Best FREE home me­dia server – easy to set up

Wayne Wil­liams ex­plores Emby, a me­dia server and streamer combo that can play your me­dia files across your network and beyond

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Emby (­dia) is a free, open-source me­dia server that of­fers an al­ter­na­tive to Plex ( With the soft­ware in­stalled, you can store your movies, mu­sic and pho­tos in a cen­tral lo­ca­tion and stream them to other con­nected de­vices, such as an Ama­zon Fire TV Stick, Chrome­cast, An­droid de­vice, iphone or ipad. You can stream live TV, sync per­sonal me­dia to mo­bile de­vices for off­line ac­cess, sched­ule tasks, cre­ate user ac­counts for friends and fam­ily, and much more.

A sim­ple web-based wiz­ard makes Emby in­cred­i­bly easy to set up. In­stall the server on the com­puter you use to store your me­dia, and you can then con­nect to it us­ing an app or web browser. You can stream con­tent over your lo­cal network or the in­ter­net. We show you how to set up the server in our Mini Work­shop, op­po­site.

Server dash­board

Emby’s dash­board pro­vides all the in­for­ma­tion and tools you need to use the server and con­fig­ure it the way you want. From here, you can view the ad­dresses you need to ac­cess the server over a network or the in­ter­net, restart or shut down the server, and view all the de­vices that are cur­rently con­nected to it. A ‘re­cent ac­tiv­ity’ col­umn tells you when a de­vice or browser con­nects or dis­con­nects, and when it starts or stops stream­ing some­thing. There’s also a news sec­tion to keep you up to date with the lat­est Emby hap­pen­ings, in­clud­ing the ad­di­tion of new themes and fea­tures.

The side­bar on the left lets you ac­cess the set­tings and add new user ac­counts. You can also scan ex­ist­ing li­braries for changes, add new lo­ca­tions, down­load sub­ti­tles, en­able Cin­ema Mode (which shows you trailers and cus­tom in­tros before the main movie) and con­trol ‘transcod­ing’, so you can watch videos in for­mats that aren’t sup­ported.

On top of that, you can view and re­move con­nected de­vices, up­load pho­tos and videos to the server from a phone or tablet, con­nect to de­vices that sup­port DLNA (Dig­i­tal Liv­ing Network Al­liance), such as a games con­sole, add a TV tuner for live view­ing and record­ing, man­age no­ti­fi­ca­tions and more.

Fi­nally, the ex­pert sec­tion lets you change ports, en­able au­to­matic port map­ping and sched­ule tasks such as check­ing for ap­pli­ca­tion up­dates.

Stream to Emby apps

Mo­bile apps are avail­abe for IOS, An­droid, Win­dows 10 and Win­dows Phone, and there are also apps for Ama­zon Fire TV, Ap­ple TV, Roku, Chrome­cast, Kodi, Xbox One and PS4.

The mo­bile apps of­fer a host of ben­e­fits and let you stream con­tent from your server, but if you want to watch a movie or TV show on your de­vice, you’ll need to un­lock that fea­ture with a one-off pur­chase (£4.99) or an ac­tive Emby Pre­miere sub­scrip­tion (£4.99 a month, or £119 for a life­time). Pre­miere fea­tures in­clude Emby DVR sup­port (so you can sched­ule live TV record­ings and se­ries links), Cin­ema Mode and Cloud Sync.

You can stream one minute of your me­dia to the apps for free, so at least you can get a taste of the qual­ity and play­back fea­tures. How­ever, if you’d rather not pay to use an app, you can still watch streams through a de­vice’s browser. We show you how in our Mini Work­shop on page 61.

In­stall plug­ins

All good me­dia cen­tre soft­ware sup­ports plug­ins – Kodi wouldn’t be any­where near as pop­u­lar as it is with­out its add-ons – and Emby is no ex­cep­tion. You can in­stall server plug­ins di­rectly from the side­bar. Sim­ply click the Plug­ins but­ton on the left and browse the se­lec­tion on the right. They are sorted into cat­e­gories such as Top Plug­ins, Chan­nels, Con­tent Providers, Gen­eral, Live TV, Meta­data, No­ti­fi­ca­tions and Sync. Se­lect one to find out more about it and in­stall it. Bear in mind that not all of the plug­ins listed are avail­able for free. Some, such as Cover Art, re­quire a Pre­miere sub­scrip­tion to use. Once you’ve in­stalled a plugin, you must restart the server to use it.

Set up user ac­counts

Emby lets you cre­ate sep­a­rate user ac­counts for friends and fam­ily members, each with its own per­mis­sions, li­brary ac­cess and parental con­trols. To cre­ate a new ac­count, find the Server sec­tion in the left-hand bar and click Users, then the Add but­ton. By de­fault, all users have

ac­cess to all li­braries, but you can untick this option and choose which li­braries are avail­able to in­di­vid­ual users. En­ter a name for the new user and click Save.

Now you can choose whether the user is al­lowed to man­age the server, and which fea­tures they can ac­cess, such as me­dia dele­tion, live TV ac­cess and live record­ing. You can also set which me­dia play­back fea­tures are al­lowed, and whether or not down­loads are per­mit­ted. The bar at the top lets you tweak the ac­cess op­tions, en­able parental con­trols and pass­word pro­tect the ac­count. If you en­able parental con­trols, you can block con­tent that lacks a recog­nised rat­ing or uses spe­cific tags, and also cre­ate a sched­ule to limit ac­cess to cer­tain hours.

Down­load sub­ti­tles

Sub­ti­tles are ob­vi­ously use­ful for films made in a for­eign lan­guage, but they can also help if you’re hard of hear­ing or you want to watch a video qui­etly with the sound switched off. Emby can find and down­load match­ing sub­ti­tles for movies and TV shows in what­ever lan­guage you choose. Click Sub­ti­tles in the server’s side­bar, then choose which items you want to down­load sub­ti­tles for. Se­lect the lan­guage you re­quire from the list.

By de­fault, Emby only down­loads sub­ti­tles that are a per­fect match for your video, and will ig­nore any sub­ti­tles that are in the same lan­guage as the au­dio track, al­though you can over­ride this set­ting. If the video al­ready con­tains em­bed­ded sub­ti­tles, Emby won’t down­load any ad­di­tional ones un­less you specif­i­cally ask it to.

Watch live TV

If you have a TV tuner in­stalled on your PC, you can use Emby to watch live tele­vi­sion broad­casts. Click the Live TV option in the Ex­tras col­umn, then click the Add but­ton to de­tect your in­stalled TV tuner. You can also add a guide provider to help you find and record pro­grammes. Emby of­fers a choice of two by de­fault – Sched­ules Di­rect and Xml TV – but you can add your own if you have a pref­er­ence.

The server’s dash­board gives you ac­cess to all the in­for­ma­tion and fea­tures that Emby of­fers

Emby’s apps are sim­i­lar to us­ing a web browser, but with­out an ad­dress bar get­ting in the way

Emby sup­ports a wide range of com­pletely le­gal plug­ins

Emby can down­load sub­ti­tles in any lan­guage you choose

Tap on a stream­ing video to view info and skip to any point

You can con­nect your app to the server by sign­ing in or en­ter­ing its IP ad­dress

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