Around the turn of the millennium, I remember hearing all sorts of grand promises from the major game console manufacturers, as well as most of the providers of TV and Internet service in my area: the Living Room of the Future, where a computer of some kind would serve as the hub from which all your games, music, movies, TV shows and anything else could be accessed with one flick of a finger. Roughly a dozen years later, I’m still waiting for that to become quite as easy as it was supposed to be – but we’ve actually come quite a long way toward it, provided you’re willing to put in the time to work out a few kinks.
Moving data around your house is actually relatively easy these days. Every last one of the companies providing cable or satellite TV service in my area has a mobile app for streaming live TV, and virtually every device with a display screen comes equipped with either WiFi or a physical port for connecting to a home media server. It’s what those devices do when they have to interact with each other that sometimes becomes an issue, which is where media server transcoding apps such as Orb, Mezzo or TVersity come in. Once you have the know-how to use one or more of these tools, you can start streaming movies to TV and other devices.
To illustrate what I mean, a typical situation might look something like this: You have a huge library of movies stored on your desktop computer, but you’d rather watch them on the couch in front of your 52″ plasma TV. You can get them as far as your Xbox 360, but it lacks the right codec for playing that file format back. At this point, you have two options: Get 40 feet of HDMI cable and plug your TV directly into your computer as a giant second “monitor” – or use a transcoder to get around the format problem. (I personally chose the HDMI cable, but with interference limiting my wireless network to a fraction of the speed of the broadband Internet service in my area, I didn’t have much choice.)
Which program to use depends on what type of file you’re trying to play, and on what – for example, each type of gaming console gets the best results with a different transcoder. For our purposes, we’ll talk about TVersity, which is one of the more widely used general-purpose transcoders and runs just under $20 for a lifetime license.
TVersity has a reputation for being one of the most customizable transcoding programs available, but like most of its brethren, can pose some difficulties during the initial setup. One of those difficulties comes from a tendency to conflict with what’s already on your system. If you have a large movie library, chances are you’ve downloaded a codec pack at some point to be able to watch them all – which works fine for watching them on your own machine, but gets in the way when you’re trying to stream them through a transcoder. Before you start, you’ll want to uninstall all the codecs you can find on your system (especially if you’ve ever downloaded a “universal codec pack”) through the add/remove programs menu, and replace them with a package designed for your purposes.
For a typical user, ffdshow is the codec package of choice, a quasi-universal codec that works with most commonly supported formats. For certain difficult file types, an advanced package such as CCCP is recommended. After you’ve swept out and replaced your old codecs, it’s time to install TVersity (taking care NOT to install the codec package that it includes by default) and add your media to its library. It’s especially important to tell TVersity ahead of time which type of content belongs in which folder – look for movies in the movie folder, music in the music folder, etc.
At this point, you should be able to check whether it actually works! Your console should be able to “see” TVersity in the appropriate menu and play back video, so one small step remains to optimize playback. If you’re using a wired connection to your playback device, you’ll want to set the resolution to the same as that of your TV, thereby eliminating the chance of the transcoder automatically downgrading the picture quality to match what it expects to be the optimal resolution. If you’re using a wireless network, you may want to adjust down to 1280×720 (720p) or 640×480 (480p) depending on the signal quality. From here on out, it’s mostly a matter of figuring out what your network and CPU power can support.
This is by no means a comprehensive guide to streaming, codes and all the nuances contained therein, but now you should have a better understanding of one link in the chain and what’s important to know about it going in. Good luck, and happy streaming!
Author Bio: Daymon runs Service In My Area, which helps find and compare offers, prices, packages and plans of different cable, phone and internet service providers in your area.