If you’ve got multimedia content such as songs, photos and video that you’d like to access from a remote system, the media-sharing feature of Windows Media Player 11 offers a way to do it. Here are step-by-step tips.
by Joseph Moran
If you’ve got a bunch of multimedia content such as songs, photos and video that you’d like to be able to access from a system other than the one it’s directly stored on, the media sharing feature of Windows Media Player 11 offers a way to do it. Turn on media sharing on an XP or Vista system running WMP, and you’ll be able to access most of the multimedia files stored on that system from other Vista (but alas, not XP) systems on your network.
What kinds of files are sharable depends a lot on the capabilities of and which codecs are common to both the sending and receiving systems, but supported formats typically include MP3, WAV, and WMA audio files, JPEG or PNG images, and WMV, AVI, and MPEG -1 and -2 format videos. You can also share Windows Media or MP3 playlists, but you can’t share the content of inserted discs, like such as an audio CD or DVD movie.
Enable Media Sharing
To allow your system to share its media with other computers, open Windows Media Player, click Library, and then choose Media Sharing. Now put a check next to the Share my media option and click OK, which will expand the window and display any compatible systems found on the network. (If you don’t see the one you want to share with make sure that it’s turned on and has Windows Media Player open, but remember that only Vista-based computers will appear in the list.) To grant a particular computer access to the shared media, highlight its icon and click the Allow button. You can set up media sharing to multiple systems, but you’ll have to select and configure them one at a time.
By default, Windows Media Player will share all the media it has access to. If you’d rather put limits on what content is shared, click the Settings button and you’ll be able to choose which kinds of media (music, pictures, and/or videos) will be available to other systems. If you happen to use either the Star or Parental ratings features, you can use them to further limit which media is shared. The choices you make here will automatically apply to all systems you authorize for sharing, including new ones you might add in the future. To create custom share settings for a particular system, highlight a system from the previous Media Sharing dialog box and then click Customize.
Media sharing between systems requires the use of certain network ports, and if you’re using the Windows firewall built into XP or Vista it will automatically be configured to allow the feature to function properly.
But if you’re using a third-party firewall, chances are media sharing won’t work properly until you manually open the appropriate ports. As always, the procedure for doing this depends on the specific firewall you use, but to find out which ports need to be open click the “How does sharing change firewall settings?” link and scroll down to the port table found under “What are the network and firewall requirements?”. Note that the first set of seven ports and ranges apply to the system that’s hosting the shareable media, while the last one applies to any system that wants to access it.
Access Your Shared Media
To access your newly shared media, head over to Windows Media Player on the system you’ve authorized for sharing. There you should see the system that has the media listed in the left-hand navigation column. (If it’s not there, try restarting WMP, and if you still don’t see it, click Library, then Media Sharing, and make sure Find media that others are sharing is checked. If the system remains AWOL, try temporarily disabling its firewall to see if it’s blocking any of the necessary ports.)
When you double-click on the remote system in Windows Media Player, you’ll be able to browse and view its media files as if they were on your local system. To change the type of media displayed, use the Library menu to choose between music, photos, and video. Since the first two types of media aren’t usually too demanding on a network, you should have no trouble streaming audio or viewing pictures across any wired or wireless connection.
If you’re using a wireless connection that’s not particularly strong, you may encounter some choppiness or brief pauses when playing certain kinds of video, especially high-resolution material. (That will be especially likely if both systems involved in the sharing have wireless connections.)
Incidentally, there are some other options aside from sharing media from an XP to Vista system or between Vista systems. From either an XP or Vista system with WMP 11, you can also share files with a specialized device called a digital media receiver that hooks up to your TV. Microsoft’s own Xbox 360 is an example of such a device; another is the D-Link DSM-520 Wireless Media Player.