Updated 2015-01-28

If you are looking into Media Streaming it's probable you've outgrown single point music systems such as CD players or mp3 players.

The main advantage of Media Streaming systems is that all your music, pictures and videos (collectively known as 'media') can be stored in a single library, in one location, and played on many devices at different locations. So typically for a domestic implementation, you'd link your lounge stereo, theatre TV system, and other fixed and portable audio and visual devices into the single location library. A pictorial representation is below:-

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A useful source of information can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_server

 

"A media server refers either to a dedicated computer appliance or to a specialized application software, ranging from an enterprise class machine providing video on demand, to, more commonly, a small personal computer or NAS for the home, dedicated for storing various digital media".


(NAS is 'Network Associated Storage', put simply this is hardware that stores Media and sits independently on the home network rather than being integral to the Media Server host hardware (typically a dedicated or nominated computer))

 

Additional advantages of Media Streaming arrangements are:-

  • Comprehensive and unified indexing of media;

  • Remote management of media (using the players, connected computers, remote controllers and apps on smartphones);

  • Simple back-up so all media can be protected from loss or degeneration;

  • etc.

Media Streaming Servers & Players

 

Media Streaming is typically a network of the following components:-

  • Media Server – A computer that hosts Media Server Software;

  • Media Storage – A NAS or computer hard drive that stores the media data files;

  • Media Players – Devices that 'play' the streamed media. These may be stand alone devices (like a media radio or Smart TV), dedicated media players (with their own speakers &/or screens, or intermediate devices which provide an input into a HiFi of TV system (rather like a DVD or CD player);

  • Controllers – Devices that provide graphical representations of the media library and players which enable users to select and manage media playback (like an mp3 player);

  • A Transport Network to connect the Media Server and NAS to the Players. This is typically a Home Network centred on a home router & LAN (Local Area Network). The newtork access can be either fixed &/or wireless. Media devices connect to the LAN in the same way that  commuters and smart devices do. Some deployments use a dedicated transport network separate from the LAN but more about this later. 

 

Media Files

Media can be encoded into a bewildering variety of standards and formats. Here we briefly describe the most common and popular music formats.

 

Music File Formats

All music encoding formats take an original music signal and compress it so that it can be stored efficiently. Typically the greater the compression (smaller file size) the greater the loss of quality in comparison with the original music signal (e.g. CD track). A very useful (and fairly easy to follw guide to music compression can be found at Spoon's Audio Guide.)

  • MP3 (MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3)

    MP3 is the most popular format and widely used in portable music players and smartphones. MP3 files can be encoded to different standards typically described by the 'bitrate'. The larger the bitrate, the better the sound quality but the compression is significant and the difference in comparative quality to the original is noticeable on all but LoFi players. See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MP3

  • FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec)

    A 'lossless' format with different standards typically described by the 'bits per sample' ( 4 to 32) and sampling the rate (1 Hz to 655,350 Hz).

Media Storage

The encoded media have to be stored on a digital memory (and we have concerntrated in this article on storing music files). Because of the required capacity, this is invariably a Hard Disk Drive (HDD) which can be extenal to the Media Server host hardware. Our preference is to always have two HDD so that your precious content will be secure if the main HDD fails. If you are using a redundant PC as a Music Server host then install a 2TB disk HDD in the machine and, for security get hold of another 2TB disk and mount it in an external drive connected to the PC via USB or to the Home Network as a NAS. 2TB capacity should be adequate for all but the largest music libraries - currently I have a total of 32,803 tracks with associated artwork and have used 0.97TB of the HDD storage capacity.
If the PC catches fire or gets flooded then you still have the back up memory. We will talk about how best to ensure the two memories are keep in sync in the article on Server Management.

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