Which media server is best?

Streaming media from your computer to the TV is a fiddly exercise. It’s a tenuous and fiddly exercise at the best of times, but well worth it. It means no computers, keyboards or messy wires in the living room, but not without a lot of hard graft. Over the last few years, I’ve tried quite a few approaches. I’ve gone from a Phillips Streamium device to the Playstation 3, which is worth getting almost for the streaming function alone.

So far I’ve tried 3 media servers:

  • TVersity
  • PS3 Media Server
  • Windows Media Server

Based on my experiences since about 2007, here’s some pros and cons for each.

Windows Media Server pros:

  • runs straight out of the box (whether you like it or not)
  • requires very little setup or tweaking
  • fairly reliable

Windows Media Player cons:

  • often get ‘no title’ messages when looking for media (I think this is WMP indexing files, but I have disabled it for this reason)
  • can’t play MKVs or other HD formats
  • can’t convert video on the fly to a format friendly to your setup (e.g. HD to standard def)
  • can’t configure when (or how, or how often) it indexes media

TVersity pros:

  • It’s free
  • Will convert media on the fly so it’s compatible with your streaming device (e.g. Xbox, Playstation)
  • It’s lets you configure which directories you want to share out, on screen menus etc
  • highly configurable, e.g. how often you want to index media
  • lets you view your media by date added to system (very handy)
  • can let you play internet services through your TV like Youtube and RSS
  • It groups like directories into one. E.g. if you have 3 directories called ‘videos’, they all display on your Playstation as one ‘videos’

TVersity cons:

  • seems to have issues on Windows 7 with Trend Micro Security (never had problems on Win XP)
  • often have to the TVersity service (sometimes every day. I’m yet to find a fix to make it run always)
  • It’s fiddly to get the HD support for MKV files working
  • There are regular updates – to fix bugs!
  • The indexing of media can take say 2-10 minutes. But I’ve been having dramas with it on Windows 7. Some videos it just doesn’t want to index.

PS3 media server pros:

  • It just works!
  • It’s free and very impressive
  • Generates thumbnail images for all your videos
  • It doesn’t index files. You simply view the directory structure of your computer and find the files you want to play
  • you can configure menus
  • Up and running in minutes

PS3 media server cons:

  • Sony have NOTHING to do with it. It’s written by a very clever French bloke!
  • It’s not updated often, but it is stable.
  • It can’t convert on the fly
  • I assume it only works with PS3s

All that said, I end up using PS3 Media Server all the time and occasionally TVersity for high def stuff. Although sometimes you wonder why not just have a computer in the living room. It would be much simpler… When all is said and done streaming is only starting to become a reality for the complete novice in 2010. Looking back on my uni days when I did PC setups and internet tuition, I still don’t think any of these media servers for all their merits are simple enough for the novice. There’s too much network setup, firewall configuration and just in depth PC nerd knowledge required. Ultimately, there needs to be a Playstation with Terabytes of storage that’s dead simple. But until then, pick your media server of choice and get out that manual.

A note about the Playstation as a media server

Regardless of the media server you’re connecting to, the Playstation 3 however is excellent. It lets you fast forward and rewind like DVDs which many media gates don’t offer. And with the Blu Ray player it’s the way to go. Even without ever buying a game, it’s pretty good. The only complaint is that the Bluetooth remote is far too sensitive. Knock any button on the remote and it turns the Playstation on. It gets annoying after a while! I wish I could say more for the XBox. But it’s so nerdy I can’t fathom ever using it!

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