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Why Sharing a Media Library on Multiple PCs is Useful

September 2, 2009

Sharing media like music, video and photos should be easy, right? Just put it all on a networked hard drive (e.g. on a server or network attached storage box) and get access to your media from multiple devices around your house.

Unfortunately, that addresses the sharing of files not the “library” that organizes those files in ways you might find useful, allows for fast access to the file you want, let’s you add additional information on each file. Even if your organizational needs are pedestrian, almost all media players have a library that acts as an index to allow easy access to the files you want to play. Without that library finding media files would be as cumbersome as finding a file in Windows folders and maintaining a structure for thoe folders (not impossible, but not exactly easy either).

In addition to the index function, libraries may contain playlists of favorite music, smartlists that generate playlists on the fly in accordance with a given algorithm (e.g. play a hour of my favorite music, play podcasts that came out today), additional information about files (e.g. what people are featured in a home video, when a file was last played) that is not embedded in the file itself, thumbnail images that provide a graphical representation of the file (e.g. an album cover or a frame of video).

Most media player software only allows the library to be edited on one PC, the one on which the media player is running. Of course you can run copies of the media player software on multiple PCs, but they usually then each have their own library meaning that if you want to add playlist for use anywhere in your house, you need to make changes on each PC that will be using the library. With networked audio devices like the Squeezebox or Roku Soundbridge, the library is kept on the one PC that acts as a server and changes can only be made there—but they show up when the devices access the server.

This is a serious limitation because often the computer on which the library is present is not the one on which one would prefer to edit that library, for example it make be hooked up to a TV, off in a closet acting as a dedicated server, or in the office of one family member.

What would be nice would be to have a media library with a client-server architecture that allows instances of the media player application running on PCs around the house to easily make changes to a central library shared by all the PCs.

With the release of J River’s Media Center version 14, we are much closer to that goal in ways I’ll detail in my next post.


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