Want to learn how to set up a home media server for streaming movies and series, and even music? This guide goes through the various software and hardware options available on how to set up a home streaming server.
Streaming services are a dime a dozen these days, but they all offer different content. On top of that, there’s no guarantee that the content will stay there due to the nature of licensing agreements. Not counting the content that streaming services like Netflix or Disney+ make themselves, of course.
But who wants to deal with the frustration of switching between different services to find the shows they like? Especially when they already have (legal) downloads or physical copies at home?
Setting up a home server for streaming purposes might sound intimidating, but it isn’t all that hard. It does require a decent server, the right streaming software, and a stable connection. Security is also something to consider, as these types of setups are vulnerable to attacks. So make sure to have a decent firewall and a proper VPN installed as well.
Streaming Software Options
Streaming software not only makes it possible to stream any content to various devices, but it also helps organize the content. Much in the same way that any retail streaming service will catalog their videos and make them easier to find. All three media streaming apps mentioned below store and organize content. You can also use them to stream it to most major devices, including PCs, TVs, smartphones, and tablets.
Plex is one of the most popular media streaming services available today. It comes in two parts: Plex Media Server and Plex apps.
You need to install the “server” part on hardware that will store all the content. It can be a computer, Nvidia Shield TV streaming box, Roku, or NAS. It then collects and organizes the content. You can upload it from home drives, access through cloud servers, and other services like iTunes.
Users can then access their content through the app. Plex supports various hardware options, including Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and iOS.
Jellyfin is another excellent media server option. It offers a secure open-source alternative to Plex, though with fewer premium features. That said, it’s the perfect entry choice for those getting into home media streaming. You can think about the extra features later.
Like with Plex, the most basic features are free. But there are more advanced features locked behind a paywall.
Right now, Jellyfin is still under development (although it’s up and running), so more features should be added down the line. Jellyfin currently supports Windows, macOS, and Linux.
A while back, Firecore developed a media streaming server geared towards Apple platforms. The Infuse app is already available on the App Store and supports iPhone, iPad, and tvOS. But no MacOs support is available yet. Of course, that may change in the future. Apple has started porting its UIKit components to MacOS. Infuse also supports most of the cloud servers, including Dropbox and OneDrive.
Home Media Server Options
Getting the right software is half the job done. The other part is setting up the server that stores all the content. Here are three options, ranging from free to expensive.
People often choose to use a computer as a server because it’s easy to set up, and almost everyone has one. It can be pretty cheap or even free for those who have a spare old PC box or laptop lying around. Of course, there are some processing requirements to avoid buffering issues. The computer should ideally run a newer OS, like Windows 7 and up. It should also have at least 4 gigabytes of RAM installed.
There are a lot of cloud servers out there, and choosing the right one comes down to pricing, size, and platform support. Some media streaming software options (like the ones above) don’t support all the cloud servers out there. So make sure to check what they support before signing up.
Also, remember that you will have to upload all the content to the server. That can take a long time depending on your network speed.
Network-attached Storage (NAS)
Standalone network-attached storage units are created to store and access media. They’re an excellent option for people who want a powerful product designed for that. But they are a bit on the pricey side. Most NAS units go for around $300+.
The upside is that these devices come with transcoding capabilities. It makes any type of file playable on most devices.
Home Server Security
Network security is crucial when setting up a home server. Having a good firewall and a VPN service are both good starts. Homeowners can also consider setting up a guest network with a separate password for the server. This way, even if hackers compromise the network, they won’t get access to any other devices or hard drives connected to it.
In the end, make sure to do thorough research and look at the pros and cons of each software/hardware option. Plex, for example, is a lot more polished and offers advanced features, but it is more complicated to set up. Meanwhile, cloud servers are cheaper, but you need to upload all content before you can stream it.
Decide what streaming software works best for you, which server option is the most suit your needs, and don’t forget about security. It all may need a bit of work from your side, but the result will be worth it.