Not many people realise how easy it can be to share all the music and films that you have on a home network made up of your home computer, consoles like an Xbox or PS3 and your Internet-ready TV.
In a few simple steps we'll show you how to do it using Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) technology. It has been around for a while -- it's used in Windows Media Centre, for example -- but until now you were limited as to what you could connect to.
This article assumes you have your Xbox, PS3 or TV linked to your network along with your PC. You can do this by either using an Ethernet cable or a wireless accessory. Got those? Let's get started.
Minimum hardware needed
Use a PC that you have running a lot of the time. Windows, Mac or Linux -- it doesn't matter. We'll be using Windows for the purposes of this guide.
You need at least 512MB RAM and 1GB of free space for the program we use -- Serviio -- which is available from www.serviio.org. It's free at the time of writing and is 18MB. It comes with an installer that has all the sharing and decoding software needed. If you aren't sure that this is the program for you, Wikipedia lists some others -- just search for DLNA.
Once downloaded, run the installer. The only slightly complicated bit is when it asks which components to install (see image below).
If you only have the one computer, then all three should be ticked. Click Install. If you don't have Java 6, you will be asked to install it. This will be downloaded within the Serviio Installer. Click Next. It took a few minutes for this to complete on our computer.
Now you can start the Serviio service. Do this by clicking Start and clicking Start Serviio in your programs list. Next, click Start, find Serviio Console and click.
Next to your clock in the bottom-right corner of your screen will appear a yellow icon (pictured below). Double-click this to launch the console.
On the software's initial screen will be an option to stop the server and, beneath, a window that lists all of the available media systems. You can see listed on our own installation (pictured below), a Sony TV, some unknown devices and an Xbox. The other devices include printers, a Windows Phone and an Android phone -- both of which can stream media.
Now you need to choose the media you want to share. Select the Library tab. By clicking 'Add Local' -- that is, a folder on your computer -- find the folder you want to use. Once you've selected it, click on the type of folder it is -- video, music, photos. You can also select to scan for a video or photo's 'meta data' -- additional information about its contents -- and for updated files, before clicking Save.
Tip: you might have to move between your own user account and the 'public' user account to locate any shared music.
Find the music and then tick the relevant type boxes; left to right is Video, Music, Photos, Retrieve Descriptive Data and Scan for Updated Files.
Next, click the Transcoding tab. This is where you can decide how much of your computer's oomph to use. We chose to allocate both cores of the dual-core Sempron chip in our computer to the task of gracing the room with Silence by Depeche Mode.
Don't forget to click Save again -- you must do that on each tab you adjust -- one save doesn't save everything.
Now the fun bit: playing music. On a Sony TV, you might need to refresh the network for a Serviio computer to appear (go to Settings > Network); this is normal. Under the media type -- video, photos, music -- will appear your server, as you can see below. Then it's a case of finding your chosen artist.
However, software this versatile does have one flaw: it doesn't appear to recognises that symbol Prince used for his name for a while -- just warning you in case you might be a Prince fan…
On an Xbox, locating the music tab on My Xbox will open up your Serviio computer to you. Click on 'Serviio (Computer Name):1' -- this is your computer.
Then click on finding music by album, artist or genre and play your chosen track.
You are now using network media. You can also share video and pictures this way. It's perfect for those moments when your family wants to peek at the holiday pictures but would prefer not to have to form a scrum around the laptop.
Its not just Xbox or TVs that can use Serviio -- HTC Windows Phone 7.5 devices can use a program called Connected Devices and Android has a number of applications available too. Also, Sony UK has recently endorsed Serviio as its application of choice for PS3 and Sony Network TVs.