall ethernet wiring, you will simply connect your ethernet cable to your device or computer and then plug the other end into the ethernet wall outlet.

However, if you don’t have built-in ethernet cabling in your home, it is doubtful that you would want to add cables running from room to room. Instead, consider a powerline ethernet adaptor. By connecting a powerline adaptor to any wall electrical outlet, it sends data over your home electrical wiring as if it were ethernet cables.


Once you have your network setup, you need content—photos, and/or music and movies to take advantage of it. Content can come from any number of sources:

  • Downloaded photos and movies from your digital camera, digital camcorder, or smartphone.
  • Downloaded photos from friends and family from photo sharing websites like Instagram or from emailed photos.
  • Copy music CDs, or use a device to record from vinyl record albums or cassette tapes.
  • Download or stream movies from the internet or digital versions of movies included on DVD/Blu-ray Discs. Note: Digital versions of movies may be copyright-protected and may not be compatible with some network media players.

Storing Downloaded Content

If you choose to download content from the internet or want to transfer or save your own content, you need a place to store it. The best options for storing content are a PC, laptop, or NAS (Network Attached Storage Device). However, you can use your smartphone as a storage device as well as long as you have enough space.

Accessing Your Stored Content

Once downloaded or transferred content is stored, you can use your selected storage device as a media server that your network media player or compatible media streamer can access. Storage devices need to be DLNA or UPnP compatible which can be enhanced further with third-party software options.

The Bottom Line

With a network media player or network compatible media streamer (which may include a dedicated box or stick, smart TV or Blu-ray disc player), you can stream content directly from the internet and/or play still images, music, and videos that you have stored on your PC, media servers, smartphone, or other compatible devices, provided all the devices are connected to the same network and that network media player or streamer can read the digital media files you wish to access and play.

Using a network media playback device, you can expand the reach of content access for your home theater and home entertainment experience.

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