The Fifth Column: The HD Stream
I finally bit the bullet and bought a full HD television. I opted for the Samsung 40” LED which came bundled with a Blu-Ray player. I had done the research on an LED versus LCD versus a Plasma TV. My decision rested on the fact that I have a lot of ambient light in my lounge which is not suited to a Plasma screen. I also opted for a non-smart TV because I intend to invest in a dedicated XBMC server in the not too distant future.
Once I had everything installed, it was time to set up my PC as a DLNA server. My TV does not have any smart functionality but I can connect my Blu Ray player to my network and stream my media to it. I first installed the AllShare software from Samsung. Once it was installed it immediately started indexing the My Music, Pictures and Movie folders on my PC. This was not very helpful because I store my media in other folders so I cancelled the indexing and then decided to shop around for a better server application.
I started with Universal Media Server, which is based on the very popular PS3 media server. After the initial installation, it worked without any problems. I could access folders and stream media from my PC. But when I tried it the next day, it did not work. I did a bit of Googling and discovered that I had to swap between ports in order to make it work. I also could not get it to launch automatically when the PC started up, despite configuring the service in Windows. Both of these problems were deal breakers so I moved on to the next application.
I installed Plex media server next and tested it for a few days. It is based on XBMC and has a similar library and indexing feature including posters, fan art and synopses of movies and series. The problem was that it used 65% of my RAM when it was loaded. The library index updates also took very long and sometimes failed completely. I did a bit of research and the problem appears to be with Python on Windows. A few people also mentioned that Plex worked very well on Linux but I was not about to implement a dual boot or virtual machine solution just to stream media to my TV. Another problem with Plex was that it needed a specific folder structure and file naming convention in order to index correctly. All my folders and files worked perfectly well in XBMC so I was not about to re-edit everything for the sake of Plex. It was with some reluctance that I uninstalled Plex and moved on to the next one.
I was starting to get a bit impatient because I wanted to play with my 40” screen rather than spend all my spare time Googling so I quickly moved on to Serviio. It has a free and pro version but it did not work at all. I then installed Media Monkey, which worked but had an overly complicated library interface that I did not have the time or patience to configure. This was followed in close succession by Orb which also did not work despite installing successfully.
TVMOBiLi and Nero MediaHome were my last two unsuccessful candidates. TVMobili advertises itself as a free application but if you read the fine print, your data streaming is capped after your initial 30 day trial period expires. Nero MediaHome allowed me to see all the shared files and folders but any file that I tried to play generated an ‘invalid file format error’. This lead me full circle and back to Samsung AllShare. I re-installed the application and then spent a few minutes in order to learn the idiosyncrasies of the software. After I correctly configured my shared folders, I was able to play all the media on my PC. An added bonus was the fact that each file had a thumbnail view as opposed to the generic media icons of all the other media servers that I had tested.
After all my testing I have concluded that there is a wide variety of server applications to choose from and if you are prepared to pay for a retail version, then the list is a bit longer. As with most things, it is best to try before you buy and check which solution best suits your needs. AllShare is a basic solution but shares my media without any problems. It is also an interim measure until I decide to build a dedicated XBMC or Raspbmc media server. A smart TV might provide you with a slightly more feature rich media player experience, but I think think that a dedicated media server is a far more versatile investment.