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Streaming and Sharing Digital Media on Microsoft Windows Home Server 2011

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This chapter shows you how to get your devices ready for streaming and how to activate streaming via Windows Home Server. You also learn nonstreaming techniques for sharing photos, music, and videos via Windows Home Server.
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Windows Home Server comes with support for Windows Media Connect, which is software that streams digital media from (in this case) the server to programs and devices that support Windows Media Connect. Supported programs include digital media players such as Windows Media Player and devices such as the Xbox 360 and Kodak Wireless Digital Picture Frame. The latter two are examples of digital media receivers (DMRs), or devices that can access a media stream being sent over a wired or wireless network connection and then play that stream through connected equipment such as speakers, audio receivers, or a TV. In Windows Home Server 2011, the server now supports Microsoft's Play To functionality, which enables the server to act as a digital media server (DMS).

Note, too, that Windows Media Connect uses standard protocols—specifically Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) and Universal Plug and Play (UPnP)—so, theoretically, any device that supports these protocols should also be able to receive Windows Home Server media streams. (Most UPnP devices have options to disable and enable UPnP, or "network control" as it's sometimes called. Access the device settings, and make sure that UPnP is enabled.)

Windows Home Server offers four media streams: music, pictures, recorded TV, and videos. This chapter shows you how to get your devices ready for streaming and how to activate streaming via Windows Home Server. You also learn nonstreaming techniques for sharing photos, music, and videos via Windows Home Server.

Streaming Digital Media

The ability to stream music over the network is one of Windows Home Server's most attractive features. Yes, you can activate the Media Streaming feature in Windows Media Player 12 (or the Media Sharing feature in Windows Media Player 11) and share your library over the network, but that sharing is limited to the media on your computer. Throw Windows Home Server's centralized storage into the mix, and you suddenly have a much wider variety of media to stream.

If you're in the market for a new DMR device, make sure it's a certified Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) device, because Windows Home Server 2011 now supports DLNA out of the box. This means that a DLNA-compatible device—it could be a Blu-ray player, a TV, a digital picture frame, or an Xbox 360 in Windows Media Center mode—will automatically find your server and stream content from it. If it's a Wi-Fi device, make sure it supports 802.11n for maximum wireless bandwidth.

Getting Your Devices Ready

Getting a device ready to receive and play streaming media is a fairly straightforward affair that usually encompasses just the following steps:

  1. Get the device ready for networking:
    • If the device is physically near a network router or switch, run a network cable from the device to the router or switch.
    • If you need to use a wireless connection, check to see if the device has built-in wireless (at least 802.11b) support. Many devices—including the Xbox 360—require separate wireless components to be plugged in to the device.
  2. Turn on the device.
  3. If you're using a wireless connection, set up the device to connect to your wireless network.
  4. Use audio or video cables to connect the device to the appropriate output equipment, such as powered speakers, a receiver, a display, or a TV set.

After you have the device on the network, you should see an icon for it in Windows 7's Network folder, or Windows Vista's Network window. For example, Figure 8.1 shows a Network window with two media devices: an Xbox 360 and a Roku SoundBridge.

Figure 8.1

Figure 8.1 Devices that support Windows Media Connect should also appear in the Network window.

Note, too, that some devices offer a link to their built-in control and settings pages. Right-click the device icon, and look for the View Device Webpage command. For example, Figure 8.2 shows the pages that appear for the Roku SoundBridge device.

Figure 8.2

Figure 8.2 Right-click a device icon, and then click View Device Webpage to open the control and settings pages for the device.

Activating the Windows Home Server Media Server

The next step in getting media streaming up and running in Windows Home Server is to enable the server's built-in media server, and then enable Media Library Sharing for some or all of the shared media folders. You can stream any of the shared folders, but the four media folders are the most common: Music, Pictures, Recorded TV, and Videos. Before getting to the specifics, here are some notes to bear in mind:

  • Media Library Sharing doesn't work with most copy-protected media, because generally you can only play that media on the computer or device that you used to purchase the media in the first place. You're still free to place copies of such media on the Windows Home Server shares, but you can only use the purchase device to play back the media stream.
  • Media Library Sharing isn't related to sharing the files themselves through \\ server and the Windows Home Server user accounts. With the latter, you can assign permissions such as Full Access or Read Only to tailor the access that a specific user has to the folder contents. When you enable Media Library Sharing on a folder, however, any program or device that supports DLNA or Windows Media Connect can access the library and play the media it contains.
  • As a consequence of the previous point, note that Media Library Sharing overrides any user restrictions that you've placed on a media folder. Even if the folder access level that you've assigned to a particular user is No Access, after you enable Media Library Sharing for that folder, the user can stream the folder contents to a DLNA or Windows Media Connect media player on his computer. If you have media in a folder that you don't want others to stream, you must move the files into a folder that doesn't have Media Library Sharing activated.

Here are the steps to follow to stream some or all of the Windows Home Server shared media folders:

  1. Log on to the Windows Home Server Dashboard.
  2. Click Server Settings to open the Server Settings dialog box.
  3. Click the Media tab.
  4. If the media server is currently off, click Turn On to activate it.
  5. In the Video Streaming Quality section, use the list to select the streaming video level: Low, Medium, High, or Best.
  6. In the Media Library section, click Customize to open the Customize Media Library dialog box.
  7. Select Yes for each media folder you want to stream, as shown in Figure 8.3.
    Figure 8.3

    Figure 8.3 In the Customize Media Library dialog box, select Yes for each media share you want to stream over the network.

  8. Click OK, and then click OK again. Windows Home Server immediately starts sharing the selected media folders.

When you turn on media streaming, Windows Home Server activates a new media server "device," which appears in the list of network devices, as shown in Figure 8.4.

Figure 8.4

Figure 8.4 When you turn on media streaming, the server's media server device appears in the list of network devices.

Playing Streamed Media in Windows Media Player

After you activate Media Library Sharing on a Windows Home Server share, Windows Media Player (which supports DLNA in version 12 and Windows Media Connect in versions 11 and later) immediately recognizes the new streams and adds them to its library.

To play the streamed media, follow these steps:

  1. Select Start, All Programs, Windows Media Player (or click the Windows Media Player icon in the taskbar).
  2. In Media Player 11, click the Library tab.
  3. In Media Player 11, pull down the Library menu and select a media category: Music, Pictures, or Video.
  4. In the Navigation pane, click the Windows Home Server shared media library, the name of which in Media Player 12 always takes the following form (where server is the name of the Windows Home Server computer; see Figure 8.5. In Media Player 11, the library name is Home Server on server):
    • Home Server (server)
    Figure 8.5

    Figure 8.5 Windows Media Player automatically adds the shared Windows Home Server media libraries to its own library.

  5. Use the library properties (such as Artist and Album in the Music category) to open the media you want to view.
  6. Play the media.

This all works fine, but it's a bit cumbersome to have to deal with multiple libraries. Fortunately, if you're running Windows Home Server 2011 and you have Windows 7 on the client PC, the whole multiple library setup is a thing of the past. That's because Windows Home Server 2011 supports Windows 7's libraries, which are virtual folders that can gather content from multiple folders, including (crucially for our purposes here) network shares. When you install the Windows Home Server Connector on your Windows 7 PC, the program automatically adds the server shares to the appropriate Windows 7 libraries. For example, the server's Music folder gets added to Windows 7's Music library (see Figure 8.6), and the Pictures share appears in the Pictures library.

Figure 8.6

Figure 8.6 When you install Windows Home Server Connector on a Windows 7 PC, the server's shares are added automatically to the Windows 7 libraries.

Not only does this give you an easy way to access the server's shares, it means that Windows Media Center automatically adds the media files to its own library, because the program automatically scours the Music, Pictures, and Videos libraries for media content. In Figure 8.7, for example, I've opened the Artist genre of the Music section of the Media Center library. Because this machine stores no music of its own, all the artists shown are located in Windows Home Server's Music share.

Figure 8.7

Figure 8.7 On a Windows 7 PC, Media Center automatically loads the Windows Home Server media shares into the library for easier access.

Playing Streamed Media in Windows Media Center

As with Windows Media Player, Windows Media Center (another DLNA and Media Connect application) automatically recognizes Windows Home Server's shared media libraries and sets them up in the Media Center interface.

To play the streamed media, follow these steps:

  1. Select Start, All Programs, Windows Media Center.
  2. Select a media library:
    • For Windows Home Server music, select Music, Music Library.
    • For Windows Home Server photos, select Pictures + Videos, Picture Library.
    • For Windows Home Server TV recordings, select Home Server, TV Archive.
    • For Windows Home Server videos, select Pictures + Videos, Video Library.
  3. Use the Media Center interface to open and play the media you want.

Streaming Digital Media Over the Internet

One of the awesome new features in Windows Home Server 2011 is the capability to stream media—photos and videos—over the Internet. This happens through the Remote Web Access feature, and a special Silverlight plug-in renders high-quality video to the remote device. It's a sweet setup, but it does require three things:

  • A fast Internet connection (DSL or cable)
  • Remote Web Access turned on and set up with a domain name
  • Silverlight installed on the client's web browser

To try this out, open the remote computer's web browser, navigate to your Remote Web Access domain name, and then log in. In the Remote Web Access Home page, use the Media Library section to select the media type you want to stream:

  • Browse Pictures—%Click this item to open the Pictures library, which shows thumbnail images of all the files in the server's Pictures share. Click Play Slideshow or double-click an image to view it (see Figure 8.8).
    Figure 8.8

    Figure 8.8 Open a picture to view it, and click Play to start the slide show.

  • Music—Click this item to open the Music library, which shows thumbnail images of all the albums in the server's Music share. You can use the View menu to choose a different library view, such as Artists or Genre. Double-click an album (or whatever) to play it. Windows Home Server opens a separate window with the playback controls, as shown in Figure 8.9.
    Figure 8.9

    Figure 8.9 Double-click a music item to open this separate playback window, which includes the playback controls.

  • Videos—Click this item to open the Videos library, which shows thumbnail images of all the items in the server's Videos share. Click a video to play it. Windows Home Server opens a separate window with the playback controls.
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