Digital media isn't as young as it once was, and your media collection has likely grown well beyond what most portable devices can handle. With the right tools, you can stream anything from your spacious hard drive to any device.
Photo by Desirée Delgado.
If your media library has gotten too big for its britches and no longer fits on your portable device, it's time to explore options beyond physically syncing your media to your device's hard drive. You've got loads of ways to remotely stream your stuff to your gadgets, wherever you are. Naturally, for most remote-streaming activities you'll need to either keep media library connected to the internet by either keeping your computer on when you're away or hook it up to a freestanding NAS media server. Finding the right service for your gear can be hard, but we've got the lowdown on which ones to use depending on where you plan to stream it from.
Stream From Your Home Computer To Another Computer
Dead-Simple Media Streaming: Opera Unite: For simplicity's sake, Opera Unite, a feature of the Opera browser, is probably our favourite tool for streaming media to any computer over the internet. While we've covered how to share large files via Opera Unite, the ability to stream audio and video inline with its simple, uncluttered interface make it easy to set up and use. Using the Stream application within Opera Unite, you can also share it to family and friends by providing them with a simple URL. There's an option to leave your library public, or to keep it password protected. Unfortunately, there's no ability to build playlists with the browser, but it won't confuse your non-techie family and friends. Opera Unite is available through the Opera browser for both Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.
Advanced Music Streaming: Subsonic: If you're looking for more advanced features for your music streaming, the free open-source browser-based Subsonic remains a good alternative to Opera Unite. You won't get that same kid-friendly interface here, but what you're missing there you will make up in features. Subsonic was designed to browse large libraries consisting of hundreds of gigabytes. You can search for tracks by tag, assign ratings, add comments, create playlists and much more. There's also a friendlier-to-use, cross-platform Adobe AIR desktop program for Subsonic called SubAir if the web browser isn't quite your style. If you want to stream music to another device, it's well worth it to use it as your go-to music streaming service (we'll look at its device streaming more closely below). Most workplace firewalls will not block Subsonic, unlike popular streaming service Orb. Subsonic supports Mac, Windows and Linux.
An Oldie: Orb: Which brings us to another option: Orb. Personally, we find Orb these days to have a rather clunky and increasingly complicated interface for web-based streaming—making it slow and frustrating to use for even medium-sized libraries—but it does still stream music and video pretty well if you don't like the options above.
A Windows Media Center Must: Remote Potato: Finally, if you're a Windows Media Center user (particularly if you use it as your DVR), don't hesitate to download and install previously mentioned Remote Potato; it streams any recorded show directly to whatever browser you wish.
Stream It To Your Smartphone
Again, you've got plenty of options for streaming your home library to other devices. We'll highlight a few of our favourite choices for streaming to some of the more popular phones on the block.
iPhones and music: Subsonic: The iPhone app for Subsonic, iSub, allows for iPod-style browsing on your device. It has the ability to resume music when you're interrupted by a phone call or a text message. You can also browse multilevel directories, and like the Android app, it caches information for speedier browsing. (It doesn't cache played songs, though.) Developed by a third-party developer, it's available for $US4.99. There's another iPhone app for Subsonic, called Z-Subsonic, with similar functionality for the same price. Unlike the Android app, neither apps are free.
Keep in mind that after the 30-day trial period for all Subsonic apps, you need a licence key which is obtained by donating to the Subsonic project. The licence never expires. If you're looking for a completely free alternative, you'll want to check out Orb. The speed and effectiveness of Subsonic make it worthwhile though.
Android phones and music: Subsonic Subsonic is the best option. The Subsonic app in the Android Market supports streaming, downloading, playlists, album art and searching songs. The music that you have listened to is cached onto the phone to improve performance. By creating a new user and preferences in Subsonic, you can provide custom settings for your Android device specifically (or other mobile devices) by downsampling the bitrate. The Subsonic Android app also has an offline mode for when you roam into an area that isn't supported by 3G or Wi-Fi. The Android app for Subsonic is available for free.
Stream Video To iPhone: Air Video: When you're looking to stream video from your home computer to your iPhone, you can't currently do much better than the previously mentioned Air Video. It's an awesome app (also available for the iPad) that transcodes any video on your desktop, on the fly, and streams it in an iPhone-friendly format and downsamples the quality as necessary to fit the connection you're on.
Stream Video to Android: We had trouble finding a great desktop-to-Android video streaming app. Know of one? Share it in the comments!
Stream Music with Other Phones: Despite the fact that we haven't mentioned Orb much at all, it still does something right—WAP browsing (a common protocol used with mobile browsers). There are plenty of other phones besides iPhones and Android devices out there, and they will still rely on a WAP browser. It's fast and easy to navigate, with an intuitive interface. Music streams through Orb effortlessly through 3G or Wi-Fi, but if you're going to be relegated to EDGE, it might not be such a pretty tune. If you're looking for something that you can access anywhere, Orb still might not be the best option. It really depends on the level and availability of the data service your cell phone provider gives you.
Stream Media To Your Game Console
Stream to Your Xbox 360: Your Xbox 360 can stream a lot of media straight from your desktop without the need for any fancy add-on most of the time, but for those pesky file types it doesn't support, head on back to old, reliable Orb. Orb makes it easy to stream media from your desktop to your 360.
Stream to Your Wii: OrbIf you've got a penchant for streaming stuff to your Wii, we've already covered how to do that with Orb. The quality of the videos you're streaming won't be nearly as high as the source, but it's better than nothing.
Stream To PS3: PS3 Media Server: The open-source PS3 Media Server transcodes any video to an PS3-friendly format and streams it across your local network to your PS3.
What Do You Use?
We've highlighted some of our favourite streaming tools for some of our favourite gadgets, but we've far from exhausted the breadth of options out there. Let's hear what you use to stream media from your desktop computer to your gadgets in the comments.