Why Your New Smart TV Doesn’t Need A Fancy Media Server

You’ve bought a new smart TV and you’re keen to pair a media server with it. You can’t just browse the videos on your file server using the TV’s user interface — you’ll need a middleman — but before you rush out and grab a Pi, NUC or install Plex on your desktop machine, make sure your humble NAS can’t do the job first.

Back in the day, it was uncommon for smart TVs to handle the video and audio data inside AVIs, MKVs, MP4s and so forth without that information first being “transcoded” — that is, converted into a format the TV can play natively.

This meant you needed software to do the transcoding, with something like Plex being a popular choice.

Of course, the Plex server can’t run on the TV itself, so you’d have to install it on hardware powerful enough to transcode on the fly — a desktop machine, spare laptop, or a Raspberry Pi.

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The good news is modern smart TVs can deal with most, if not all, of the popular formats, which means you don’t necessarily need an active transcoder in the middle, running on decent hardware. Often, you can get away with a lightweight DLNA server that doesn’t transcode, which means it can run on a potato.

Not a literal potato, but low-grunt devices like a NAS. In fact, it’s easy to find a NAS that supports DLNA out of the box. For example, Netgear’s range of ReadyNAS hardware comes with ReadyDLNA (also known as miniDLNA) and Synology has a Media Server package you can download. With a few clicks, you can be serving media to your TV in minutes.

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So, before you spend money on a dedicated server to pair with your new TV, make sure your current gadgets aren’t up to the task first. You might be surprised what they’re capable of.

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