One of the biggest problems with Home Theater PC setups is storage. Many times, you simply do not want to put a giant drive in a smaller machine or you cannot attach a large unwieldy external hard drive because it throws off the clean look of your setup. One of the best solutions is to set up a Network-Attached Storage (NAS) solution. This way, you can both backup your files and stream them to a number of devices, all without maintaining a hardline connection to your machine.
Benefits of NAS
With a NAS setup, you can automate a number of processes. In most cases, you can set up your NAS to sync with folders on your PC. So, if you keep your music collection on separate PC from your HTPC, you can have your NAS automatically backup any files that are added to the folder. This also works great with pictures that you might want to see on your TV or simply want to make sure they get backed up.
When you want to transfer files, you don’t have to slow down your primary machine, because you can just pull the files off of the NAS. Since the NAS is connected to your router, not any one machine, it operates differently that an attached external hard drive. There is no USB connection, as the files are written as they come through a ethernet cable or wirelessly. When your NAS is attached in this fashion, it also opens up opportunities to stream media to a variety of devices.
Streaming NAS Solutions
If you find the right NAS solutions, you should be able to stream media to your favorite devices connected to your PC. Sometimes this might be a dedicated HTPC, but you could also use a XBOX 360 or a PS3. I recently tried out the Pogoplug, a device that turns external hard drives into NAS solutions. One of my friends picked it up to network three external hard drives that he had laying around. It allows you to connect up to four hard drives and opens them up to a number of uses.
With the new Pogoplug software, you can stream to a number of devices, including your video game systems and even your iPhone. Choosing which folders to sync or media to upload to the hard drives is easy with a drag and drop interface. We had no problem getting the XBOX 360, PS3 and an HTPC to recognize the connected drives. Since the XBOX 360 and the PS3 were older models with smaller drives, streaming made a major difference. Instead of constantly having to download the files to the PS3 and then delete them, we were able to just stream what we wanted to watch or listen to. An added bonus was not slowing down the PC that originally housed the files, since we did not have to stream them from the PC.
Many NAS solutions offer this ability, but may not offer the convenience of the Pogoplug. Connecting three hard drives was a major plus, and allowed us to repurpose some older drives simply by putting them in an enclosure. If you have a setup that requires some external storage, want some security with backups, or just want to consolidate the place where you access your media, take the NAS route. It may take an afternoon to setup, but you’ll enjoy the benefits for a long time.