Stream From Networked Hard Drives
The media streamer concept has an obvious flaw: For true convenience, you must keep your computer on and networked at all times. This wastes power, and if your media is stored on a notebook, your family may be disappointed when you take it to work. Plus, lots of media files can make even huge hard drives seem small.
The solution: network-attached storage (NAS)--an external hard drive that plugs into your router via an ethernet port so that any computer in your house can access it. Such drives consume less electricity than a PC running continuously--less than 20 watts for some NAS models, versus roughly 120 to 400 watts for a typical PC. And if you turn the drive off, it comes back online much faster than a PC when you power it on again.
Many modern NAS drives function as UPnP-compatible media servers. If the box says the media server is DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) certified, that means it's UPnP compatible.
An example is Buffalo Technology's $200, 250GB LinkStation Live. Once it's connected to your network, it becomes accessible to any computer and compatible streaming device. You configure it by using a browser, as you would a router.
One limitation: It can't serve protected iTunes or Windows Media files to any device except a computer already licensed to play them. Still, the LinkStation Live also works as a USB print server, and it comes with a backup program.
Several NAS drives in our most recent Top 5 chart have built-in media servers and software for organizing music, photos, and movies. Our top pick is Infrant Technologies' ReadyNAS NV, a 1TB model.