Streaming videos from your network storage device to devices in your home entertainment center can sometimes cause more rants than raves.
Try firing up a living room device like an Xbox 360, navigating to an .MKV video file on your D-Link ShareCenter network storage device, and selecting it for playback. Your gaming console might see the file, but there’s no way it’s going to stream.
And thus emerges the grand dilemma: Your video file might be encoded using a particular codec or a compression format that your playback device is supposed to natively support. But if your encoded video has been slapped into a container that your playback device cannot support, like in my example above, you aren’t going to be watching much of anything.
One of the greatest joys of a living room networking setup is having everything within arm’s reach. I barely have to shift any weight on my couch to press my network storage device’s On button, and I can use a remote to fire up my TV or gaming console, which can receive streams of all the movies on my storage device.
But it hasn’t always been that easy. My first forays into movie streaming were a bit difficult due to one simple fact: There are a ton of different file formats that represent video files. And not all playback devices — HDTVs, consoles, or set-top boxes — can seamlessly go from selected file to streamed film.
You’d think the process would be easy. A device that claims to support AVI files, for example, should be able to do just that: Play all the videos on your network storage device that end with the extension .AVI. But a claim that a device “Supports .AVI streaming,” for example, may in fact be patently untrue. And are other tings that make you go, “Huh?” What does it mean when a manufacturer claims that a product supports H.264 playback?
Manipulating files on your ShareCenter network storage device is easy: Fire up your device in the network section of Windows Explorer to add, delete, move, and copy files to your heart’s content.
But what if you want to access these files from a computer that’s outside of your network? Lucky for you, I’ll cover that in this and the next few blog posts.
First, if your network storage device is behind a router — and I hope it is, for maximum data security (among other reasons) — you’re going to need to forward a port to your ShareCenter device. Why? Your router needs to know not to block requests for your network storage device’s Web server. By forwarding a specific port, you’re essentially creating a digital tunnel, which you then use to forge a connection between an external system and your network storage device.
UltraVNC, one of my favorite applications to run on my network, has saved me more times than I can think to imagine.
It works like this: On one system, you run a “server” version of the application. And it just sits there, idling in the background until you make contact. On another system, you run a “viewer” version of the app. Forge a connection between your “viewer” system and your “server” system, and you can immediately see the screen of the server PC as if you were sitting right in front of it. Your mouse becomes its mouse; your keyboard, its keyboard.
Totally free, UltraVNC is one of the most powerful tools you can use for instances where you need to, say, connect up to your work system on a weekend. Or when you’re trying to initiate a remote file transfer between two systems that are separated by a great distance, but don’t have any kind of direct FTP access that could give you the files on your work system’s desktop.
The most important aspect of your router — except for the connection that supplies power to the device — is its Web configuration screen. This is the heart, brain, and soul of your router. It’s the place where you go to set up all sorts of important options, including your router’s wireless networking and security settings, port forwarding for your software apps that need special access to the Internet, and all the special control options that allow you to dictate who/what accesses your network and when.
To access your router’s configuration screen, you need to type your device’s IP address — for D-Link routers, this is most often found within your device’s manual or printed on the underside of the router — into your Web browser’s address bar. That’s it. Easy-peasy.
There’s one main reason why you’d want to grant your desktop PC access to the wireless world, and it’s a biggie: You’re sick of stringing ugly Ethernet cables around your house. But you also might not have any Ethernet cable on-hand to make a wired connection — or worse, no room left on your router to plug in another cord.
A desktop-based wireless adapter grants you access to the same kind of wireless magic that’s otherwise built into a conventional laptop or Smartphone. And just like some of the laptop adapters I covered last week, desktop wireless adapters also come in two different formats: USB or PCI.
Ever hear of a Static IP address? You might not have, but it’s one of the more powerful techniques you can employ to take control of devices connected to your home network and, more importantly, use them to their maximum potential. If a connected device doesn’t have a static IP address, then your router is free to choose whatever IP address it wants (typically the lowest available at the time) during the normal IP release and renewal process that all routers perform on a regular basis. Depending on the amount of time your router “leases” a device an IP address, this could mean that your Wi-Fi-enabled smartphone might have a different IP address each and every time you come home from work and connect to your network.
These changes won’t make a lick of difference when you’re just surfing the Internet, but they could greatly impact your ability to use more advanced applications within your network — including apps that stream music or video to your phone, peer-to-peer file sharing, and apps like UltraVNC that remote-connect you to your desktop or laptop, or the process of backing up files to a network storage device.
In short, if you use an application that requires you to manually type in an IP address for the application to work within your network, then this IP address should always match a specific device on your network. Take peer-to-peer file sharing, for example. If, for whatever reason, you can’t get Universal Plug and Play-based Port Mapping to work between your software and your router, you’re going to have to manually forward ports from your router to your computer in order to maximize your download and upload speeds. You’ll have to keep on editing your port forwarding settings in your router configuration screen if your laptop keeps receiving a new IP address once per week. Yuck.