Ian Jackson discusses home servers, NAS
drives and the pros and cons of various network configurations for your HTPC
More and more people are turning to media
PCs to serve their homes with music, movies and photos, but the benefits of
storing your content over a network rather than locally are considerable. First
of all, you only have a single collection of files to keep up to date. If you
want the flexibility to download new music from a variety of different computers,
the last thing you want to be doing is syncing your entire music database
across multiple devices before you can enjoy the latest tunes.
If you have multiple computers in the
house, having a centrally stored collection of multimedia also allows everyone
access to a centrally served multimedia collection which, if your
infrastructure is up to the task, can all be accessed and played simultaneously
from different sources - no more arguments about what TV show everyone wants to
Modern NAS (Network Attached Storage) boxes
are an increasingly sensible solution to storing all your multimedia files in a
single, centrally served location. A NAS is basically an external hard disk,
but one that plugs into your router over Ethernet rather than USB. The benefits
of this are that you only need to have the NAS box powered up in order to
access your multimedia data, which is much more power efficient than leaving a
PC turned on all the time. Modern NAS boxes also have the speed required to
stream even 1080p high-definition video over a network without dropped frames.
Modern NAS boxes also provide a host of features beyond just sharing data on
your network. They can double up as FTP servers, allowing you to access your
data from a remote location over the internet; they can be set up as an iTunes
server if you have one of Apple's ubiquitous media playback devices; and they
can even be used as your network's sole BitTorrent device. This means you don't
need to worry about leaving your power hungry PC turned on for days on end
while you download that final few per cent of the Sopranos.
So which NAS device should you choose? The
two manufacturers that have dominated this highly competitive field in recent
years are QNAP and Synology. Both offer tremendously well-endowed home and
business NAS boxes that serve as the ideal central hub for your home media
collection. We recommend that you purchase a 'bare bones' NAS - i.e. one
without installed hard drives, as these allow you the flexibility to upgrade
and increase the amount of storage you have without any warranty concerns.
They'll also allow you to make use of any spare hard drives you happen to have
One of our favourite NAS enclosures is the
Synology DiskStation DS112J and we'll be using this very popular device to
describe some features that modern NAS boxes provide. This compact,
pearly-white box hides a host of features within, several of which are geared
towards providing the perfect hub for your multimedia collection. The device
includes DLNA/ UPnP compatibility, allowing for headache-free streaming of
multimedia over to an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 games console. This features is
also well supported by many newer smart TVs -just plug them into the same
network, browse to the Synology Media server and you are literally ready to go,
accessing your whole video and music libraries using the device's own
The DS112J can act as an iTunes server.
Enable this service on the device and you can then simply use iTunes as a
multimedia player to browse and play music and videos stored on your
DiskStation. After enabling iTunes service in DSM, iTunes will recognise the
Synology DiskStation as an iTunes server under the SHARED list.
With applications designed for Android and
Apple smartphones, you can stream audio and video stored on your NAS to your
mobile device. This is handy if you don't have enough space on your mobile for
your entire music collection, and it allows you to turn your phone into a great
music source once you've plugged it into a suitable dock. If you're lucky
enough to own a tablet system, the application scales up accordingly, improving
Video files are equally well supported.
You'll struggle to find a DMA (Digital Media Adaptor) that supports every video
file under the sun, but the DiskStation now supports transcoding right out of
the box. Need to watch .MKV files on your Xbox 360? No problem!