For several years i’ve been using an older linux box, hooked up to a tv with wireless mouse and keyboard as my entertainment center. Its cheap, effective and very convenient. I have instant access to my local movies, music, games plus the entire web. So somehow it leaked out that this was a pretty good idea, and now the rest of the world has caught on (mostly due to netflix) and companies ranging from software vendors, hardware manufactures and even gaming consoles are in a frantic race to produce the perfect home entertainment package with easy web access.
About 2 years ago I decided to replace my behemoth of a living room pc with a slick little nettop pc from Acer called the Revo. This is a great little device, running Windows 7 (which i needed for netflix). It works perfectly as a home entertainment system. I use a combination of software such as boxee, kylo and hulu desktop to run online and offline content.
The Bad news is that the Revo does not come with a DVD drive. A decent external DVD drive can cost about $70 and I really do not use DVD’s that much to justify this cost. I could have bought cheap traditional DVD player, but they will not integrate with my Revo and I’m not interested in having multiple devices.
My solution for a while, however annoying was to simply use my current laptop to watch DVD’s. While it was easy enough to simply move the HDMI cable from the Revo to the laptop, it felt clunky and it still meant I would have to use a device that did not integrate with my current system.
The Real Solution (sort of):
The real solution was simply to share the content from the laptop wirelessly to the Revo. Sounds simple enough right? Not so much. I first tried sharing the dvd drive as a windows share and then trying to play on the other pc. This somewhat worked only under vlc but it was not reliable, froze often and did not work with all DVD’s.
The next option was using a new feature in windows media center called playto. This claims to stream media, from your windows 7 based machine to any DLNA capable device in your home, including another windows 7 machine. Exciting news but I never got it to work. Turns out it need a windows live account and mine had long been inactive. The rigors that Microsoft puts one through to recover a password are just plain inhumane, so I filed it away under “not worth the effort”.
VLC is the little media player that could. I figured if Windows media center can stream media, then surely VLC must have figured it out at least five years earlier. Turns out they had! The feature has been in vlc from the very beginning. A quick search took me an Engadget post from 2005! VLC will let you stream just about anything to just about anything! So yes I can stream from my laptop to my Revo nettop within my home network, or I could even stream over the web, to my work mac. I could even stream to my android phone! I could even stream to a file!, making VLC an excellent free DVD Ripper. Here is the tutorial form Engadget’s blog showing how to steam across a home network. The example uses a file but it works just as well streaming a live DVD.
Once you install VLC and start the program you will be greeted by this lightweight frontend.
Click File > Open File to bring up the Open dialog box.
Click on the Browse button to bring up a standard Windows file selection box. Select the file you want to play. Then click Open. We’ve selected multiple files so VLC will build a playlist.
Your selection should appear in the text box next to the Browse button. Click the checkbox for Stream Output and then click the button Settings.
Check the box next to Play Locally under Output Methods. When streaming to another system you dont have to play the file on the server, but we will use this option to visually confirm that our video is playing properly before trying to access the stream from another computer.
Check the box marked UDP and type in the IP address of the computer you want to stream the file to. Then click OK. The file is ready to play so click OK in the Open dialog box too.
The video or audio file should begin playing on the computer. The last thing to do before switching to your second computer is to turn on VLCs web interface by clicking Settings > Add Interface > Web Interface.
Open VLC on your second machine. We are using a Linux machine.
Click on File > Open Network Stream. UDP is already selected so you just need to click the OK button and VLC will start playing your stream.
Now that the stream is successfully playing on your computer you can open up a web browser to control VLC remotely. Type http://<IP_of_your_server>:8080/ into the address bar. The web browser will present you with all of the controls you need to manage playlists and playback remotely.