Technical & Editorial

Media Servers – Where Are We Now, Where Are We Going?


Media Servers – Where Are We Now, Where Are We Going? Highlights

Now that computer parts have become inexpensive commodities and residential Internet service is now fast enough to stream high-def video, it’s possible for even the not-so-wealthy to add a media server to their AV system. Whether you build it yourself or buy a plug-and-play solution; the extra convenience and ease-of-use of today’s server products has become a “How did I ever watch movies before I had this?” proposition. Let’s take a look at what’s out there now and what might be coming down the road.

Media Servers – Where Are We Now, Where Are We Going?

Media Servers – Where Are We Now, Where Are We Going? Highlight Summary

  • • Media servers make it possible to store thousands of CDs, DVDs, and Blu-ray discs on an inexpensive drive array no bigger than a shoebox.
  • • Software products like AnyDVD allow you to legally rip media you already own into more convenient formats to be viewed at home or on the road.
  • • A server with a good user interface can change the way you watch movies and listen to music.
  • • It’s now possible to build your own server using inexpensive off-the-shelf parts and a little elbow grease.

Introduction to Media Servers – Where Are We Now, Where Are We Going?

I remember a conversation I had with a musician colleague about four years ago where I asked if he was planning to buy a Blu-ray player for his home theater. His answer sparked a friendly debate between us. He asserted that physical media was on the way out and that before long; we’d simply stream all that high-def content straight from the Internet.

Well it’s 2014 and I think it’s safe to say physical media is not dead just yet. But we have come a ways toward eliminating the need for stacks of discs. I’m talking of course about the media server.

It’s fantastic that we no longer have to deal with things like magnetic tape or vinyl records. Well, some prefer to spin the platter and records are definitely enjoying a renaissance but… There’s nothing quite as convenient as the optical disc. Or is there? The side effect of turning our music and video into a digital format is that we now have another way to deliver it to our eyes and ears, stream it right to the source.

There are two major ways to do this, and we’ll discuss both here today – servers and streamers.

A server in its simplest form is nothing more than a digital storage locker. Your content is copied to some type of hard disk or solid state drive. Or it can come in the form of plug in components like thumb drives or SD cards. The point is your content exists locally; as in it occupies the same space as the rest of your system. It becomes a replacement for optical discs so you don’t have to devote square footage to the storage (or display) of hundreds or thousands of little boxes. The whole idea is to save physical space and eliminate the need to put a disc in your player every time you want to watch or listen to something.

A streamer on the other hand is a conduit to content that is stored somewhere else. Thanks to ever-increasing Internet speeds, it is now possible to stream music and high-definition video into your home with quality approaching that of physical media. This method takes up even less space because you don’t need that hard disk or transport component. You simply select your content and the great & wonderful Internet delivers it to you.

We’ll look at examples of both kinds of devices today along with a few tips on how to create your own media server with commonly available hardware and software. If you’re wondering about the legal issues involved, I’ll cover that too. First up though, we need to cover a little terminology that once understood, will help you choose a product that fits your needs.

Go to Page 2: Glossary Of Popular Terms