Streaming Music – An Alternative Method

With Windows 7, Microsoft has provided a great way to share music on your home network. Each computer (using Windows Media Player), can share the music from every other computer within a Windows7 “homegroup.” This is accomplished by allowing “streaming” when the homegroup is set up. If streaming is turned on, then the music from another computer in the homegroup will show up in Windows Media Player as available music to play. If you don’t see the other computer’s music, you probably did not turn on streaming. If you didn’t turn on streaming when you set up your homegroup, you can remedy that by going to the other computer, starting Windows Media Player, clicking “Stream” and choosing “Turn on Media Streaming with Homegroup,” and then checking “Music.” That should allow you to play the music from the other computer on your computer.

Though this is a great accomplishment, it may not be very useful, especially if both computers are in the same room or at least close by. But if the computers are in different rooms or on a different level in the house, or at the other end of the house, it could be very useful. Just imagine playing music from your music collection, which resides on your main computer in the computer room, on your laptop while sitting at the pool. Or in my particular case, playing the music that resides on my main computer in the computer room, in the living/family room through my very high fidelity stereo system.

Streaming within a homegroup is a great feature for computers running Windows7, but if you have network computers that are not running Windows7, there is still a way to play music on these computers. This method is called “Play to.” It allows you to play music in the main computer, but listen to it at another computer, possibly where there is a better set of speakers, or a room where there will be a large number of listeners. (This feature supposedly works with any electronic component that advertises the DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) logo, though I have not tried any.) On the computer that is to receive the music, you will have to Open Media Player, Choose Stream, Choose “Allow remote control of my player, and click the confirmation box, “Allow remote control on this network.” Then, on the main computer, In Media Player, on the Play tab, click the “Play to” icon. The pop-up menu should list all the PCs in the house that have been prepared for remote operation. Just choose the computer to receive the music and you’re set to enjoy the music from your main computer, using the computer in the listening room of choice.

The Alternative Method: The above two methods are built into Windows Media Player and can suffice for most network music streaming, but they are very dependent on these features being part of Windows Media Player, and future versions of Windows Media Player. A more general way to accomplish playing music in a main computer, but listening to it on another computer, is to develop Playlists that can be used on any computer in the network. Playlists developed in this fashion do not restrict you to the use of Windows Media Player, and can be used with many other music players.
There are a handful of file extensions for playlists, such as .m3u, .wpl, .pls, and .b4s. Windows media player can use .m3u and .wpl. It seems to prefer .wpl as its default setup for playlists. The .m3u extension is the most general format and is recognized by many music players, so this is my preferred playlist file extension. (If you use Windows Media Player to create your playlists, make sure you select the .m3u format when the playlist is created.) An m3u file is a plain text file that specifies the location of one or more music files. Each line indicates one specification. The specification can be any one of the following: an absolute local pathname (e.g. C:\My Music\Brooklyn Roads.mp3), a local pathname relative to the m3u file location (e.g. Brooklyn Roads.mp3), a URL (used to access a stream on the Internet). The m3u file can also contain comments prefaced by the “#” character.

So the alternative method consists of creating a set of playlists that can be used on any machine on your network that will play the music from your main computer (where your music collection is stored). For example, let’s say we have four computers on your wired and/or wireless home network, named D1, D2, L1, and L2 (D is used here to designate a desktop computer and L is used to designate a laptop, but in reality these will be the names of the computers on the network.) And further let’s think of D2 as the main computer, where the music collection is housed and maintained. (Note here that there is only one computer collection to be maintained which makes maintenance and backup simpler.

The only thing to be maintained on the computers other than the main computer is the folder of playlist files, which can be easily copied when or if the original files change.) So each playlist will be defined by a playlist file, which has the extension .m3u, and should have entries that represent the music choices on the D2 computer. Each playlist file should probably have names that represent the type of music in that playlist, like Oldies.m3u, or SentimentalMusic.m3u, or MoodMusic.m3u, or TheBeatles.m3u. The playlist file will have a series of lines of text, each one representing a music title to play. Each line will be as follows: \\D2\E:MP3MusicCollection\MusicTitle.mp3. Where “D2” represents the main computer name, “E:” represents the disk that the music collection is on, “MP3MusicCollection” represents the folder the music is stored in and should be the “share name” for the shared folder, and MusicTitle.mp3 represents a song to play. (Here is an example: \\Desktop2\MP3MusicOn2E\MusicA\Jefferson Starship - Miracles.mp3. Note here that there is a Music folder, MusicA, within the top level Music folder, MP3MusicOn2E.)

This type of file can automatically be created by Windows Media Player when a playlist is created, or it can be created manually with Notepad. (Not wordpad or word because the playlist file must be a simple text file without any associated formatting. Once a playlist is created it should only be opened and edited within Windows Media Player or with Notepad, again for the same reason.)