The media server is a combination of computer appliances and application software that stores different forms of media i.e. audio, video, or images. Any media that has been stored on a media server can be streamed online over the network.
While commercial web servers host media for large websites, like Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, and many more, any device like a NAS (Network-attached storage) drive or a personal computer can also act as a media server – as long as the media server is compatible with a device and its operating system.
A personal media collection of movies, TV shows, photographs, and music can be curated on the same. For instance, one’s PC will host movies/photo galleries for the user.
One only needs to cobble a library of digital files which can be then accessed virtually from anywhere. By just synchronizing that content with some media server software, one can access that library from any place anytime using compatible client devices.
How Media Server Works
Your PC, mobile device, or any other storage device can be the media server. Generally, the media server delivers multimedia files to you through a web server. First, you visit the web page and browse and open the file you want to use. The server will then send a notification to the media server, telling about the file you are looking for, bypassing the web server.
Let’s now talk about the best 10 media server software available right now!
10 Best Media Server Software for 2023
Following is a list of the top 10 best media server software detailing their features. You can choose the one that best fits your needs:
Plex is a global server for streaming free, ad-supported videos that support large media files. It is based on the client-server model and the application is well-supported by operating systems like Windows, macOS, and Linux.
Being easy to install and a highly flexible system for managing different types of media libraries, anyone can easily avail of its benefits and enjoy unlimited access to TV shows, movies, personal videos, and much more.
Plex is a network-based service and the server can be accessed by phone, however, the server can only be created with a computer or a device equipped with NVIDIA SHIELD TV. Post setup completion, it can be accessed via various devices.
- One needs to set the server up only once. Plex Media Server automatically pulls detailed information from the Internet about all your files, like cast, episodes, and so on, and automatically integrates it into the server’s media collection.
- The server easily manages and organizes the media files.
- It provides live DVR and TV. One can watch and record live TV and DVR, from any location — whether you’re at home or on the go.
- With ordinary media servers, media files from various sources from the Internet in different formats pose compatibility issues but with Plex, one does not have to worry as it supports major media file formats. All media collection transforms from being a list of files and folders to a personalized streaming experience.
- Allows accessing the server’s contents from various devices, including Apple TV, smart TVs, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, and gaming consoles.
Setting Up Plex
For a smooth streaming experience, the server needs to have an i3 processor (or its equivalent) or better, at least 2GB of RAM, and a lot of storage space, enough to store all your movies, music, TV shows, and images.
To delete the junk files, a cleaning app on the computer and a good quality antivirus is recommended. To use Plex, two apps are needed:
- “The Server Application: Installed on the computer where your media files are saved”, and
- “Plex application: An app that lets you access your data on your other devices”.
Aside from standalone Plex media player apps, users can access Plex accounts and media files through a web app using a web browser via app.plex.tv/desktop.
- Automatically synchronizes media server collection to a mobile phone in a single click.
- Provides decent streaming quality, even with the free version.
- Allows uploading media files from the camera, podcast aggregator, and tidal integration.
- Does not provide a lot of customization options.
Watch your favorite movies, videos, series, and channels in one single place with Stremio. It is a modern, open-source multimedia center and is a one-stop destination for all video entertainment lovers.
The media server software is well-supported by both desktop and mobile devices. With this media center, one can discover, watch, and save videos from third-party websites easily. Content is aggregated by the add-on feature of the software.
- Being an open-source platform, the underlying code can be edited anytime to tweak it as per your requirements.
- The media content can be organized with great ease and is well-suited for smartphones and tablets.
- With an add-on feature, one can easily reach a large audience and distribute video content to them.
- Helps in sorting out and filtering the videos and statistics can be viewed through this application.
- Video tagging is available and pictures can be framed.
Setting Up Stremio
Once Stremio is installed on your device, create an account, visit the add-on catalog and install any add-on of choice and the app is ready to use. Let’s quickly see how to install a Stremio add-on to watch free content:
- Click on the add-on icon and a list of add-ons will be displayed on your screen.
- The power of Stremio lies with add-ons else one won’t be able to watch movies. Choose one of them, for example, YouTube, and click on the install button and enjoy uninterrupted movies.
- Supports multiple languages that can be easily changed.
- Applications can be downloaded on various platforms, like Amazon fire sticks, and more.
- Replacing videos can be done and up to three copies of a single file can be stored.
- Uses BitTorrent technology and, thus, the connection needs to be protected with a good VPN to stay anonymous.
PlayOn lets users have unlimited access to numerous online content providers and watch and save videos. The software suite consists of PlayOn Cloud and PlayOn Desktop.
With PlayOn Cloud, users can access digital videos online and record those using native iOS or Android mobile device applications. While PlayOn Desktop acts as a streaming dashboard and hub on PC.
- The recordings can be easily transferred to the iPhone from an Android device and vice-versa.
- Record and download videos as MP4.
- Skippable advertisements.
- Instruct PlayOn when to record and keep the bandwidth and PC free during peak hours.
Setting Up PlayOn
For PlayOn, the computer must have Windows 10, 8/8.1, or 7, Internet Explorer 9 or better as the recommended web browser, at least 512 MB of memory (1 GB recommended), and an active Internet connection.
Create a free account by visiting the PlayOn site and signing up. Visit playon.tv/download and download an executable file. Double-click on the executable file to run and follow the instructions to install.
- With PlayOn, one can record videos and easily transfer recordings to almost any device for an offline watch. All videos are recordable in 720p HD.
- Streamlines digital content consumption for a more hassle-free experience.
- Records an entire season of TV shows with just one click. You can also subscribe to a new series and automatically record new episodes with a single click.
- Not available on Linux and macOS.
4. Emby Server
Emby Server is a free and open-source media server software. Thus, code can be easily edited and customized as per the requirements. For example, users can apply custom CSS to its web app for adding new themes.
The media server software has inbuilt features to organize, play, and stream audio and video to a variety of devices. The software is available for Android, iPhone, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, Roku, Xbox, and home theater Computers.
- The software is lightweight and users can quickly sign in to access the videos.
- One can also watch live TV.
- Notifies for every server activity and is highly customizable.
- Media access time limit can be managed without any hassles and has robust metadata editing capabilities.
Setting up Emby Server
Emby media is one of the most common media servers available for streaming media to various devices either locally or remotely via the Internet. One can think of it as his own Netflix that he can take wherever he goes and can also share with a family. It is based on a client-server model. While the Server is the part that stores the media library and acts as the media center for all the clients, the Client is the name for all the terminal devices or Apps that playback media from the Emby Server. A fully functional media server requires one server and at least one client.
Install Emby Server and the configuration window will open. Choose the language and the type of content you want to watch. Then specify the location to store the content such as a local drive, a mapped drive, and everything is set.
Emby supports a list of servers and apps that include Docker, FreeBSD, Linux in the list of servers and Google Play, Amazon, Android TV, and more in the list of apps. Usage of a good VPN like IPVnaish is also recommended while using the Emby media server.
- Easy to use and configure with local and remote streaming (may not be free) available.
- Awesome support and easy customization are available.
- Live TV and DVR functionality.
- Supports OTA and DVR (HDHomeRun and Hauppauge only; Emby Premiere). Good support for IPTV (Internet Protocol television).
- There is no central location for metadata.
Built by the people, for the people, OSMC is a free and open-source media platform that provides unrestricted access to the media. Though based on Linux, the software is well known for easy installation and intuitive use as everything is managed using the awesome OSMC interface.
The media server software is one of the leading media servers in terms of feature sets based on the Kodi project and supports a large number of sharing protocols holding up all major media formats out there in the market.
- Provides software updates regularly and automatic resolution switching and automatic refresh rate switching.
- Supports the media from a local network and features an excellent RF remote.
- Allows playing media using a USB stick.
- Media files can be easily managed and serve the same to other devices as well.
Setting Up OSMC
To install OSMC, select an operating system of your choice and download OSMC, this will create a bootable image for the device and one is ready to go.
For Raspberry Pi, download an OSMC disk image and run the same using software like balenaEtcher. OSMC installation is free but running projects on it costs money.
- OSMC can play all major media formats out there from a variety of different devices and streaming protocols and supports 4K, HEVC, 10-bit content, and HD audio.
- Automatically mounts removable devices under the /media directory and automatically shares them if you have installed the SMB server.
- Anyone can access the source code of the software.
- Supports all sorts of media files and is easy to set up. Also, has a nice-looking GUI with a variety of sharing protocols.
- Limited 3D support.
- Gigabit Ethernet is required.
Developed by the XBMC Foundation, Kodi has been specially designed to play movies and is also free to use. This software offers an interactive user interface that is well-supported on multiple operating systems and hardware platforms.
Kodi allows users to watch digital media from online sites as well as from local and network storage media. Formats like MIDI, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, and MPEG-4 are supported to provide uninterrupted access to the content.
- The software can run on a variety of devices, including laptops, PCs, and mobile phones.
- Allows import and browse movies with ease.
- Live TV, IPTV, and DVR are available through add-ons.
- Shows a TV series library with episodes and seasons.
Setting Up Kodi
For Windows, Kodi requires Windows 7 or higher, a GPU that supports at least DirectX version 9.0c. If a user is using Linux then a CPU that supports SSE2, and 2 GB or more in a computer for multipurpose use.
The first step is installation. After that, configure the Kodi and add desired movies and shows. The next step is the UPnP protocol to let other devices access this server. For those who love technology, there are multiple add-ons to play with.
- Supports a lot of client platforms.
- Local streaming is limitless.
- Very flexible and customizable.
- Centralized database for multiple clients.
- The installation is moderately complex.
With this software, one can stream media to any device without much hassle. It is a free open-source platform that can collect and store all audio, video, photos, and much more in a single place.
Jellyfin works well with Android, Chrome, and Firefox and can be installed on a NAS server or PC for streaming audio and video files to smart televisions, phones, and other devices.
Zero data is tracked with Jellyfin as there are no central servers. Also, the software is licensed under the GNU GPL license. It is compatible with any device with the .NET core runtime and running on Linux, macOS, Docker, or Windows.
- Automatically records TV. Collect desired TV shows and organize them by season.
- Live TV.
- Supports OTA and DVR (HDHomeRun and Hauppauge only). Good support for IPTV is also available.
- Store media files securely.
Setting Up Jellyfin
The prerequisites for Jellyfin media server are Windows x86/x64 or Linux generic amd64. It also works well on macOS, Ubuntu, and container images.
Install Jellyfin and manage service using one of the many packages available, like Raw Debian packages. Jellyfin also provides a collection of optional plugins, for example, Bookshelf, Email, Kodi Sync Queue, and more that can be installed when desired from the plugin catalog in the settings.
- Supports multiple operating systems, some NASes, and Docker.
- Easy installation and use.
- Simple customization.
- Easy local and remote streaming for free.
- Only a few add-ons are available.
Subsonic is a personal freeware media streamer that has been made available by Sindre Mehus for Windows. It enables you to listen to music from any browser from anywhere.
MP3, AAC, FLAC and WMA, and OGG audio-video formats are well supported by the software and are available for Android, iPhone, Roku, and many more. Users can create a playlist and share it with other people. Also, its transcoding engine works with lossless and lossy formats for on-the-fly MP3 conversion.
- Text search tool to find tracks quickly.
- Allows users to assign comments and ratings to albums.
- Available in 28+ languages and it contains more than 30 different themes.
- Enables the user to configure the user interfaces, and one can stream audio directly from their mobile phone.
Setting Up Subsonic
The Subsonic media server is a java application that runs on all supported platforms and requires no additional hardware. For Debian/Ubuntu installation, install Java first using the command sudo apt-get install openjdk-8-jre.
For Windows, download the Windows Installer file called subsonic-x.x-setup.exe. Soon after installation, Subsonic starts automatically.
- Users can access the server from any device with an active Internet connection.
- Can be accessed via a browser.
- Any video or audio streaming over HTTP is well-supported.
- Includes an embedded Flash player.
- Frequent ads in the web interface.
9. Media Portal
Using this software, one can connect the server directly to television and watch TV series/shows of his choice at any hour. Media Portal is a free and open-source digital video recorder software project and is ideal to turn your PC into a rich media center.
The portal allows the user to use a remote controller to manage and access the media. It offers the most powerful TV Engine and PVR. The plugin feature allows watching shows online and listening to music from online services, such as Last.fm, and launching other applications such as games.
- One can listen to the radio and music. It enables you to check the news, weather, and more.
- Accessible from a mobile device or the web.
- Schedule and record live TV.
- One can experience media on LCD, plasma, or projector.
Setting Up Media Portal
System requirements for the Media portal include CPU: Intel P4 with 2.0 GHz / AMD XP-2000+ or above, Memory: 1024 MB, HDD: 600 MB for Media Portal, HDD: 50 GB for TV recordings, and time-shifting.
Recordings can take up to 8GB per hour. The media portal supports Windows 7, Windows 8, and Windows 10. For installation on Windows 10, visit the official website and download Media Portal 2 and unzip the downloaded file. run the MP2-Setup.exe setup. While installing it requires additional files to download such as .NET Framework 4.5.1, DirectX 9 Runtime.
- Stylish Media Portal with skins.
- Extend features with plugins.
- Access from the web or mobile device.
- Comparatively complex to use.
It is a fully-featured media server that serves as the ultimate software for streaming movies, music, and photos to your UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) and DLN (Digital Living Network Alliance) devices and web browsers.
Using Mezzmo, all the digital media files can be streamed to the TV, home theater, games consoles, and digital media appliances from the PC that is acting as the media center. It supports reading and transcoding all popular files, containers, audio formats, etc.
- Provides metadata details, like artwork, artists, and titles.
- Lets you select the audio language.
- Easy media organization.
- Provides full playback control, including play, stop, pause, and seek.
Setting Up Mezzmo
The latest installation package of Mezzmo takes 102.2 MB on disk, a minimum of 1024×600, a 24-bit resolution display, and a powerful multi-core CPU. Windows XP and later versions all support Mezzmo.
There are two ways to run the Mezzmo server — the Console Application and Windows Service. The console application runs as an invisible application under the same Windows user account as one has logged in. While running as a Windows service under Windows local system account in the other way.
- Optimized for today’s multi-core computers.
- Has full device security.
- Supports streaming external and embedded subtitles.
- Works perfectly well with all types of home networks.
- Setting up the server requires changes to the firewall.
The media server needs a combination of both software and hardware capable of fulfilling the needs of multiple clients. The best media server will be the one that best meets the user’s demand in terms of cost, operating system, protocols, and other key features. Choose the media server that suits best your taste.
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Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is media server software?
A device that stores audio files, videos, images, or any other digital media and shares them over a network is known as a media server. It allows streaming any media content to NAS, PC, smart TV, mobile devices, etc.
2. Is anything better than Plex?
No, Plex is the best open-source media server available online at present. Plex enables you to create an always-accessible media server and offers playback apps on different platforms. Its library of free streaming content too has expanded in addition to offering pre-programmed channels, movies, and shows that users need not store on their servers.
3. Is Plex legal?
Yes, Plex is perfectly legal to download, install, and use. However, one should make sure that the media the users want to stream using Plex is sourced legally to remain within the law.
4. How to set up a home media server?
To set up a home media server, follow the below-given steps:
- Purchase NAS software or set up a dedicated computer.
- To store the media files, install hard drives.
- Connect the media server to the network via an Ethernet cable(s).
- Transfer the files to the hard drives and install any apps you would like to use.
- Start using your media server as a streaming service, backup storage solution, etc.
5. Can I use my laptop as a server?
Yes, you can use your laptop as a server. The only things required are that the laptop can connect to a network and run web server software. As free and open-source web servers are easily available, practically any device can be used as a web server.
6. Can you use a PC as a server?
Yes, you can use your PC as a server if it has an Internet connection and web server software installed on it. The installation of a web server on your PC makes it accessible to others on the Internet who want to host a website or use its resources.