How to Stream Digital Media From Your Windows 7 PC

How to Stream Digital Media From Your Windows 7 PC
With the immense popularity of digital cameras, smartphones, and tablets for taking pictures and capturing video, and the wide availability of affordable digital music and movies, many people have amassed enormous collections of digital media. Much of that media typically finds its way onto a PC or mass-storage device of some sort--and, unfortunately, it can sometimes go unused for ages. Flipping through pictures or videos and relaxing with some good tunes is always appealing, but sitting in front of a PC isn’t the ideal way to enjoy such content.

You may be surprised to learn that sharing digital media across different devices and platforms is quite easy. Windows 7 with Windows Media Player has built-in tools and DLNA/UPnP support for easily sharing digital media libraries with compatible devices. And allowing access to the media across a network or the Web requires minimal configuration.

You do have to consider a few prerequisites, though, and get familiar with the different sharing options available within Windows Media Player. First, the PC that is hosting the media library must be connected to a network (for internal sharing) and to the Web (for sharing files across the Internet). You must enable a couple of options in Windows Media Player, as well. And if the host machine connects to the Web from behind a router or firewall, you need to open and forward a few ports to the PC to allow incoming connections.

Getting Started

The very first step to sharing the digital media on your Windows 7 PC is to set up and organize your media libraries in Windows Media Player. If you’ve already organized your files into your My Music, My Pictures, and My Videos folders, WMP should find them automatically. If you keep your media on a different drive or on a network-attached storage device, however, you should import those files into WMP. To do so, open WMP and switch to Libraries view if necessary. Then click the Organize drop-down menu, select Manage Libraries, and choose Music, Pictures, or Videos. A Library Locations window will open, in which you can add other folders simply by clicking the Add button and browsing to the folders.

This probably goes without saying, but the PC hosting the digital media library must be powered on and connected to a network. Internet access is also necessary for sharing across the Web to another PC. With all of those requirements met, it's time to enable sharing. Launch Windows Media Player (switch to Libraries view if necessary), click the Stream drop-down menu at the top, and select the option Automatically allow devices to play my media. Enabling this option essentially turns the PC into a DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance)-compatible Digital Media Server. The remote systems or devices accessing the files operate as Digital Media Players. Multiple Digital Media Servers can run on a single network, and machines or devices acting as Digital Media Players (as defined by the DLNA device classes) can also host Digital Media Servers.

Next, click the Stream drop-down menu again, and select More streaming options. On the resulting screen you can name the media library. The screen will also show a list of devices on the network that are capable of accessing the library. If you see a particular device in the list that you wish to allow or block, you can configure that option here.

How to Stream Digital Media From Your Windows 7 PC

At this point, you’re ready to start streaming media across your network to another device. If you’d like to take things a step further and share media across the Web, you have one more option to enable. Select the Allow Internet access to home media option in the Stream drop-down menu in WMP, and the program will prompt you to allow Internet connections and to link an online ID (i.e. a Windows Live account) to the libraries; take care of both steps by following the on-screen prompts. Then, once the account is linked, you can use that same account to link other PCs and access the libraries across the Web.

How to Stream Digital Media From Your Windows 7 PC

Accessing a PC remotely from across the Web will likely require some tweaks to a router or firewall, however. We’ve explained how to open ports before, but you’ll need to know exactly which ones to forward for the shares to work properly. To find them, click the Allow Internet access to home media option again in WMP's Stream drop-down menu, and in the subsequent window, click Diagnose connections. The Internet Streaming Diagnostic Tool will open and run some quick tests. At the bottom of the window, click the Port forwarding information link to see a list of the ports that need to be forwarded. Forward those ports to the IP address of the host PC/DMS, and you’re ready to go.

On the next page, I'll show you how to stream media to various devices.

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