You keep reading that you need a media server. If you have a lot of important files, digital music and photos, a server will store them securely and share those files with other computers in the house. And you’ll likely be getting into online video, too, so you’ll want a secure place to store downloaded video and serve it to the rest of the house.
Servers come in different flavors, sizes and prices. Many of the rules that have always applied to consumer electronics purchases relate to choosing a server as well. You need to consider budget, determine what you want the server to do for you now, and how you’ll want to expand in the future.
Servers on a Budget
HP was first to announce a media server for mainstream do-it-yourself customers. The $599 500-gigabyte and $749 1-terabyte models connect to the home network and communicate with the other PCs in the home. Based on Windows Home Server software, HP servers are designed to stay powered 24/7 and automatically back up all data from the home’s Media Center PCs once a day. Windows Home Server software gives you a single location for PC backup and a remote access gateway so you can access media from the road.
At the High End
Servers from companies like Niveus, S1 Digital and Alienware provide custom-grade performance and a complete Media Center PC/server experience. Niveus designs its media servers ($2,999 and up) as home theater PCs with the high-end audio/video performance of home theater components. The Niveus servers support simultaneous streaming of HD media and multichannel music throughout the home, feature 1080p video output and 7.1 analog and digital surround sound, and provide high-capacity storage of one to three terabytes. This echelon of servers requires professional installation to ensure correct implementation of CableCards, proper audio/video wiring and robust networking for the smooth streaming of audio and video.
Music and Movies
If sharing and storing music and movies is your priority, dedicated entertainment servers like those from Kaleidescape, Escient and ReQuest Multimedia store movies and send them over proprietary networks to speakers and TVs throughout the house. Russound’s version is built around a Media Center PC. The systems are generally a subsystem of a larger whole-house control setup, including those from AMX, Crestron, Elan and others.
The PC Route
Exceptional Innovation (EI) provides another media server option. Available at Best Buy and through custom dealers, the EI servers add LifeWare software to Media Center PCs. They can be simple one-room audio/video systems or multiroom projects with CableCards, 7.1-channel audio and home automation features. Prices start at $3,500.
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