Ask LH: What Is UPnP And How Do I Use It To Stream Media To My TV?

Dear Lifehacker, I’m tired of transferring my movies and TV shows to my PlayStation 3’s hard drive whenever I want to watch them. It says I can stream media from my computer via UPnP, but I’m not sure what that means or how to set it up. Help! Sincerely, Stressed with StreamingDear Stressed,

UPnP (which stands for Universal Plug and Play) is a feature that allows the devices on your home network to discover each other and access certain services. Often, this is used for streaming media between devices on a network. Tons of different devices support UPnP streaming nowadays, which is great, because it means you can rip or download media to your home computer and stream it directly to your TV — no transfer of files required.

There are a lot of different ways to set it up, and it’ll vary depending on each device you use. I’ll explain how it works and how to set it up using the easiest methods I’ve used.

What You’ll Need

  • A Server Program. This is a program on your main PC that shares the media with your UPnP-capable device. There are quite a few different server programs out there, but I’ve found that just using previously mentioned XBMC, which has a UPnP server built-in, works wonders. Mac users should definitely check out the lightweight Majestic, though, and Linux users should try MediaTomb. I haven’t found anything easier to use on Windows.
  • A device to stream to. This can be a PlayStation 3, an Xbox 360, a media centre running software like XBMC, Boxee, or Plex, and even some TVs and DVD players. Check your device’s documentation to see if it supports UPnP.

How to Set it Up

For the purposes of this tutorial, I’ll use XBMC as my server, since it works on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux, and is pretty simple to set up. If you don’t already have it, head over to their home page and download it.

Start it up and head into Settings > Network. Under “Services”, you should see an option for Sharing Video and Music Libraries through UPnP. Select that box, and head back to the main menu.

Now, if you want to share videos, just head into the Videos section of XBMC and choose “Add Source”. Tab over to Browse, navigate to the folder on your hard drive where you store your media and hit OK. That folder will now be indexed by XBMC and automatically shared to any UPnP-capable device on your network.

Most devices should discover UPnP servers automatically, which is what makes it so easy. For example, if you have a PlayStation 3, you should just be able to navigate to the Video section and see your computer pop right up as a new source. You can then browse your shared folders right from there. If you don’t see your shared folder on your device, check the settings and make sure UPnP is enabled, as some do not come with it enabled automatically. XBMC users, for example, will have to hit “Add Source” again and choose UPnP device to detect devices on the network. Check your device’s manual if you don’t just see it pop up.

That’s it! UPnP is one of the easiest ways to share media around your house, and it only takes a few minutes to set up. Hopefully this will help get you started and save you the trouble of constantly transferring all those files.


P.S. Got your own favourite UPnP server that we didn’t mention? Having trouble getting it working on your device? Every server and every device is a little different, so share your experiences and help each other out in the comments.

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