How to stream media to your phone, laptop or tablet
Posted: 22nd Feb 2012
Got a PC full of music or media files that you want to watch or listen to on another device?
If you’re still using a USB memory stick to copy them over individually, you’re missing out on some of the coolest technology you can use around the house.
The key to moving media around from one machine to another is to use your home network, and there are three different ways of accessing a file stored on one PC from another.
1 Copy it
The most straightforward way to get a file stored on one PC’s hard drive playing back on another machine – say your laptop – is to copy it over using the network. To do this, you’ll need to enable network sharing on both computers by clicking the Start button and going to Control Panel>Network>Network and Sharing options. If it hasn’t done so already, when you first connected your PC to your network, Windows will prompt you to join a ‘Homegroup’. This isn’t necessary, but can make it easier for other PCs to see yours.
Now, on the PC where your files are stored, open up your file explorer and navigate to the folder or folders in which you keep your media files. Right click on it. If you’ve joined a Homegroup, you can choose to ‘Share with’ any or all other PCs on your network. If you haven’t joined a Homegroup select Properties>Sharing>Share to let other machines see the folder. Using the drop down menu here, select to share the folder with ‘Everyone’.
Back on the PC you want to play the file on, open up Windows Explorer by clicking on Computer, then select ‘Network’ on the left-hand side of the screen. You should see the now shared media folder there, and you can drag and drop to copy files to the second machine’s hard drive.
Many hardware media players and tablets come with file browsers installed that let them access a shared Windows drive in the same way.
2 Play directly from the drive
Once you’ve set a folder up for sharing, you can access it from a second PC just as if it was on that machine’s hard drive. Share a folder full of songs, for example, and you should be able to play back a track just by clicking on it in the Network view of Windows Explorer. The only problem is that you might find performance stutters if the network is running slowly, and anyone using the first PC can’t access the same file.
3 Use UPnP or a streaming player
The problem with shared folders and files is that not all other devices that are capable of playing media files – like phones, tablets, networked TV or games consoles – have a normal hard drive and file browser that can access and copy from shared folders. The more elegant and modern solution is to use a technology called Universal Plug and Play, or UPnP, to play back a song stored on another PC from any other device on your network.
To do this, you’ll need a media management piece of software on your first PC that supports sharing media libraries, like Windows Media Player, Mediatomb or VLC. This program will create a list of all the media files on your hard drive and make that list available to any other devices with a UPnP player installed that’s on the same network.
All you need to do then is to open your player, and it should see the library of music or movie files that you’ve shared from your main PC. Click on a track or a video, and so long as the file type is supported on your device, it should play back as if it was saved on the local drive.
With most media management programs, the set-up options to choose what you want to share will be in the File or Options menu. If you’re using Windows Media Player, you need to go to Control Panel>Network>Choose Homegroup and Sharing Options and enable media streaming.
Games consoles, like the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, have client software built in, and many tablets and phones also come with UPnP players pre-installed. If not, there are plenty of UPnP players available in the Apple App Store or Android Market. BubbleUPnP is a good option.
It’s important to note that in order to access files remotely using UPnP, however, the first PC has to be kept on. To get around that, you could invest in a dedicated networked hard drive for storing all your media in one permanently accessible place. We discussed these Network Attached Storage (NAS) drives last week – you can read more about them here.