At home, we use a combination of Windows Home Server and Windows Media Center for all of our entertainment. It’s an awesome combination that gets better with each release of both platforms. If you’re yet to try out a server for home entertainment, then let me explain how it works.
We store all of our music, video and photos on Windows Home Server. You can buy a range of different servers off the shelf from Lenovo, HP, Acer and others, but I built our own 4-bay, 8TB server as a weekend project. It installs on the network with a quick wizard, and as well as providing a huge amount of network storage for our digital stuff, also backs up our home PCs every night using an image-based backup feature which can subsequently restore an entire PC in 15 mins. It’s very cool.
Windows Home Server works neatly with Windows 7 PCs, automatically configuring your Music, Video and Photo libraries with content from your home server’s shared folders. Open up Windows Media Center, and it’ll spot you have a home server on the network. That opens up a few more cool features – of course, all of your music, video and photos are waiting for you to play in Media Center, but there’s more. TV recorded by Media Center will be automatically copied to a Recorded TV share on your home server, where it’s accessible to any PC on the network, and ensures your Media Center doesn’t get glooped up with hours of video. Want to play back a programme? Go to Recorded TV and Media Center, and all of your TV is presented, as if it’s on the Media Center itself. But in truth, it’s tucked away safely on your home server and will stream with a button press.
You can check out how much storage is available on your home server at any time through a natty pie chart in Media Center, and manage which programmes to keep or delete in the usual way. But if you’re on the move a lot, you’ll really love the combo’s final trick – record TV on Media Center in high or standard definition, and as well as syncing the recording with your home server, you can automatically create compressed copies of your TV programmes at lower resolution for use on a Zune HD or other mobile device. So you’ll have two copies of your TV programmes on the home server – one for watching back on the big screen, and a second that’ll look great on your mobile device.
Check out this walkthrough on the Windows Home Server team blog to find out how it all works, and if you’re looking for a cool project for the weekend, setting up the almighty Windows Media Center + Windows Home Server + Zune combo is one to try.