Streaming media has quickly become a significant component of entertainment in many people’s lives. For evidence of that, look no further than the statistics indicating that Netflix accounts for as much as 30 percent of all Internet traffic during peak hours. Streaming from the Internet, however, is only one way to get content to your media devices.
If you have songs, videos, and pictures on your home computer, you may be in the habit of copying this content to removable media to view it on your Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. But there is a way to stream the media instead, as both devices support network streaming technologies.
When I began searching for a tool to stream to my Xbox 360, I immediately recognized a problem. By default, the Xbox 360 is designed to work with Windows-based computers. Mac and Linux users need not apply. In my house, all of the computers run Linux, so I started looking for streaming solutions that would mimic Microsoft Windows’ UPnP streaming. According to Manchester dedicated hosting company 34SP.com, UPnP stands for Universal Plug-n-Play, a set of network protocols that makes it easy for devices to detect each other over a network.
uShare is a free and open source app released as part of the GeeXBoX media center project. You can, however, download it and install it separately without downloading GeeXboX. uShare supports UPnP, which both the Xbox 360 and PS3 can use to play streaming media. It will run on POSIX compliant operating systems such as Linux, FreeBSD, and Mac OS X.
You can start the uShare program directly from the command line or run it as a daemon. Once it is up and running, you can manage it from a web-based graphical interface. This allows you to add shared folders for your media player. One drawback of uShare is that it requires you to manually refresh your shares whenever you add new content. Also, development seems to have ceased on the project.
Unlike uShare, Twonky is not free or open source. It is a suite of commercial applications that allows you to stream your content to multiple devices. Currently, there are Twonky apps for Linux, Windows, Mac OS X, Android, and iOS.
With TwonkyServer, you have a UPnP server that streams pretty much any media format you need, and it runs in the background. Like uShare, TwonkyServer has a web-based frontend for easy adding of shared folders and changing configuration settings. Unlike uShare, Twonky updates shares automatically, so new media appears soon after it is acquired. For Windows users, TwonkyManager provides an interface to manage TwonkyServer. TwonkyBeam is a Firefox extension (for Mac and Windows) that allows you to easily add Internet content for streaming.
Twonky will play Internet videos, such as YouTube and organize all of your media according to your specifications. TwonkyServer and TwonkyManager are both $19.95, although TwonkyManager includes TwonkyServer and TwonkyBeam (which is free).
This Java-based app is cross-platform like the other two servers, but it also includes a desktop graphical interface for all platforms as well. Since it is a Java app, it can run on pretty much any operating system that supports Java, including Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. Furthermore, although it is called PS3 Media Server, it will actually stream to any number of devices, including the Xbox 360.
One of the nice features of this app is that it detects available devices and tells you when they are connected, particularly useful with the Xbox 360, which can be finicky when trying to connect to UPnP. Another unique feature is that it can transcode files into playable formats on the fly using FFmpeg or Mplayer. If you need your Ogg files to stream on your PS3, it will encode them into Mp3s for easy playing. PS3 Media Server will also play Internet videos and even DVD ISOs.
Of the three options, I found PS3 Media Server to be the most ideal for my situation. uShare is simple and quick but did not seem to play very well with the Xbox 360. It also lacked key features like automatic refreshing, which Twonky has. Twonky was good, but after the trial, I did not find myself compelled to spend $19.95 on it, especially when PS3 Media Server, which is free and open source, offers more features and a graphical interface for Linux.
There are other streaming options out there, and depending on your device, you might want to shop around before you make a decision. For me, PS3 Media Server, a free and open source app that was packed with all the features I need for my diverse mix of media formats was ideal.