How to network your smart TV
6th Oct 2012 | 09:00
Internet connected TV is here. Connect it to a DLNA server
Networking your TV: why it's a great idea
Smart TV features are becoming standard on many new televisions.
Take the Panasonic 2012 line-up of 22 models, for example. Of these, only five lack any connected 'smart' features.
But what's so smart about these new televisions? It's happened very quickly, but TVs are now hooking into home networks. Using the DLNA standard, they're more than prepared to talk media-turkey with anything else that's hanging out on the same network.
This has the potential for some pretty cool uses, like wirelessly streaming a video you've taken on your mobile phone to your smart TV. Well, perhaps that's the coolest one, but it also means you can easily share media stored on any PC with not just your TV, but any DLNA device. Your phone, tablet and other media streaming devices will all happily work together as they're capturing DLNA-ready content and pushing it to other DLNA-ready devices.
It's when you throw our old friend the PC into the equation that all hell breaks lose. The PC's endless versatility and longevity mean you're likely to have videos and music lying around stored in codecs that haven't seen the light of day since the last millennium. What we need is an intermediary software service that turns your computer into an all-singing, all-video serving, DLNA-compliant device that your smart TV (and anything else for that matter) can see and play from over your network.
For this project we're going to use the Serviio media server. It's a little more complex than other options, but as far as we're concerned it's the most accomplished free DLNA server out there.
It's certainly not the only option though. You can use the Windows Media Player-based UPnP/DLNA streaming, but it tends to be very picky about what it wants to share, and presents those files to connected devices as a huge, unsorted list. We've also recommended Plex in previous articles, but although it does a good job of serving as a DLNA server, we've run into issues with the transcoding and Serviio offers internet feeds that Plex does not.
That last point is an interesting one, if not an entirely solid feature. Serviio has a flexible plug-in system that lets you add online streams, sources and other online on-demand video and audio services into the DLNA environment. It's a clever system, because it means any DLNA device can now access the likes of BBC iPlayer, 4oD, YouTube and more, even if they might not be able to access the web pages originally or lack a suitable app.
We say it's not entirely solid because it depends on there being a set 'feed' web page - either an RSS/Atom feed, or a web page that catalogues the feeds for a series or channel. Serviio then uses the 'groovy' plug-in to parse the feed or page and generate the standard DLNA-compatible list of media.
The problem is, the system breaks if the original feed or web page changes, which happens more often than you'd think. For example, one issue we encountered recently was due to 4oD switching to capitalised programme names - a subtle change, but one that was big enough to break the plug-in completely, so you have to remember that it's not entirely stable in that respect.
There may be an additional option available from your TV manufacturer, which may provide DLNA server software. Not all do, but Samsung does with its AllShare system (www.samsung.com/global/ allshare/pcsw), while LG MediaLink ties into Plex. It also seems that Sony has recently launched a tool called Homestream (http://bit.ly/ MBM32Q), though oddly enough this is just Serviio with new icons.
DLNA gained traction over UPnP because it's a targeted subset of UPnP specifying a small range of supported media formats, rather than the open-ended specification of UPnP. This leaves it as more of a transport and communication protocol for DLNA to ride on.
The formats it supports breaks down into the following:
Image: JPEG, PNG
Audio: AC3, AMR, ATRAC3, LPCM, MP3, MPEG4, WMA Video: MPEG 1, MPEG 2, MPEG 4 p2 (DivX), MPEG 4 p10 (h.264), WMV9.
Containers: MPEG PS/TS, MP4, ASF (for video)
You'll notice there's no as-old-as-the-world AVI, MKV or even VC-1/WMV10 support. Any file not supported has to be in the best case remixed into a supported container, and in the worst-case re-encoded and remuxed, aka transcoded to a supported format and container.
So if you've tried UPnP servers in the past and failed to get them to play nicely with your smart TV then this is the likely reason, but that's where Serviio or a similar service comes in to fi ll the gap and provide a beautiful media world to live in.
Networking your TV: how to do it
Part 1: A smart start
Taking your not-so smart TV from zero to hero
1. Not another firmware
Now that TVs are as smart as your computer, there's yet another device in the home with firmware for you to update, alongside its built-in software and upgradeable online content. Great.
It's well worth doing though, because newer firmware can add up-to-date codec support. Your TV manufacturer's support site will help you out and you'll just need a USB stick.
2. Home Server or not
We'll be looking at the standard Windows install of Serviio, but just so you know, those clever chaps have produced a Windows Home Server add-in for all versions up to 2011. This provides a Serviio tab as part of your main Windows Home Server Dashboard. To grab this version, just browse to http://serviiowhs.codeplex.com and take it from there.
3. NAS and tablets
Serviio, as it turns out, is super clever. Alongside Windows, Mac and Linux support, it can also be installed onto a number of NAS devices such as the WD My Book Live and Dlink DNS-320/5.
Part 2: Serving up hot DLNA
Delicious media streamed straight into your greedy ears and eyes
1. Up and running
You know the script by now: download and install the latest build from www.serviio.org via the Download tab. As Serviio is a Linux-based open source development, it's a service foremost and an interface second.
Thankfully there is a GUI console available from the Start Menu and the Notification area. This will provide all the main controls, along with feedback on connected clients.
2. Adding media
Click the Library tab - this is the main area to add media you want shared around your home. This can be video, music or photos.
Two columns indicate whether Serviio should attempt to scrape metadata for videos, or if it should automatically update the library with newly detected files. Just click 'Add local' and add folders of your stored media and state if, and how often, it should rescan these.
3. Metadata scrapings
Serviio will pass thumbnails to your DLNA devices to give you a prettier interface and boy do they need it. It'll also use various online sources to try and scrape fi lm and TV metadata and serve this up as well.
Finally, take a look at the Transcoding tab. Most importantly, you'll want to make sure the maximum number of cores are allocated to the job. On a quad-core, for example, you may only want to allocate two.
We suggest keeping the original audio, because most devices can handle the majority of default streams. We found that even a lowly 1.5GHz AMD Turion II could manage 720p HD media.
5. Stream away
At this point you can happily give your new DLNA server a spin. The majority of files should play just fine with transcoding including MKV.
Subtitles don't work unless they're embedded in the original file and are supported by the target device. Fast forward and rewind should work, but transcoding can limit the range. You might need to get used to the DLNA tree organisation too.
If you run into problems, check the Status tab and make sure your device is marked green and is using the correct profile. If not, try a generic one. If this doesn't help, check the forum for user-created profiles to add to the XML.
If some files play and you're trying an AVI, it's likely it's using variable-bitrate audio, try using VirtualDub and re-save the file with DirectStream for both streams to remove this.
Part 3: A dash of service
Online streaming services are just a plug-in away
1. Installing plug-ins
The online resource plug-ins are an ongoing development. If you head to http://forum.serviio.org and check out the Available Plugins forum, you'll find links to the latest builds for various sources like BBC iPlayer and YouTube.
These are GROOVY files, and need to be copied into the 'Program files > Serviio > Plugins' folder. You won't see any specific changes at first.
2. Adding feeds
Those GROOVY files actually tell Serviio how to decode the various webpages or RSS feeds to DLNA-friendly output. You'll find suggestions for feeds and pages in the same thread as the plug-in.
To add one, select 'Library > Online sources', then click 'Add > RSS feed'. Enter feeds.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/highlights/tv, give it a display name and click 'Add'.
3. Web resources
If someone is suggesting a web page that lists a series of episodes then this is likely a Web Resource option. For example, a number of 4oD pages seem to be set up as such.
If these work correctly on your smart TV they'll be found under the Online entry in the Serviio menu. You should be able to pause and rewind, and while we admit they're not perfect, they're still useful.
4. Error checking
The log file is hidden in the 'Program files > Serviio > Logs' folder. This provides details debug information, so if a file fails to play, this should be your first port of call. Check for 404 or 500 errors, as these will indicate an issue connecting to the web server.
Try temporarily disabling any IP filters or firewalls and check any URLs before retrying on the TV.