7 Best Home Media Server Software Choices – Heavy.com

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Many have been dissatisfied with the antics and limited streaming options of subscription services like Netflix, Disney+, YouTube, and Amazon Prime. And while there isn’t a perfect network media solution for everyone, both physical media enthusiasts and file sharers will find happy media in a dedicated media server and the right home media server software.

These services are basically HTTP servers with a dedicated user interface and set of features that are meant to manage media libraries. Just add a wireless multimedia keyboard and you can turn any PC into a home theater.

And while some incorporate streaming services, these options are best suited for those who already have a solid media collection and want to enjoy it in a curated way. So whether you want to optimize your home theater, reorganize your commercial media, or host a semi-legal collection of movies ripped to DVD, check out the best home media servers below.

What are the best home media server softwares of 2023?

1. EDITOR’S CHOICE: Plex

Pros

: Fast and

  • intuitive user interface
  • Easy setup
  • Provide covers, music videos, trailers and more

Cons:

  • Many features require a subscription or lifetime pass
  • Menus don’t handle large media collections well (depends on connection quality)
  • Options

Limited customization Plex is arguably the most popular media server software out there, as it offers easy setup and a highly flexible system for managing different types of media libraries. Plex can be configured on any hard drive, ideally a NAS (network attached storage device), but since I already use a web server to store my media collection, I can install Plex on the server. Or, if you leave your PC on 24/7, you can use it too.

Setting up your

Plex server is a largely automated process, and setting up a stream on the other end is usually as simple as downloading the free app for your chosen platform, whether it’s a smart TV, web browser, Xbox One, PlayStation, or Apple TV. Remote access is ready to use and does not require any port forwarding or additional configuration.

One of the first things you’ll notice about Plex is that its menus are beautiful across all platforms. The menus are quick and easy to navigate, though I run into some hiccups trying to navigate my stupidly large music collection. If you have several terabytes of media content with metadata, cover pages, etc., it will only populate this information as fast as your connection allows.

Aside from this folder-specific issue, the menus are beautiful, fast, and easy to navigate from all the platforms I’ve tried. Plex transforms your library into a visual menu, adding metadata like cover pages and IMDB results to enhance your viewing experience.

Like other options, Plex also transcodes on the fly and automatically adjusts its performance and quality for the available bandwidth. During my testing, I had no issues with wireless streaming through my gigabit router and mid-tier internet service, nor did I encounter any codec errors when playing an incompatible file.

While most of Plex’s features can be enjoyed for free, you need to upgrade to a Plex Pass if you want to enjoy some nicer features. These include access to some nice features of the free Plex mobile apps, the ability to sync a cloud storage system, and much more. The Plex Pass has a couple of payment options, the cheapest for a serious user being the lifetime pass for $149.99. The remaining question will undoubtedly be: is a Plex Pass worth the price? And for many, the answer will definitely be.

Plex makes hosting your own media server incredibly easy, and additional visual enhancements to your media collection combine an experience that will surpass the quality of most streaming services, provided you’ve collected the content to fill it out. A solid choice across the board, Plex is one of the top contenders for its media storage solutions.

What are the best streaming devices for playing Plex content?

  • Amazon Fire TV Cube
  • Apple
  • TV

  • Google Chromecast
  • Nvidia
  • Android TV Roku Premiere

  • Smartphones (Android, iOS)
  • Smart TV

  • (LG, Roku TV, Samsung, Sony, Toshiba, Vizio)
  • Sonos
  • PlayStation 5/Sony PlayStation

  • 4 Pro/PlayStation 3
  • TiVo Edge
  • Xbox

  • Series X/Xbox
  • One S

  • Full list here

    Sign up for Plex or find more information here

    .

    2. Kodi

    Pros:

    • Massive Add-on Library
    • Free and open source
    • It can provide covers, music videos, trailers and more Cons

    :

    • Users should beware of malicious add-ons
    • Complicated setup for streaming boxes
    • Controls

    Awkward mouse and keyboard Kodi is an open-source media center that’s been around almost as long as HTPCs (home theater PCs) have been a thing. It’s not the easiest home media software to use, but it does support an absolutely incredible number of plugins, making it one of the best options for those who want to host downloaded content alongside their favorite paid streaming services.

    You’ll find (unofficial) add-ons to support streaming services like YouTube, Spotify, Disney Plus, Netflix, and more. Kodi can even be used to sideload any of the other media streaming services we recommend. Plex’s number of channels pales in comparison, so when it comes to a variety of sources, Kodi really takes the cake.

    Kodi is easy to install on any Windows, Linux, MacOS, Android or iOS device. You can also install Kodi on almost any other playback device, but this usually requires the use of unofficial methods. This may sound intimidating, but you can find step-by-step instructions for almost any device on Kodi Wiki. However, it’s somewhat ironic that you have to follow these extra steps, as Kodi’s user interface is definitely optimized for a streaming box.

    The keyboard and mouse interface for Kodi isn’t terrible, but its menu design is definitely designed to be controller-friendly. (After all, it was originally called Xbox Media Player.) Regardless of how you browse Kodi, it will automatically organize your content to give it a more polished look. You can configure it to extract metadata from the sources you choose to deliver synopses, reviews, movie posters, titles, and genre rating for the downloaded media. You can also install custom skins to give your media library its own unique feel.

    The software is lightweight and agile and loads fairly quickly. It can handle almost all popular audio and video formats. Unfortunately, two of the software’s strongest features, its open-source license and huge library of plugins, can count against you if you’re not careful about how you use them. The unofficial nature of this service means it’s much easier to accidentally download a malicious version of an add-on if you don’t know what you’re doing. New users are advised to read the Wiki carefully before starting. However, if you’re up for this task, Kodi can offer some of the best media server features you’ll find in the free tier.

    What are the best streaming devices to play Kodi content?

  • Amazon

  • Fire TV Cube
  • x86 desktops
  • (via side loader software) Xbox

  • Series X/Xbox One S/Xbox 360
  • Raspberry Pi
  • Apple TV (via side loader software)

  • NVIDIA SHIELD TV (via side loader software)
  • Full list here

    Download Kodi or find more information here

    .

    3. Emby

    Pros:

    • Hardware-accelerated transcoding
    • Provide covers, music videos, trailers and more
    • Easy
    • setup

    Cons:

    • Most features require a subscription or
    • lifetime

    • pass Limited plugins (for now)
    • The free version is basically useless

    Emby is newer media server software that combines Plex’s polished interface with Kodi’s open source foundation to deliver a highly customizable multimedia experience that has a premium feel. But how exactly does this software combine an open source platform with commercially licensed features? It evolved with the times.

    Emby started out as an open-source project, but in 2018 moved towards Plex’s business model by developing some much-desired plugins and putting them behind a paywall. That said, Emby still offers a considerable set of features, even if you only stick with the free version of the software. Let’s dig deeper.

    Like Plex, Emby uses a client/server configuration, where it installs the server on a host device and then installs a playback client on a Roku, Apple TV, or Samsung/LG Smart TV. Alternatively, you can use the Web application on another computer. If you are using the free version, these must be on the same local network as your server. Emby automatically extracts metadata from your choice of sources so you can organize your library by genre, date, cast, etc. It also allows you to create user profiles and apply parental controls to specific users.

    While this basic feature set may be enough for beginners, advanced users will certainly want to invest in Emby Premiere, which adds a long list of extra features. Emby Premier costs $5 a month or $119 for a lifetime pass. The most important feature of Emby Premiere is the ability to remotely access your media library and also from a wider selection of devices. The paid version of Emby also includes access to Emby’s apps for Linux, MacOS, iOS, Android, Fire TV, Xbox One, and PS4. To add to that, you get live TV support (subscription required), DVR support, hardware-accelerated transcoding, cloud syncing, offline viewing, and a cinema mode that enhances your viewing experience with custom trailers and intros.

    The premiere features are well worth the cost, but, unfortunately, the free version does not reach the former glory of this application. Before considering using the free version of Emby, you might want to look into Jellyfin, which forked from the final open-source version of Emby. It doesn’t have the same feature set and app support as Emby Premiere, but it allows remote playback for free on a larger selection of devices. In addition, I review a number of other open source options below that are equally suitable for budget users.

    What are the best streaming devices to play Emby content?

  • LG and Samsung Smart TV Desktop computers
  • Roku
  • Premiere

  • Apple
  • TV

  • x86
  • Google Chromecast
  • Amazon Fire TV Cube
  • (requires Emby Premiere) Smartphones (requires Emby Premiere) Xbox

  • Series X/Xbox One S/Xbox 360
  • (requires Emby Premiere) PlayStation 5/PlayStation

  • 4 Pro/PlayStation 3 (requires Emby Premiere)
  • Full list here Download Emby or find more information here

  • .

    4

    . Universal Media Server Pros: Open source and free

    • Quick navigation
    • Highly customizable

    Cons:

      Complicated

    • setup
    • Limited add-ons Lacks
    • remote

    access options

    Universal Media Server is an open source and totally free multimedia solution, which although it is a little more complicated than Plex, is just as Stable and reliable. This software can be configured in an open source software for PC or NAS, with about the same configuration load, but if any step of the process hangs it, a pretty solid support community will be able to help you.

    Installing UMS is a fairly practical process. The software guides you through the configuration of each option before you can get your server up and running. To complicate matters, some of your devices may not find your stream if you set it up incorrectly. On the other hand, if you configure it correctly, UMS will work with almost any streaming device.

    UMS automatically scans defined locations for new media content, but if you don’t personally manage your files, UMS will look like a disaster. Chances are, if you have a serious collection, you’ve taken enough care to label everything correctly, and even if you don’t, the app is still very useful.

    Once configured, UMS offers fast navigation and built-in transcoding for playing media on devices that may not support a particular format. You have access to plugins like SoundCloud, last.fm, and XBMC, but the selection is ultimately limited. You might find some nice new streaming services, but chances are they’re not the ones you already use.

    And this will be a deal breaker for some, but UMS can’t offer remote access, restricting your server to your local wireless network. For some, this is all the appeal of a home media server, but for others, they will be happy enough to send to several rooms in the house.

    Although it can be challenging, tweaking UMS is crucial to making this software your own. If you can handle the challenge of doing so, the reward is worth it.

    What are the best streaming devices for playing UMS content?

  • Amazon Fire TV Cube (via side loader software
  • )

  • Apple
  • TV

  • Google Chromecast
  • Roku Premiere PlayStation 5 / PlayStation

  • 4 Pro / PlayStation 3
  • Smartphones (Android, Blackberry, iOS, Sony)

  • Smart TV (LG, Roku TV, Panasonic, Philips, Sharp, Sony, Vizio)
  • WDTV
  • Xbox

  • Series X/Xbox One S/Xbox 360
  • Full list here

    Download Universal Media Server or find more information here

    .

    5. Subsonic

    Pros

    : Fantastic support for

    • large music libraries
    • Supports lossless podcasts and audio
    • Moderately easy setup

    Cons:

    • Small monthly fee for video
    • support

    • Lacks subtitle support and streaming quality settings
    • Limited device support

    Streaming Subsonic is a long-standing contender in the media library game, albeit one that was originally designed to connect a large music library from a network. As such, video streaming, as well as mobile and browser app streaming, are among certain premium features that require a simple $1/month subscription. That means you won’t get full media server capabilities without a small fee.

    Despite being a secondary feature, video streaming works quite well on Subsonic, and thanks to the large number of transcoding plugins available, it can play almost all codecs. Subsonic Premium also allows you to watch videos from devices like Chromecast, Sonos system, or an Android/iOS/Windows smartphone like Pixel 4 (for which you can find some great cases in our best Pixel 4 case roundup).

    Unfortunately, this is quite limited compared to the other options you have available. Kodi has a Subsonic add-on and you can find additional side loader software like SubFire Player to use Subsonic with an Amazon Fire TV.

    Most of the other stock features that SubSonic offers also revolve around music, and for that use, they’re actually quite useful. For example, it has a one-click search for album art and album metadata, lossless audio support, and a robust podcast management system. On top of that, Subsonic is also customizable and highly configurable, as well as having a fairly straightforward setup. If you’re committed to using the free version, you can still remotely access your entire music library with a unique yourname.subsonic.org address. This privilege can also be extended to any number of concurrent users and players with an optional password.

    Users like me, who are sitting on several terabytes of music, will greatly appreciate the addition of MusicCabinet, an add-on that incorporates tag-based navigation, personal last.fm suggestions, and missing album recommendations for their favorite artists.

    At the end of the

    day, Subsonic won’t be the best choice for everyone, especially since it’s only compatible with a limited number of streaming devices. Avid viewers of shows and movies will have to contend with the lack of subtitle support, in addition to the inability to stream quality settings. For me, music makes up more than half of the media I own, and Subsonic adequately meets my needs. As an older software, SubSonic doesn’t have the same regular updates as PlayOn, and it will be a bit harder to work with. But music lovers will have enough to keep them busy, even if they occasionally have to pull out a foreign movie in VLC.

    What are the best streaming devices for playing subsonic content?

  • Amazon Fire TV Cube (via side loader software
  • )

  • Google Chromecast
  • Smartphones (Android, iOS)
  • Smart TV (DLNA only)
  • Full list of

  • Sonos
  • UPnP
  • here

  • Download Subsonic or find more information here

    .

    6.

    Serviio

    Pros

    :

    • Has a solid free/
    • open source version

    • Remote
    • access

    • Strong plugin support

    Cons:

    • Main features restricted to Pro version
    • Complicated setup
    • No iOS app

    Serviio is similar to UMS in that it is a fast and powerful open source media server rich in advanced controls and features. But unlike UMS, Serviio has a paid version that offers a convenient remote browser player, an Android app, and a few other functionalities. This software runs on a computer or NAS, and also streams content from online sources, such as RSS feeds, live audio/video streams, web page content.

    Serviio requires you to already have your content organized and titled correctly, otherwise it will look like a total disaster. In the free version, you can stream to newer Playstation and XBox devices, as well as other computers, but other devices like Sonos, Roku, and Chromecast have been known to have trouble working with Serviio. Due to its detailed configuration options, almost anything is possible with this software, but it won’t be easy.

    If you make a one-time payment of $25 for Serviio Pro, you get access to the convenient MediaBrowser feature, which offers an intuitive browser-based user interface that makes viewing mobile, tablet, and PC look just as good. MediaBrowser also offers easier access to subtitles and streaming quality controls. Beyond MediaBrowser, you also get other features like the ServiiGo app for Android (there’s no iOS app) for streaming content and the ability to control what content you share, plus who you share it with.

    Even in the free version, remote access to the server is available, but you must have a compatible router and it is a difficult feature to configure. Also available to free users is Serviio’s add-on ecosystem, which offers a fairly robust selection, mainly support for websites. These include sites like YouTube, Hulu, Twitch, and even some more adult-oriented community options.

    Serviio Pro is definitely a cheaper option than a Plex Pass, but the software offers a competitive set of features even for free users. If you are up for the challenge of more complex media server software, Serviio can be a very rewarding choice.

    What are the best streaming devices to play Serviio content?

  • Smartphones Roku Premiere (Android,

  • iOS
  • ) Smart TV

  • (LG, Roku TV, Panasonic, Sharp, Sony, Toshiba)
  • PlayStation 5/PlayStation

  • 4 Pro/PlayStation 3
  • WDTV
  • Xbox Series X/Xbox

  • One S/Xbox
  • 360

  • Full list here

    Download Serviio or find more information here

    .

    7. PlayOn

    Pros:

    • Integrates many streaming services along with
    • local content

    • Strong plugin and scripting community
    • PlayLater service can record streaming content for you

    Cons

    :

    • Windows only
    • Frequent updates will occasionally cause problems
    • Less control over local

    playback Although it has its quirks, PlayOn is a highly functional option for streaming media, as long as you run it from a Windows PC. PlayOn is only compatible with Windows, which unfortunately means that Linux and iOS users, as well as those who own a NAS device, are left out. In addition, PlayOn’s specialty is not the expert management of its own files, but rather the streams it often uses to discover new content. To put it another way, it works like a network-wide Roku.

    Don’t worry, you can still add local content like movies, music, and photos to our PlayOn library just like you can with any media server. However, PlayOn focuses more on providing a diversity of free and paid streaming services. This represents over 100 channels to start with, including Hulu, YouTube, Netflix, Comedy Central, and all the major TV networks. Navigating this large selection is pretty easy with PlayOn’s user interface, which is pretty polished. I found the bookmark feature particularly useful for keeping track of daily streams, and I also enjoyed using the PlayMark extension to stream videos from my favorite web sources.

    One caveat is that you’ll need to opt for a subscription plan to stream to non-PC devices, such as a smart TV, Roku, a game console, or a mobile phone like the iPhone 13 Pro Max. However, if you only want to stream between a host PC and a home theater PC, you can do so with the free version. That said, PlayOn runs a number of special deals on its pricing, meaning you’ll rarely have to pay the full $69.99 for your lifetime pass.

    This is quite reasonable considering that PlayOn Plus also includes the PlayLater service, a software for your computer or mobile device that records streaming media and saves it to your device for future viewing. It’s not as convenient as simply having a download option, but it’s still a perfectly legal way to save content and skip commercials. And what’s more, PlayOn has a massive community of followers who write scripts specifically to capture their favorite type of content.

    Ultimately, PlayOn may leave some enthusiasts craving more features, but it has an easier user interface than Roku and offers PlayLater, which gives you the ability to record any streaming media and play it later without commercials. Being able to download previously streamed content works great alongside remote access, and while this isn’t the most consistent media server software out there, it will certainly meet the needs of most.

    What are the best streaming devices to play PlayOn content?

  • Chromecast (cast/stream/adskip) Amazon Fire TV Cube (cast/cast/adskip)

  • Google Chromecast
  • (cast)

  • Smartphones (Android, iOS, Blackberry, Kindle Fire, Windows Phone 8
  • )

  • Smart TV (DLNA only
  • ) PlayStation 5/PlayStation

  • 4 Pro/PlayStation 3
  • (streaming) Roku</a (streaming/cast/adskip) WDTV (streaming/broadcasting) Wii

  • U/Wii
  • (streaming) Xbox Series X/Xbox

  • One S/Xbox 360 (streaming/
  • Streaming/adskip
  • )
  • Full list here

    Download PlayOn or find more information here

    .

    Heavy, Inc. participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to Amazon. Our product recommendations are guided solely by our editors. We have no relationship with manufacturers.

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