If you want to store your media files like videos, audios, images, and wish to have access to it over the internet, then you need a media server. Though we have the likes of Hulu, Netflix, and tons of other channels which are great for consuming a plethora of content, it is always nice to have your curated personal media collection that you could access from anywhere. You can cobble together your massive list of digital files on DVDs, Blu-ray rips, CD, or vinyl rips and then use a media server to access them virtually from anywhere.
What is Media Server?
A media server is quite like a DIY Netflix, Spotify, or Hulu, the only difference is that in a media server you are hosting your own collection of digital content. The media server is a term used for both the software application that delivers audio and video content as well as the host that runs this media server software. VOD (video on demand) is one of the most popular uses of a media server where the media server pulls a prerecorded video from its storage and delivers it over the network to the client who requests this video,
A media server is able to stream any kind of media on the following platforms:
- NAS (Network-attached storage)
- Personal computers
- Smart TVs
- Android devices
- Apple devices.
Why should you build your own media server?
Once you sync your content with any media server software, you can make it accessible to any device which runs a compatible client. Any PC which has compatible hardware and operating system with your media server application can be used to stream your movies, music, TV shows, etc.
Apart from having digitized access to your collection, a media server also gives you a sleek user interface. Most of the media servers would automatically download metadata of your content and box art and ensure that you carry your media with you wherever you go. It is a very convenient mode of accessing your digital data compared to pulling out discs and loading them up. Many of the latest laptops, desktops, and even some games consoles do not have optical drives anymore hence a media server becomes a kind of necessity.
What to look for when you are selecting a media server for yourself?
The main function of a media server is to organize your files (images, audios, videos, etc.) on any device of your choice in a fashion that it is easy for you to access media.
- The user interface should be intuitive and clean so that you can access your files easily and quickly.
- A media server should not just allow playback on the original device but using the media server you should be able to play media through external devices like streaming your content on TV.
- Another really important and must-have feature of a media management system is its ability to allow multiple devices to access the media library simultaneously. So you could be watching a movie while your other family member could be listening to music at the same time, using your media server.
- The media server must have a good user base and receive regular updates frequently. This ensures the longevity of any media server application.
There are few other factors that would go into deciding which media server suits your needs. Some of those factors are:
- The operating system on your host device. Many of the server software can run only on Linux, macOS, Windows, or Docker.
- The hardware of your system is also a limiting factor. Traditional PCs can run many media servers but a single-board computer such as Odroid XU4 or Raspberry Pi will narrow down your choices for media server installation.
- A video and music streaming service are also dependent on which client device you want to stream your media on.
- The type of media you want to access also holds importance. Some media servers can handle music, videos, and photos while there are others that are more specialized.
- Cost of the server.
Based on the above considerations you can decide if you want to go for a paid media server or a free one.
The Best Media Servers In Market
We have hand-picked some of the best media servers for home as well as office setup. You will find both free (open source) and paid (commercial) media server software in this list.
Plex is hands down the best media server option available on all the factors discussed above. With its robust cord-cutting functionality this application is more than just a media server app. Plex not only enables you to stream a wide variety of media collections, but it also has a slew of cord-cutting features too. You can connect an OTA (over the air) antennae for DVR and live TV options using Plex. Plex is also an amazing source of free streaming videos. With its superb device compatibility, usability, Plex plugins, and functionality, Plex easily tops the list. The compelling reasons for using Plex are:
- There are tons of client devices that are compatible with Plex like Android, Apple, Smart TVs, etc.
- It has great movies, TV shows, and web shows you can choose from.
- It has tidal integration capability.
- It is also a podcast aggregator with a dedicated podcast section.
- There is DVR and LIVE TV functionality in it.
- You can enjoy free and legal streaming movies and TV shows with it.
- It can run on macOS, Linux, Docker, Windows, NAS, and FreeBSD devices.
- This app can automatically sync your media with your mobile devices.
- You can use your camera to upload media files on this app.
- It has an intuitive and fast interface.
- It provides cover art, trailers, etc.
- Setting up the Plex app is an automated and easy process.
This media server is a video streaming service that also doubles up as PVR(Personal video recorder) and DVR (digital video recorder). While most media servers provide you functionalities to host your media, PlayOn provides unique functionality to record and save videos on your PC. Using PlayON several streaming services including Hulu, Netflix, Disney+, etc. can be synced with the app, and videos from these services can be saved on your PC. It is legal to do this using PlayOn since it does not violate any DRM (Digital rights management) rules. Amongst several of its winning features, some of the most attractive ones are:
- PlayOn can be used both as a media server and to cast videos to PlayOn clients.
- You can save videos from many streaming services to your PC directly in MP4 format.
- The recorded videos can be transferred to your iOS and Android devices.
- It runs on Windows and very easy to set up.
- With PlayOn, you can stream videos from desktops, tablets, and phones.
- In the playback video mode, the app would automatically skip the ads.
Films and TV fans would love this extremely easy-to-use Bulgarian open-source media center app. The app focuses majorly on organizing the videos for users’ convenience and also integrates VOD services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc. It has an add-on feature that allows contents from other providers to seamlessly combine with the Stremio interface. When it creates the library, it also takes into accounts the movies, video clips, and shows on your own device. With its calendar function, it keeps you updated with the new release of episodes of your favorite show or reminds you about the release of highly anticipated movies.
- Organizing media content with Stremio is a breeze.
- One can edit the code written for this tool since it is an open-source media server.
- Stremio is compatible with smartphones, tablets, PCs, and desktops (Linux, macOS, and Windows).
- With its add-on feature, Stremio offers a good price comparison between different providers (in terms of compatibility) and lets you know when and where the content is available
- Its calendar feature helps you track new series episodes or movie releases.
Kodi has been around for a long time, as long as home theater PCs. It is a free media server that is specifically designed to play movies. Its interactive full-screen interface makes it very user-friendly. It has a massive add-on library and provides cover art, movie trailers, and more. It was originally designed as a player for MS Xbox console and initially called XBMC (Xbox media center). The app supports a wide range of media formats like midi, mpeg1, mpeg2, mpeg3, and mpeg4. You will also find unofficial addons that support streaming services like Spotify, Youtube, Netflix, Disney plus, etc. You could also sideload other media streaming services with Kodi.
Also read: Best Kodi Forks
- It can be easily installed on a multitude of devices like iOS, Android, Linux, macOS, Raspberry-Pi, and Windows.
- Its user interface makes navigation very easy.
- It can integrate with almost any kind of device and is platform-independent.
- It is lightweight software that loads very fast.
- It organizes content in a very sophisticated and polished manner. You can also completely change the appearance of the player.
- It automatically gets the metadata about your content from the net and provides covert art, trailers, music videos, etc. for your media content.
- Kodi team handles new technologies (for example video acceleration) and formats in real-time.
- There is also a remote control app for iOS and Android.
This is another fantastic open-source media server option that is absolutely free to use. It has live TV, DVR functionality and there is no tracking as JellyFin has no central servers. The app is licensed under the GNU GPL license. It has installers for a range of operating systems like Linux, Windows, macOS, and Docker. It also has a portable version that can run on any machine which has a .Net core runtime. With a strong user base, you can be sure of the longevity of this app and regular updates. This app can also run in browsers, Kodi, iOS devices, Android devices, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, etc.
- It has a strong user base and active development.
- It supports Live TV and DVR.
- It is open-source and completely free.
- Runs on a range of devices like Linux, Windows, macOS, Docker, browsers, Kodi, iOS devices, Android devices, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, etc
- Using this app you could organize your favorite TV show’s episodes into seasons.
- Media files can be stored securely on this app.
If you are a music buff then you are going to love this app with its fabulous music streaming capabilities. Apart from music, Subsonic can stream videos pretty well too. This music streaming jukebox allows you to rate albums and comment on them. It has features for free text search and easy playlist creation. You could also share media using this app. The range of file types Subsonic can play is huge and includes mp3, AAC, OGG, FLAC, APE, and WMA. It can resample to lower bitrates on-the-fly and the FFmpeg encoder helps in case of low bandwidth. Its transcoding engine can do mp3 conversions on-the-fly. You can easily play media with your networked speakers as it is integrated with Sonos. The huge range of formats supported by this player makes it a great choice as a media server.
- You can find tracks easily with its free text search facility.
- You could assign ratings and comment on albums through this app.
- There are more than 30 different themes on this app to configure its user interface.
- You could use your mobile to stream audio directly.
- It is available in more than 28 languages.
- You can create a playlist with this tool and share it with others.
- You could manipulate your albums by adding, removing, repeating, and rearranging audio files.
Wrapping it up: Best Media Servers
A media server is a great utility in today’s digital age as it lets you create your personal library of various media content like videos, audios, etc. which you can access from anywhere through a network. There are tons of media server apps available in the market and your choice would depend on the hardware and software of your device as well as the price of the server. Hopefully, you should be able to make a choice after going through the list of top media servers furnished in this article.