If you’re looking for ideas on how to watch your content from anywhere – at home, on the go, from your computer, smartphone, tablet, or another internet-connected device – you’re in the right place.
In this article, we’ll cover streaming media servers – also known as a media center or media portal – that allow you to do just that.
How can I watch my content from my phone or computer on another device?
This is a common question in this day and age where we have lots of content to consume and lots of different devices and places to be.
It’s frustrating when you can’t access your content no matter where you are and what device you’re with.
There are situations you’ll be in where you might have downloaded a movie but you’re over at a friend’s place and you can’t just pull it up to enjoy.
Netflix doesn’t have it. Amazon Prime doesn’t have it, and neither does Hulu or all the popular services.
You’ll have to bring the device you downloaded it to. But if it’s your desktop or a laptop or tablet you haven’t brought with, then you’re pretty much out of luck.
That’s where streaming media servers come into play.
When you have a good media server, you can bring all of your content and media with you everywhere you go.
A media server (media portal or media center) is not just useful when you’re somewhere else and don’t have your laptop with you.
They’re useful any time you want to access content but don’t have the original device they’re stored on.
That can mean any videos you took, photos from your latest trip, or any songs you’ve downloaded – as long as that device in linked with a media server, everything is automatically uploaded to the cloud and will be accessible through a single app from any device.
Now that we’re in 2023 there’s no need to not have the ability to stream or pull up a file at any time. A media center is the best way to make sure sure you’re never without the files and content you need at any time. As long as you can connect to the internet, you can access all your files.
The best streaming media servers also are not just about storing videos and other files. Some of them will even work by letting you watch live TV via their servers.
So, in that sense, instead of it being a one-trick-pony that’s prone to deprecation, a media server can be one of the most useful pieces of software you have if you use it to its fullest capacity.
Are streaming media servers free?
Most streaming media servers offer their basic services for free. Some are freemium services where you can use them for free up to a point then you need to pay.
So, for example, if you just use it for storing files, you may be able to use it for free. If you want to use services like DVR or live TV, then you’ll probably have to pay.
If you want to use a media portal just to access your files and content in one place no matter what device you’re on and no matter where you are, the free version should do just fine.
What’s the best media server for streaming?
It depends, as there are many different media centers that you can choose from.
The main factors are what devices a server is accessible on and which interface suits your needs best.
Everyone has their own needs and personal preferences.
In our list below, we have Plex TV listed at the top. This is based on our experiences. But for others, it could be different.
You will be able to stream thousands of movies from Plex’s servers for free. So not only do you get a solid user interface, but the combo of a great media server plus a free streaming service gives it a very powerful punch.
Others, however, might like Emby better.
Emby is great, but for other reasons.
Emby is open-source and can be customized to suit your needs.
But you also need to have programming skills otherwise it’s going to be of less value.
There are also other derivative forms of Emby out there, like Jellyfin.
So the best media portal out there really depends on what you’re trying to do with it, your preferences, and what you can afford.
What kind of internet speed is required for streaming media servers?
The nice thing about media servers is that they don’t need super-fast internet speeds to get the most out of them.
It’s really the same time of internet connection you’d need to run Netflix or Amazon Prime.
A basic internet connection should do the trick.
An internet speed of 3 Mbps is kind of a minimum.
If you want to stream 4K, then that’ll require something of 4 Mbps on up.
Faster internet connections will give you better resolutions and a better overall experience, but that’s always been true.
This is also true when you’re considering any streaming service.
The way a media server operates is similar to the way a streaming platform works. Namely, the content is stored on a network.
In the case of your own personal media center, the content available for streaming is based on what you put on it.
So as long as you have a 3-4 Mbps speed internet connection, you should be in a situation where you can’t stream you content from whichever media portal you choose.
Can I watch my media anywhere I go?
Yes, you can.
If you’re out and about or on a trip, that’s the ideal application for a streaming media server.
Just as long as you’re not in the middle of nowhere that doesn’t have internet, you should be good.
As long as you have an internet-connected device that can access your media server – and ideally a reliable WiFi connection – you should be good to stream all your favorite shows, movies, music, and digital content.
You can also store and access your personal photos and videos within it as well.
So if you’re looking for something that can open up your content from one convenient and universal piece of software, a streaming media server can be a great thing to add to your tech arsenal.
In general, media portals are some of the most under-talked-about pieces of software around. They are powerful and some of the most widely accessible forms of media streaming software out there.
If you aren’t already using one, it’s a good time to check out the list and see if any could be the right fit for you.
Best Streaming Media Servers
Plex enables you to access thousands of free movies.
It also doubles as a media server to provide a powerful all-in-one entertainment center.
It is the top of the bunch and many of the services in the media server / media portal / media center space are compared directly to Plex.
We’ve also mentioned Plex in several of our other articles because of their success in providing a strong streaming platform.
Emby.media is an open-source media suite that is popular among programmers.
It’s well-designed easy to use and streamlined.
If you’re not a programmer you might not find it as appealing because there is some coding knowledge required to customize it to your liking.
Jellyfin is a popular alternative to Emby.
Jellyfin vs. Emby and Jellyfin vs. Plex is a common debate among those considering streaming media servers.
Jellyfin is a media solution built by volunteers that puts you in control of your media and content, from videos, shows, movies, and more.
Stream content and media to any device from your own server.
This video takes on the Plex vs. Emby vs. Jellyfin debate:
Kodi is a type of media streaming server that has various add-ons.
For example, there are add-ons for movies, TV shows, sports, and more.
PlayOn enables you to access content through various streaming servers and also record content.
This includes some of the most popular networks like HBO, ESPN, and the so-called Big Three (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime).
6) MediaPortal and MediaPortal 2
MediaPortal TV server is an open-source media player and digital video recorder.
It’s often viewed as an alternative to Windows Media Center that lets you watch, schedule, and record live TV.
MediaPortal 2 is also an open-source development.
It provides an intuitive interface to the content library as well as the ability to collect, curate, and share the content.
MediaPortal can turn your computer into an advanced MediaCenter / HTPC.
Beyond regular movies, TV, and videos, you can also listen to the radio and your favorite music.
MediaPortal vs. Plex
MediaPortal vs. Plex is another common debate among the media streaming community. Plex is more popular but MediaPortal and MediaPortal 2 are growing and improving services.
How does MediaPortal work?
MediaPortal works by placing your TV card(s) in one PC and installing MediaPortal with the ‘Dedicated TV server’ option.
Next install the “MediaPortal client” option on all your PCs to receive live TV, recorded TV, and TV guide data from your server.
7) JRiver Mediacenter
JRiver mediacenter is another popular service to turn your PC into an advanced multimedia center.
The JRiver multimedia application enables the user to organize and play various types of media on a computer that runs Windows, macOS, or Linux operating systems.
Subsonic is popular among music fans, but it can also serve as your personal media streamer.
Video streaming requires additional of their video streaming features.
Serviio is often compared with Plex, so the Serviio vs. Plex debate is alive and well.
Serviio is a free media server.
The service allows you to stream your media files (music, video, or images) to renderer devices – e.g., Blu-ray players, game consoles, DLNA compliant TVs, and Windows or Android mobile devices on a home network.
Ampache is primarily known as a music streaming server.
However, it enables video streaming applications as well.
Ampache is a web-based audio/video streaming application and file manager that enables you to access your music and video files from anywhere, using almost any internet-connected device.
Mezzmo is another media server for streaming movies, music, and image files to your UPnP and DLNA devices and web browsers.
Mezzmo allows you to stream virtually all types of content – browse and play TV shows, movies, home videos, music, and photos from wherever you need it.
TVersity Media Server is a software application that allows users to stream multimedia content from their PC to UPnP, DLNA, and mobile devices.
TVersity was the first media server to provide real-time transcoding and was popular in the beginning of the 2010s.
Supported devices include Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii.
In this article, we’ve covered streaming media servers (aka media portals or media centers).
These are our 12 top streaming media servers:
- MediaPortal and MediaPortal 2