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Stream Remote Media Over the Internet with Windows 7

By Joe Moran

Windows Media Player has long had the ability to stream media to other PCs and devices on a home network.  But thanks to the Remote Media Streaming feature of Windows Media Player 12—which is exclusive to Windows 7— it's now possible to stream material across an Internet connection as well, allowing you to listen to music, watch video, or view pictures stored on a Windows 7 system at home from another Windows 7 system while you're away from home.

To use the Remote Media Streaming feature, you'll need at least two of Windows 7 systems running Home Premium or better (as Remote Media Streaming isn't supported on Starter and Home Basic) and a Windows Live ID.  If you don't have the latter, you can get one here.

Other prerequisites are that the system that will be serving the media (i.e. the home system) must be on a network defined by Windows 7 as Home (as opposed to Work or Public) and can't be a member of a domain. You can check/change the network type via the Network and Sharing Center. For the remote system, the network type isn't important.

Setup

To configure Remote Media Streaming, start with the system that holds the stuff you'll want to access from the road. Open Windows Media Player, click Stream, and then choose Turn on media streaming. (If your system is a member of a HomeGroup, you won't see this option because media streaming is already on.) Next click Stream, then select Allow Internet access to home media

Now click Link an online ID and then choose Add an online ID provider, which will take you to a Web page to download the Windows Live Sign-in Assistant utility. This utility will automatically sign into Windows Live whenever you log into your Windows 7 system account, allowing the home and remote systems to find each other over the Internet. (Note: there are separate 32- and 64-bit versions of the utility; if you're not sure which one you need, right-click Computer in the Start menu, choose Properties, and see what it says next to System type).

After you've downloaded installed the Sign-in Assistant software, return Windows Media Player and click on Link Online ID again, which will take you to Windows 7's User Accounts window. Under Online ID provider, click Link Online ID, then enter your Windows Live username and password. Once your Windows Live account is logged on and linked, return to Windows Media Player again, but this time click Allow Internet access to home media. You'll should see a UAC warning and then receive a message confirming that Internet access to home media was successfully enabled.   

After setting up your home system, repeat the same process on the one you'll take on the road, and use the same Windows Live ID for the second system. After both systems are configured you'll probably want to test the remote connection, preferably at a nearby hotspot or a friend's house. If everything is working properly, when you open Windows Media Player on the remote system, you'll see your home system's shared library listed under Other Libraries at the bottom of the left-hand navigation pane. When accessing remote media, Windows Media Player works the same way that it does when the media is stored or shared locally. Keep in mind, though, that response and performance may be limited by the speed of your upstream broadband connection. There can sometimes be a bit of a delay before audio/video starts playing, photo thumbnails appear, etc., and you may experience the occasional streaming hiccup.

Troubleshooting the Connection

If your home library is AWOL on your remote system, there's obviously a connection problem that needs to be resolved. Establishing a Remote Media Streaming connection is essentially a two-part process. First, the two systems must locate and authenticate each other across the Internet (critical given that the IP address of your home network may change frequently), and linking the Windows Live ID to each system helps facilitate this part of the connection. But for Windows Media Player to receive and respond to a streaming request from a remote system, it relies on the router's UPnP feature to open and forward the proper ports.

If your home system's library isn't appearing on your remote system, then (on the remote system) click Stream, Allow Internet access to home media, and then Diagnose connection. This will open up a window that tests the networking components and phases of the connection in an attempt to pinpoint where the problem is. Chances are you'll find that everything is OK except for the connection to your home system, which has failed. If so, verify that UPnP enabled on your home router, and better yet, make sure the router's running the most recent firmware (firmware upgrades frequently cure UPnP issues).

If these steps don't resolve the problem, you'll probably need to forward the necessary ports manually. To do this, run the aforementioned diagnostic tool—but do it from the home system this time—and click the Port forwarding information link. You'll be presented with both external and internal TCP port numbers—the internal port (10245) is the same for all systems, but the external one varies by system (which is why it's important that you look up the external port on the system that needs to serve the media). Once you have the external port number, configure your router per its documentation to forward both it and port 443 to port 10245 at the PC's IP address, and you should be ready to roll.

Incidentally, if you ever change your Windows Live password (and you really should from time to time) you'll need to update both of your systems with it to continue using Remote Media Streaming. To update a system, go to your User Accounts window, click Link online IDs, then click Update credential.


For more help, check out the PracticallyNetworked Forums.

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