Web Media Streamer
So, that’s one way of sharing media online with the HP MediaSmart Server – but we’re not done yet. Also included is a new Web Streaming application which allows you to stream your Music and Photos directly from your home server over the Internet to a PC or a Windows Mobile Device – so if you’re away on holiday or on a business trip, you’re just a couple of clicks from your entire music and photo library. You access the Web Streamer from the MediaSmart Server’s new remote access page.
When it comes to Music, you can browse your collection by folder, artist, playlist or just shuffle the tracks if you wish and in Photos, you can browse by date or by folder, playback photos in full screen and shuffle photos into a random slideshow too.
Supported file formats are as follows:
wma, mp3, m4a, mp4, aac, wav
jpg, tif, tiff, png, gif, bmp
Bear in mind that Music, Video and Photos can be streamed around the home using the HP MediaSmart Server. Outside the home, Music and Photos can be streamed remotely to a device across the internet using HP’s in built web streamer. If you want to stream video outside the home, free add-ins such as Orb or WebGuide may do the trick for you.
If you’ve been using a media streaming application such as Orb or Webguide you’ll know how great it is to be able to stream your media wherever you are – however, those two applications can sometimes be a little tricky to configure. HP’s Web Streaming application works pretty much out of the box once you have Windows Home Server’s remote access capabilities set up – allowing you to play your media on any compatible device with an Internet connection and a browser. Truly fantastic.
HP Media Collector
Those of you who have already set up a home server will know that it can be a pain moving your Music, Photos and Videos from each of your home computers over to the home server. Of course, you’ve also got to remember to keep moving any subsequent files you create on those PCs to your home server’s shared folders – I know I spend hours each Sunday morning checking my PCs and moving files over. Well, HP’s new Media Collector has changed all that – it sweeps all of your home computers regularly, searching for music, photo and video files which it then automatically copies over to the relevant shared folder on the home server.
You can change how regularly your PCs are scanned, from every hour through to once a week, add or remove specific PCs from the list of computers scanned as well as configure the home server to only search for Music, or Photos or Videos should you wish.
You’re also presented with a range of controls which allow you to configure which folders are searched (for example, just the Pictures folder on each PC rather than the entire computer) as well as manage the folder structure within which the files are copied to on your home server. For example, if you have photos scattered in various folders on your PC, you can configure the Media Collector to create dated folders and organise the photos by date. In Music, you can organise your music files by Artist and Album (based on your file tags) or simply have them copied across in the same folder structure that exists on your home computers.
The application will also attempt to reduce duplication of your media – if it finds two files which are the same, (on one or multiple PCs) only one is copied across to the home server. Supported file formats are as follows:
mp3, wma, m4a, aac, wav, playlists (m3u, wpl) and album art
avi, mov, m4v, mpeg, mp2, wmv, flv, divx, dvr-ms, m2ts
jpg, gif, tif, pct, mov
To show you how this works, I scattered a variety of MP3s across various folders on home computers in my network. Here’s how the Music and Photos folders looked on one PC:
and here’s how the HP MediaSmart Server organised them – bear in mind here that it found the files, copied them over to the home server (leaving the existing files intact) and then organised them based on included metadata.
(You’ll see that some tracks here have not been organised into folders – that’s because these MP3s are not currently tagged. However, it’s now easy to see which files have not been tagged so I can go back and sort them out, using a utility like Tag and Rename)
Sounds wonderful? It is, but it’s not without its faults – there are no progress bars or log files to tell you what files have been copied across to the home server, so you have to put your trust in the server to do its job, and, if you’ve configured Media Collector to change folder structures it can be a little tricky to go in to the shares and find a particular file. I’d also love to see meta-tagging facilities built into the application so files could be automatically tagged as they’re copied across to the home server – let’s hope HP continue to invest and build additional functionality into the application.
HP Media Collector is one of the first media management applications we’ve seen for Windows Home Server and shows how the home server platform can be utilised not just to protect and share your files, but to help you manage and organise the thousands of media files you have strewn across multiple PCs in the home. In my home, with one big music fan (me) and one photo junkie (my wife) in residence, it’s made life a whole lot easier.
The big news for Mac owners is that for the first time, the HP MediaSmart Server can back up data on their Macs running OSX 10.5 or greater. Note that the MediaSmart Server at this point cannot back up and restore the entire OS, just the data stored on that Mac.
The HP MediaSmart Server works with Macs in two ways;
- Working with Time Machine to back-up your Mac to Windows Home Server
- Allowing easy access from a Mac to the home server’s Shared Folders using the HP MediaSmart Control Center
As with using Windows Home Server on any PC, you have to install software on to the Mac to connect the machine to the home server.
Once installed, a new Control Center is available on the Mac which allows you to access various features of the home server, including browsing your shared folders, a tools section to upload photos on your Mac to your favourite sites using HP Photo Publisher as well as the ability to wake the server if it’s asleep. Full help and support for the MediaSmart Server is also available on the Mac should it be needed.
Before backing up data on your Mac, Time Machine needs to be configured to back up the machine to the MediaSmart Server. To do this you simply open your Time Machine preferences, click Choose Backup Disk and select Backup to to HP MediaSmart Server.
Data is backed up to a new Shared Folder on the home server, cunningly named “Mac”.
I don’t use Mac OS myself, but I know there are a lot of households out there that combine PCs and Macs, so this new feature will go down a storm for those who want one complete solution to manage backups on every computer in the house, whether they’re Macs or PCs.
In the past 18 months we’ve seen an explosion in the choice and variety of online backup services, with providers such as JungleDisk and KeepVault providing bespoke services for Windows Home Server. HP are now getting in on the act, although strangely not through their own HP Upline backup service. Instead, they’ve teamed up with Amazon to provide an Amazon S3 managed online backup service, which allows you to select folders on your home server to be automatically backed up to the cloud each evening.
To utilise the service, you’ll need to set up an account with Amazon – links are provided to enable this, but the sign up experience is poorly integrated into the Windows Home Server Console.
Backups can be scheduled as required, and you can select which folders you wish to be backed up – with a pricing model based on how much data is transferred and stored on Amazon’s servers, you’ll want to ensure you limit backup to your most vital folders only.
If you do have an issue, files can be accessed and restored very easily through the Windows Home Server Console.
Whilst the inclusion of the MediaSmart Server’s Online Backup does ensure HP can provide a more complete home server solution, the execution is not as slick as other applications on the MediaSmart Server – especially the media sharing applications. If you’re already using Jungle Disk, there’s little to differentiate HP’s offering here, but the application may be convenient to those who have not considered online backup previously and are happy to accept Amazon’s slightly cloudy (ha ha) pricing model. Personally, I’ll wait to see what happens in the next 12 months with Live Mesh support for Windows Home Server.
A big area of concern for many home server owners is power management – with home servers being always on/always available systems, power consumption can be an additional expense (and we all know that times are tough right now).
HP have responded with a Power Management application which allows you to schedule times for your home server to sleep and wake up – you are also able to place the home server in sleep mode manually.
The home server can be woken up from the HP Control Center and will wake automatically to perform backups, so if power consumption is a concern, this setting will help you minimise the cost of running the HP MediaSmart Server. It doesn’t have the flexibility of the Fujitsu-Siemens Scaleo’s power management add-in or other community developed add-ins, but it does the job and is a welcome addition.
In Part 5 of our review, we complete our look at the features included in the HP MediaSmart Server EX487, and summarise our thoughts on what it brings to the Windows Home Server ecosystem.
Read the rest of our review: