To stream photos, movies and music to a network media player or streamer, you must have a media server on your home network. A media server is where your media files are stored. DLNA--the certification that ensures home networking devices can communicate and share media--has a media server certification that goes hand-in-hand with the media player certification.
To make it easier to find the files, the media server gathers (aggregates) its media files and organizes them into virtual folders. When you want to play media on a network media player, you must find the files on the media server ("source") where the files are saved. Often you will have a number of sources will have your media files — connected computers, network attached storage (NAS) drives or other media server devices, including network media players and Blu-ray players that have hard drives.
Your network media player lists each available source on your home network — a computer, NAS (Network Attached Storage Device) drive, or media server device — then lists each of the source's media folders and files. Often you will choose the source that has your desired file(s) then browse through the folders and files in the same way that you find files on a computer.
A media server does not actually move any of your files. Instead, it creates virtual folders that bring together types of media — music, movies or photos — and further organizes the media by camera or by year for photos, by genre for music, by date, or by personal ratings.
More and more, network attached storage (NAS) drives are replacing media server devices. These large, networked hard drives can be accessed by a network media player or computer that is connected to the same home network.
Dedicated media servers — like NAS drives — have embedded software to make your media files available to your network media player. To access the media that you have saved on the computers connected to your home network, you may need media server software.
Media server software will find the media on your computer and attached hard drives, aggregating and organizing the media files into folders that can be found by the network media player. You can then choose a media file or folder that is saved on your computer in the same way that you would choose another media server device.
Windows 7 with Windows Media Player 11 (and above) has media server software built-in. For Macs and PCs that don't have Windows Media Player 11 (and above), there are a number of third-party media server software companies that make servers like the "TwonkyMedia Server," "Yazsoft Playback" and "TVersity." Some software is offered for free. Find out more about media server software.