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.

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