When it comes to media streaming, be it music, TV shows, or movies, there’s a slew of applications to choose from. Some of which include the likes of Spotify, Amazon Music, or SoundCloud — for music — and Disney+, Hotstar, Prime Videos, YouTube, or Netflix — for TV shows and movies. While these services suffice the needs of most individuals, some still prefer having their personal media server to serve (or stream) content per their requirements. A media server can be anything from a dedicated computer or application software to as basic as a home PC or a NAS (Network Attached Storage) that stores media (music, videos, images, files, etc) and allows you to access them over the internet.
Back in the day, such needs were met thanks to the popular and free standards like Miracast UPnP, DLNA, and SAMBA, to name a few. With Miracast and DLNA coming out on top as the most popular ones of the lot. For the uninitiated, Miracast started rolling out with Android 4.2+ and Windows 8.1. And. while it managed to get off to a fairly good start, things didn’t quite bode well from there on as the standard failed to set itself as a mandated brand for devices, which allowed manufacturers to use their own name branding on the standard for Miracast implementations on their devices.
Similarly, another people’s favorite standard — DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) — which is more of a jumble of technology jargon, also saw sharp adoption rates in the initial days of the internet boom. However, with the dawn of media server software — that introduced better visual interface and offered more control over media — and the rise of streaming services — which made the idea of downloading content on physical drives kind of obsolete — DLNA (and a few other standards) began noticing a drop in their adoption. As a result, we saw DLNA, founded by Sony back in 2003, getting dissolved and discontinuing its services in 2017.
So, if you are one of those who own hundreds of gigabytes of media on their hard drives, and don’t enjoy the traditional streaming services as much, here are some of the best media server software you should check out.
Plex is undeniably one of the best media server software you can get. It involves a fairly simple installation process, which is mostly automated, and the software can be installed on a PC or a NAS (Network Attached Storage). To get up and running with streaming, you can download the relevant app on the client device, be it a TV, gaming console, or some other device. Moreover, the service comes built-in with remote access utility, so you don’t have to go through the manual process of setting it up or performing port forwarding. When it comes to streaming, the advantage that puts Plex ahead is on-the-fly transcoding, which automatically adjusts the quality based on the network’s bandwidth.
From the first instance of using Plex, you are greeted with a beautifully designed interface and a pretty soothing color theme running across the interface. The platform offers a detailed overview of files and folders with specific metadata to provide a comprehensive look at the library. Although you can get started with Plex for free, there are some features and functionalities that require the premium subscription before they can be accessed.
Subscription: Free, Paid
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If you are looking for something that is a bit more flexible and offers more customization options, Emby’s media server software is the way to go. The service supports a wide array of operating systems and hardware, including some of the popular gaming consoles. It offers a centralized database to organize all your media (images, videos, music, files) and access them using the web-based management tool. Further, you also get to manage and modify metadata for all your files, and not to mention, share them across different devices. To aid with streaming, the service automatically converts media on-the-fly so you can enjoy them seamlessly on any device.
Talking about the interface and ease-of-use, Emby organizes your content on the platform in a pretty simplified manner, or as it likes to call it — an easy and elegant presentation — that makes it easier for you to view all your media effortlessly. The software also offers cloud sync to give you the option to sync your personal media to the cloud to backup, convert, or archive your content for a simplified streaming experience across different devices.
Subscription: Free, Paid
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Serviio is another open-source media server software with a tonne of customization options. However, unlike Emby, which offers a slew of features under its free tier subscription, Serviio on the other hand, restricts some of the advanced features behind its premium paywall. But, with the free plan, it does give you the option to access and stream content across various devices on your connected local network. So, you can basically use it to stream content on TVs, gaming consoles, smartphones, and other devices, without having to worry about the different transcoders required to serve the huge array of devices.
Furthermore, in addition to regular media accessing, Serviio also allows you to stream content from online sources like online streams, RSS feeds, and web content. It even supports subtitles in different formats across all your devices and provides integration with Trakt – a one-stop media management solution that helps you sync your media like TV shows, movies, and more across all your different devices. Recently, the platform also got support for Alexa skills (on Pro plan) to make it easier for you to control your Serviio media server with voice commands.
Subscription: Free, Paid
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Kodi, erstwhile XMBC, is an open-source media software. Not to be confused with media server software, like Plex or the likes. And although many disregard it for the same reason, which is that, it restricts its media streaming abilities to a local network, its simplistic interface and a wider array of features, still puts it in the list of the best media server software. However, that is not to say that you cannot stream your stored media via the public internet, as the platform offers a bunch of add-ons to allow you to stream content online. But, over the years, it has attracted negative attention and has been called off as controversial among some of its users.
Talking about what you essentially get with Kodi — besides the usual functionality found on Plex — Kodi tops it up with a few additional features. Some of which include PVR – to allow you to watch and record live TV across popular backends, remote interface – that brings remote controls, web browser, ability to customize the interface using various skins, and last, but certainly not the least, access to third-party tools that take the experience to a different level altogether.
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Those are some of our recommendations for the best media server software you can use to create an organized collection of all your media and access it across various devices. Besides if you are looking for a few more options to explore, here are some noticeable mentions: Subsonic (for music and video), Madsonic (music), OSMC (built-on Kodi for devices with less processing prowess), and Jellyfin (a fork of Emby that is prettier and open-source with almost the same functionality).