Optimise your home network for media streaming
Many of us are guilty of clogging up our PCs with digital media. A better solution is an external storage drive, which offers a secure location for your media and, if attached to your home network, lets you stream content between devices.
Stream media from a NAS drive
To stream music from your NAS drive, you'll first need to allow the content to be shared. Open Windows Media Player and select Media Sharing from the Library drop-down menu. Tick the box next to ‘Share my media'. This is the only way you'll be able to access media stored on the drive from other devices connected to the network.
Next, you'll be presented with a list of networked devices. Select those that you're happy to share content with. You can then use the Customise option to specify different media types or folders than can be shared with other devices on the network.
Most NAS drives let you access your files over the internet, so you can stream your media from anywhere that has a web connection. Some devices use FTP for this purpose, while others rely on a proprietary web service. Some devices offer both options.
You'll need to log into the online service before it can connect to your NAS drive. Check your manual for drive-specific instructions. If your NAS drive uses an FTP server, however, you'll have to set this up yourself.
As you'll be accessing your external hard drive from a browser, you'll need to know its IP address. Go to Control Panel, Network Connections and jot down the Default Gateway on the Current Connection tab. This is the IP address for your Wi-Fi router; enter it into a browser's address bar to access its web interface.
Next, visit the router configuration page and look for a table that contains the IP addresses of attached devices. Locate your NAS device and select the option that reserves the IP address shown beside it for that device. Doing so means you won't need to follow this process every time you wish to stream media across your home.
In a new browser window, enter the NAS drive's IP address into the address bar and enable the FTP server. Every drive is different, so it's best to refer to your manual for device-specific instructions. As a guide, our Buffalo LinkStation let us configure the FTP server under the Network tab.
Next, set up port forwarding on your router's configuration page. Select FTP forwarding and enter the NAS drive's IP address. This means that whenever a PC tries to make an FTP connection with the router's IP address, the router will automatically send it straight to the external hard drive.
When you're away from your home network and want to stream the media stored on the NAS device, you simply need to create a new network location. Go to Start, My Network Places and choose ‘Add a network place', ‘Choose another network location'. Enter the IP address of your home network and follow the wizard.
You'll now be able to access media content stored on your NAS drive from any web-connected PC.