Five Best Desktop Media Servers

Getting your music and movies from one computer to another computer across the house or across the world has never been easier. Apps make the process simple and painless, enabling you to watch movies on your smartphone when you're out, or listen to music from your desktop in your upstairs bedroom. Here are five of the best, based on your nominations.

Photo by serrnovik (Shutterstock)

Plex (Windows/Mac/Linux)

Plex is a stellar media server and media centre application, with mobile apps that let you take your music and movies with you on virtually any mobile device or operating system. Plex transcodes on the fly, automatically adjusts its performance and quality for available bandwidth, and is a snap to set up. It works just as well on your home network as it does with your mobile device via 3G or 4G. The desktop app is free, the mobile apps cost around $5, and the MyPlex media centre hub gives you control over your files on the go.

PS3 Media Server (Windows/Mac/Linux)

The PS3 Media Server started out as a project to transcode and stream media from a computer to a PS3 on the same home network, but it has grown to be much more than that. The app is DLNA-compliant, so it supports a wide variety of devices and doesn't take a lot of configuration to use. While the app is PS3-centric, it also supports a number of Smart TV models natively. It can pass media through VLC, so if you're playing internet radio or streaming TV on your computer, you can send it through to the PS3. It supports browsing Flickr and Picasa photos streams and mounting ISOs as DVDs. It's completely free.

Subsonic (Windows/Mac/Linux)

Subsonic has been around for a long time, but is still an excellent media server option. It's most often used for music, but also supports video. As long as the video format you have supports streaming over HTTP, Subsonic can show it to you on almost any device. After you get it running on your home network, Subsonic can be configured to allow remote access to your media, so you can enjoy it on your mobile device or sitting at a laptop far away from your media collection. Subsonic supports a number of set-top boxes, and can manage podcasts. It even has a handy web UI to manage your server from remote machines. Setup is more intensive than some of the other contenders, but it's free and open source. If you want to use Subsonic's advanced features, and you want to use it in conjunction with the mobile apps for longer than the 14-day free trial, you'll need to cough up a donation of $US15 or more to the project.

Serviio (Windows/Mac/Linux)

Not only does Serviio stream across your home network to connected TVs from a variety of manufacturers, it also supports Blu-ray players, set-top boxes, and the PS3 and Xbox 360 (the app supports DLNA devices). Serviio transcodes video and audio on the fly in both standard and high definition, and can stream from online sources, live TV streams and RSS feeds. There are community-contributed apps for Windows Phone and Android, but they are mobile consoles for the Serviio server application running back home. Serviio is free, but if you want to continue using the web player or access your content when you're off of your home network, you'll need to pay $US25 for a Pro licence.

PlayOn (Windows)

PlayOn is a simpler take on a media server that focuses on two things: the media you already own, and web-based television from streaming services. That arguably makes it more appealing to US users than those in other markets, but its simplicity may make it worth a look. PlayOn supports streaming from the server app to any DLNA-compliant TV, set-top box or game console. There are apps for iOS and Android that allow you to enjoy your media on Wi-Fi or 3G/4G connections. PlayOn doesn't transcode or offer remote management features — as long as the app is running and your computer isn't sleeping, it works. You can download and try PlayOn for free, but if you want access to all channels and features, you'll need to pay $US90 for a lifetime licence.

This week's honourable mention goes to XBMC. This was frequently nominated, but it didn't actually fit our criteria: the emphasis in XBMC is on being a media centre, not a media server. XBMC can share media to other computers on your home network if you have it on your computer already, but for streaming your media to any device, on or off your home network, a more focused and specialised media server app will do the job better.

Have something to say about one of the contenders? Want to make the case for your personal favourite, even if it wasn't included in the list? Tell us in the comments.


Comments

    PlayOn doesn’t transcode or offer remote management features <-- Did you guys even bother to test/review all the features of Playon?

    Playon's main feature is to transcode video off websites (whether it be netflix or hulu etc and many more) into a format that your tv/console/set top box device can read

    Using mobile access you can view the your media (or any plugin/app you have installed such as netflix it) on any IOS or android based device

    I currently use PS3 Media Server but I find it pretty crappy. It really doesn't like working as a stable application, if you put your computer to sleep it won't be running when you power it back up again, getting the "service" running is a pain in the ass, and there's no good way to check it's actually working (it says it's running, but when you go to play back a video on your PS3 it's not there).

    I might give Serviio a try. Sounds like it does all I really want it to, hopefully it's more stable.

      Generally serviio is pretty stable. As I leave my streaming PC on all day I do sometimes need to give the process a restart/server a restart or the PC occassionally. Once I had to reinstall it as it had issues but besides that its generaly pretty good. Dont think youll find a server thats stable 24/7.

      As a side note I could never get plex working it basically brought my PC to a standstill made the fans and CPU run at 100 percent and couldn't index my content properly anyway, when I tried to delete a folder from it was still to index and wasnt indexing on filename only metadata and you know how accurate that can be. and ive never had that issue with any other DLNA media server.

      +1 Serviio. Its pretty simple and believe me if you are coming from PS3 media server you are going to love it. I also used PS3 media server and It really is a pain. Especially when you want to watch HD stuff. (even after the tweaks) Serviio's transcoding is much better. I don't need that option anyway with my wireless n router.

    Serviio is one i use the most and by far the best one after testing them all. Theres is an Android app called ServiiGo that you can watch your content anywhere. There are more apps coming soon for other platforms that can do this. Not to mention Serviio has a vast range of plugins to watch a variety of video sites including live video.

    I have just set up a Plex Media Server on a Mac Mini at home and I have to say I love it. I used to have two Boxee Box devices from DLink, which worked quite well, but did not share information on what shows I had watched/not completed/manually defined.

    Having Plex as a separate server has just taken that away. I am in the middle of putting the front end devices in (still waiting for the ATV3 jailbreak so I can install Plex on that!) but simply running the client on my MacBook Pro and/or Android devices (Motorola Xoom and Galaxy Nexii) has been fantastic.

      OMG, I thought your performance in Monkey Island was amazing!

    I agree with Mischevious, but in regards to Plex. No mention of PlexPass and getting more advanced features before the non-paying users do, as well as being integrated into LG and Samsung TV's.

    If you just want to stream to iPad, I find that Boxee Media Manager on my Mac and the Boxee app on my iPad work well. I'm fairly certain that it transcodes videos as well although recently most have been mp4 already so I'm not 100% sure.

    I use Vortex Box. It rips everything automatically then has it shared over DLNA. I imagine any other solution would only be better when you don't own any of the media you want shared over your network.

    This article doesn't mention Remote Potato? Why not? It's not only free, it's open source. It also has both free and paid apps available for Android and iOS.

    This transcodes on the fly, and works with your windows media centre library.

    I used to be a bit into this, but have found much less use for them out and about. I often find you can get better quality in a smaller bandwidth size by just redownloading the content on your other device (that's only if you lack the foresight to transfer the media to your other device before leaving the house). Naturally if your on a plane, having content preloaded is your only option.

    I understand their appeal for households with several people living in it though, but this can just as easily be achieved by sharing folders on your LAN, even if your destination device is a tablet.

    Last edited 14/01/13 1:49 pm

    Why does everyone always forget MYTHTV... Been using it for years... There's a Linux backend.. with linux frontend and windows front end.. can stream to a ipad/iphone and android (with a lil digging).. Can probably fine a Mac front end for it too.. Streams over the internet, HTTP, Transcoding, Commercial flag deciding.. supports steaming of TV, Movie database and metadata look up and the list goes on and on...

    I stopped using several of these because they were quite unreliable - and would give me a lot unsupported format errors - got a boxee and haven't looked back

    Even better than all these is to just use SMB (Windows Sharing). No need to install a server.

    XBMC isn't listed on here.... And honestly hands down I find that better than any other one listed here. Which offers all the features or more.

    I personally use Air Video. It works exceedingly well on my iPad and iPhone and is very easy to set up on the computer.

    I tried other applications but found this one and while the iPad app is paid, it is well worth it.

    I just switched from PS3 to XBox, when the PS3 died. I was using PS3 Media Server on my Mac to send things to my home theatre, but it doesn't seem to work as well with XBox. I tried Connect360, but it only serves one folder at a time. I tried Plex, but it didn't work well either (I could have set it up incorrectly). I tried XBMC, but it didn't work well either (I could see drives, but not all the files - could also have been my fault). I'm now using Playback and so far, it's great. I can see all my files and it does transcoding.

    I'm using XBMC and WMP on Windows as DLNA servers, ArkMC on Android and iPhone as DLNA client/controller, and XBox360 and Samsung TV as players.

    Ive used TVersity in the past and found it very capable.
    I also recommend BubbleUPnP for Android and its free proxying software to make any UPnP server available while on the go.

    i own a PS3 and its media server is terrible, makes me think this whole list is garbage

      It pays to read the list properly before making that kind of comment -- the PS3 media server discussed is an add-on, not the built-in option.

    If I've got a windows 7 network of 3 or 4 computers at home (an no gaming consoles), is there any advantage to me using a media server/client setup like this article describes as opposed to just using windows shares? At the moment, I use windows media centre, which connects to my library by way of standard windows shares (SMB/CIFS?). Would a media server work better? (this is on a wired gigabit network, so bandwidth/latency isn't an issue)

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