Personal home media server streaming content from the Internet is fantastic, today’s higher internet speeds mean that you can watch or listen to nearly anything you want from almost anywhere you want.
But even though streaming services like Spotify, Netflix, and YouTube have totally changed the way that we consume media that doesn’t mean that there aren’t still major advantages to keeping your own copies of the music movies shows and podcasts that you enjoy. And one of the best ways to do this is with a home media server.
So how to set one up having a server that you own as a central hub for your media. Not only prevents you from being at the mercy of a slow or finicky internet connection it also avoids the people that run these streaming services removing something you’ve been wanting to check out without warning. And since a local network can frequently move data at speeds that are much faster than your average internet connection even wirelessly you won’t have to compromise on visual quality or worry about buffering. Particularly if you stream full blu-ray 4k videos or you have a lot of users on your network at once.
This setup can also help you avoid storing individual copies of everything on each of your devices hogging up a ton of space over and over. Using an entire media server means that you don’t need a completely built Desktop to house this data while being able to repurpose an old storage computer.
A more elegant solution is to use a home network-attached storage device or a NAS. These are bare-bones PC-like devices that are dedicated only to delivering files as fast as possible. A typical mass usually includes its own lightweight operating system and easily accessible drive base so that you can add more hard drives as your content library grows. Some lightweight desktop units nowadays can accommodate almost a hundred terabytes of raw data. If you’re using RAID or a similar scheme to protect against a disk failure some of that space will be consumed by redundancy. Many NAS units ship without pre-installed storage, so you can actually choose your own configuration depending on your budget.
Some special use cases may benefit from solid-state drives for caching your data or holding virtual machines, but hard drives are more than fast enough for file and media streaming duty on a gigabit network which is probably what you’re running. If you’re in a pinch typical desktop drives will serve you just fine though for a little more money you can get NAS-optimized hard drives that are normally more power-efficient and that are designed for all these on operation in close proximity to other spinning drives.
One thing you’ll need for your NAS is a powerful enough CPU to handle transcoding your media to various formats for smooth operation for all your apps, such as your PC TV smartphone, or tablet, consuming more computing power than a small ARM CPU could manage. A reasonably modern quad-core desktop CPU should suffice for this, but you might be able to get away with a dual-core if you’re not running too many streams at once. The lack of Computing power is probably one of the reasons why many people chose not to simply plug in their home wireless router or external hard drive. Many of those do have file server functionality built-in and Netgear Nighthawk X10 supports PLEX, a popular tool for managing and streaming media.
The manufacturer website is the place to start or if you’re running something DIY then the project website for something like Unraid or a free OS like FreeNAS will have plenty of community getting started guides. Once your NAS is visible on the network your next step is to fill it up with your favorite content this usually means transferring files over the network, but you don’t want to just dump your files onto it willy-nilly instead make sure to organize your media into a folder structure that breaks your TV episodes down by season for example or your songs by artists and album.
Common media server applications such as PLEX can include online guidance as to how best to do so. The next step will be to download the server software that you’d like to use through your NAS itself or your web browser and the client software for your devices from the web or the appropriate app store. This will allow you to easily access your media kind of like your own personal Netflix. Plex is a very popular option although others such as Cody and Ambi are also fine choices. At this stage, setup is just a matter of following the on-screen directions and opening up some remote access router ports, and then you are able to enjoy your content from anywhere in the world.
FTC: We receive compensation from the links on this page. Learn more