Now, on to media sharing. Let me preface by saying I'm a big fan of streaming media. If I could pay for a subscription service and access any album or movie from the net, I wouldn't even bother with mp3s or DVDs. We're certainly getting close!
Until that glorious day when I can rid myself of gigabytes of data (and data storage), I must make do with sharing media over my network. In the past, when I owned a single computer and had the convenience of a direct hook up to my home entertainment hub, I had no need for streaming. Now, I live in a house with 3 computers and a home entertainment hub with a 360, PS3, and a Wii. I also travel for at least one week a month and desire access to all of my media on the go. What's a geek to do?
To the entertainment hub
Believe it or not, my preferred method of sharing media to the living room is Windows Media Player 11 and the Xbox 360! For awhile I was using Orb's UPnP server and picking it up on the PS3. This didn't work quite right... I couldn't figure out how to play music in the background while browsing other files or doing anything else in the OS. Video files were also getting cut off before completion.
Since PS3/Orb wasn't satisfactory, Lisa and I were watching videos straight off a USB hard drive on the 360. I'm not even sure what prompted me to do so, but I decided to try streaming media via WMP11. I wanted to create a central hub for all of the devices on our home network. It works perfectly on the 360. Files play instantly with no perceivable loss in quality. Music will play in the background, even when loading up other games. WMP11 + 360 gets the "it just works" seal of approval.
To other computers (local)
I was pleased with how WMP11 streamed to the 360, so I turned on my laptop to see how easy it is to browse the same content from WMP11 on another machine. Turns out... you can't. After an hour or so of research, I learned that WMP11 doesn't stream to Windows XP with WMP11. What. the. hell.
Microsoft implemented their own media streaming tunnel, called Windows Media Connect, rather than use UPnP. This way, they can strong-arm end-users into upgrading to Windows Vista. Hate hate hate!
After another couple hours of researching various UPnP servers and clients (Orb's web-based interface is too slow for home network sharing), I realized something incredibly simple. Just share the necessary folders from the hub machine and map them on the other XP machines. Then you can easily browse My Docs with Windows Explorer and play whatever media you want in your player of choice. No setup, no streaming, no fuss. I had a /facepalm moment when I realized I lost sight of what I was trying to enable.
To mobile devices
Orb. Orb Orb Orb. I can't stress enouch how this is the best solution for accessing media from my phone or from my laptop out in the wild. It's not the speediest interface, but it's functional and it nails the bottom line. Orb is quick to setup on your hub machine and only requires a web browser to access the goods. Win.