Here's how to use Plex, a free tool for streaming media from a PC to a Roku set-top box. And if your PC seems to be too sluggish to play media promptly, I'll give you some tips to decide when it's time to reinstall Windows.
My tiny Roku set-top delivers everything I could possibly want to my TV: Amazon (both Prime and Instant), Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and Pandora.
Well, okay, not quite everything: The Roku can't stream my personal library of music, photos, and videos without a little help from Plex, anyway. Plex works like a charm, though it can be tricky to set up. Here's how to get started:
1. Add the Plex channel to your Roku.
2. Download and install the Plex Media Server utility for Windows. This is the software that'll link your media library to your box.
3. Right-click the Plex Media Server icon in your System Tray, then choose Media Manager. That should open a new tab in your browser, which is where you'll set up the media you want to share with your Roku. It may take a minute or two before any options appear, so be patient.
4. Eventually you'll see five options for adding media to your library. The process is the same for all, so click one (say, Photos), then click Add and navigate to the folder containing the photos you want to add. Click Add again if you want to include additional folders.
5. When you've finished making your selections, click Add Section. Again, it may take a minute or two for your media to appear in the browser tab.
6. Now head to your TV, fire up the Roku, and choose the Plex channel. You should see your selected media channels, which you can now browse and view as you like.
If you have trouble navigating your media owning to filename confusion, check out Plex's Naming Guide, which is a bit confusing but can ultimately be of some help.
Also, if you have trouble with pixelation, grab the latest version of Plex Media Server directly from Plex.
So what if your system crashes a lot when you're trying to watch a movie? Does your system take a solid 10 minutes of boot-up time before the hard drive stops thrashing and you can do anything?
If programs won't run properly, Windows crashes often or takes more than a few minutes to boot, or you've got a malware issue you simply can't overcome, that's when you need to cut bait and start over.
I've reached that point with my system. So I'm making lists of all the essential programs and utilities I'll need to reinstall, backing up all my important data (including easy-to-overlook stuff like address books and iTunes folders), and syncing as much stuff to the cloud as possible (for ease of retrieval after the system wipe).
If you feel like this is beyond your capabilities consider hiring professional help. It'll cost you a few bucks, but certainly less than a new PC would.
This story, "How to Use Plex to Get Media From PC to Roku Box" was originally published by PCWorld.