- What are media centres?
- Key components of a media centre PC
- The case
- The TV tuner
- Input devices
- Media servers
If you're not keen on building or buying a fully-fledged media centre PC to play back your diverse media collection, there is another solution: the media server.
A media server is a file server, pure and simple. It's a place where all your media files are stored, preferably ordered and categorised, ready to be accessed over a network. You don't need any special software or skills to turn a PC into a media server. Switching on Windows File and Print sharing, and specifying the desired shared folders will do the trick (although be careful to set proper authorisation on file shares to prevent intrusions). It is, incidentally, perfectly possible to set your media centre PC up as a file server (allowing you to watch your recorded shows in other rooms in the house). A media server does not need to be fast or powerful, but it will need a lot of hard disk space.
There are packaged media server solutions that you can buy, such as the AMX Max and various network-attached storage solutions (Maxtor Shared Storage, for instance). These servers are typically turnkey file servers, built with high numbers of concurrent users in mind. They tend to be used in service-provider installed home automation systems and often cost significantly more than DIY media servers.