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Media Sharing vs Media apps

Last response: in Networking
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March 24, 2011 7:04:10 PM

I have a question I can't seem to get an answer to...

How is simply sharing media folders on your computer to a home network, then opening those folders and playing videos, music, etc. different from using something like Windows Media Center or XBMC for streaming videos, music from your main computer? Do those kinds of applications (XBMC, Boxee) really handle your media any differently or are you just installing them for the GUI?

Suppose I don't care about online services, just my video files? Anyway, I'm just wondering if it's actually smoother memory-wise to just run from shared folders.

Thanks!
March 24, 2011 10:59:21 PM

The media server is typically more than a nice GUI. It provides organization as well. Suppose you have many shares over numerous folders, drives, or even other machines. The media server can aggregate that content and present it as a unified audio/video library. They often integrate other audio/video services as well, such as iTunes libraries. They may provide encoding services, making your raw audio/video accessible in formats compatible w/ your various clients. It may even reduce audio/video quality for low bandwidth users. The media server may manage podcasts (downloading periodically, and deleting old content). It may grab and store additional content, such as album art, liner notes, concert dates, biographies, etc. It may be able to present your content in various forms of organization, such as by artist, by genre, by album, etc. Or you may want to filer out content for various reasons.

There’s also a difference in the way the media server actually delivers content. The media server (as part of the encoding process) can “stream” content, thereby making the content available almost immediately. But when you access raw shares, you’re not really streaming. Your client application just downloads the file, in its entirety. Whenever possible, most applications will try to play that content as soon as possible. But depending on the file format, it *may* need to download the entire file before it can be played.

So while there's nothing wrong w/ simply making raw content available for your clients over shares, that doesn’t always create the best experience for the end user. Your audience might be better served w/ a *managed* system where a lot of the complexities remain hidden. Esp. if you want combine your content in a seamless fashion w/ other sources, like TV, Netflix, Hulu, i.e., stuff you don’t control. But sure, if it’s just you, and you’re the tech guru in the home, and you’re just playing mp3 files over your computer’s 2.1 speaker system, a media server is probably overkill.


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March 25, 2011 12:40:08 AM

Thanks for the thorough answer! Right now, I have folders on my tower shared, I have a home network, I access the network with my laptop which is connected to my home theater setup for viewing of downloaded video on my TV. I just navigate around the folders that I have shared.

What I've been doing as of a few days ago is streaming via my PS3 with PS3 Media Server. The reason I've continued is because the video streams at a better bitrate than through my slightly old laptop. To explain further, what I have on the laptop is just standard 2 channel stereo/headphone audio out to my receiver and a USB to DVI adapter for video. That adapter can sometimes lag in its conversions and I've simply found the PS3 is smoother even though both connect to the network via ethernet cable. So my question was basically to establish if, in my setup, I was gaining anything other than UI by using boxee or XBMC or any of those. Doesn't seem like it. I'm a no frills media user. I'd rather load the video file right from the folder than have cover art and other resource draining features.

On a separate note, I DO like the idea I've heard of that I can access my media when out of town. And I get how to do that with Window Media Player and Media Center. But can this be done via any other software applications? That I'd actually use.

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March 25, 2011 1:19:15 AM

You don't need a media server simply to gain remote access to your shares.

Try installing LogMeIn Hamachi. What this does is create your own VPN. Let's say you have your home desktop (w/ media files) and your laptop. When you install Hamachi on each system, it creates a "virtual" network adapter that's assigned an ip address in the 5.x.x.x address space. You then create a named network (a name of your choosing) that defines which Hamachi enabled systems can belong to the same virtual network. You obviously have the desktop and laptop join that named virtual network. Voila, now both the desktop and laptop can see each other and exchange files over the virtual network! Doesn't matter where you go, as long as you have internet access, the two systems behave as if they were actually on the same physical network, just like at home. You not only can share files, but printers, and run virtually any protocols you want (http, ftp, vnc, rdp, telnet, anything you want) over the virtual network, and incomplete privacy and security. And it’s all FREE!
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March 25, 2011 3:40:28 AM

And the video streaming via this program is smooth enough for full playback?
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March 25, 2011 4:23:26 AM

Hamachi isn’t a playback application. It’s an access method. It allows remote access back to your home network from anywhere in the world, and for virtually any network activities that may interest you. Its relevance in this case is the ability to remotely access your shares.

Since media playback is greatly impacted by available bandwidth and network latency, how well *anything* will perform over the Hamachi network just depends on what your ISP can provide. If you’re in some backwater and with nothing but a dial-up connection, Hamachi will certainly provide you remote access to your shares, but of course performance will suck, big time. But if you’re on vacation and the hotel has a nice, fat pipe to the Internet, performance will be much better. Even then, you’re always limited by the available upload bandwidth from your home ISP. And that can very constrained, esp. for cable.

So Hamachi is essentially irrelevant when it comes to the performance of your media applications. Again, it’s just an access method. Once you have access, then it’s a matter of the underlying network and whether it’s capable of supporting your bandwidths/latency needs for the given application.
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March 25, 2011 4:57:58 AM

Ok, so in essence, the concept is the same as Windows Media Player but without the GUI. Cause really, WMP is at the mercy of the respective upload and download speeds as well, right? In fact, WMP might even be more laggy because of having to run menus and artwork and other graphical functions. I assume with LogMeIn, you're basically looking at your home computer's desktop via your laptop and using the laptop's media player to run videos and music from your home computer. Any reason why wMP would do this better? I can't imagine how.

This is a bit off topic, but how flexible is this program? I ask because it would be HUGE for me to be able to log into my parents' computer to help them fix/install/clean things for them from home. There used to be something called PC Anywhere YEARS ago for the same function. Very slow, very glitchy, but it did the trick. Would LogMeIn let me see my folks' computer and help them as though I were "on site"?

Thanks for all the info.
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March 25, 2011 4:31:48 PM

Remember, and this is important, w/ LogMeIn Hamachi I'm describing a VPN, a product that provides remote access “at the network level” between physically separated networks.

So let’s say you install LogMeIn Hamachi on your desktop, and you have your parents installLogMeIn Hamacho on their desktop. Each installation will create a virtual network adapter (you’ll actually se it in Network Connections) and be assigned a unique ip address in the 5.x.x.x subnet. You then create a named network (let’s call it “tinpanalley”, must be unique among all other networks defined by other LogMeIn Hamachi users). Now you and your parents configure your virtual adapters to join the “tinpanalley” network. Like magic, you and your parents’s PCs are connected at the network level. So let’s say you received an IP address of 5.10.233.6, and your parents received an IP address of 5.99.12.2. You can go to a command prompt and ping each other’s machine using the other’s IP address!

IOW, you’ve created a “virtual network” based on those two PCs. Those PCs can interact exactly as if they were on the same *physical* network. So now you can share files and printers, you can setup a webserver and allow your parents to access it ( http://5.10.233.6 ), you install VNC as your remote desktop solution on both PCs, then access your parents PC using their IP address (5.99.12.2), you could setup an FTP server and your parents could access it ( ftp://5.10.233.6), etc.

Get it? You can do virtually ANYTHING over the LogMeIn Hamachi you want, including remote desktop, by using that virtual network.

Of course, you can add more computers, like your laptop. You can even create multiple named networks, perhaps one between you and your parents’ machine, and another between your machine and your laptop (so you parents don’t have access to your laptop).

Again, it’s a VPN, a means to create a “virtual” network between physically separated networks. Once done, you treat the virtual network just like your local physically network.

So if you want to use various media applications (e.g., WMP), you can point them to the shares available over the LogMeIn Hamachi network as well as your local network.

IOW, LogMeIn Hamachi is a general purpose network solution. You then run your network-capable applications over it, no different than if you were running those same applications over your local network. Only now you have access to network resources among all the members of the Hamachi virtual network too.

That said, if you only want a remote desktop solution, you can use LogMeIn Free, TeamViewer, VNC, RDP, and a host of other solutions. These are not VPNs. They are not a general purpose networking solution like LogMeIn Hamachi. Instead, they are specifically for one task; remote desktop.

So it’s your choice. If you want an all-purpose VPN solution on which you can run all kinds of applications (including media players and remote desktop), use LogMeIn Hamachi. If you only want only a narrow, targeted remote desktop solution, use one of those I listed above. Personally, I use both LogMeIn Hamachi and LogMeIn Free (remote desktop) on my network, but for different needs/purposes.

The best way to understand it is just to install it (easy enough to uninstall if you decide to later). Sometimes seeing and experiencing it is the only way to appreciate it.
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March 25, 2011 5:09:06 PM

Ok, I'm gonna need a little while to digest all that. But, first of all I'm confused... LogMeIn Hamachi isn't the same as LogMeIn Free? I thought it was just one product and you either pay for it or don't?

Last night I set up the free version. I downloaded software, ran it on my desktop, deployed to my laptop and was able to have remote access to my desktop via my laptop. But the playback of video was awful. So, obviously I did something wrong, right? By your explanation, all I did was remotely access my tower. I didn't actually create a shared network. Sorry if I'm not getting this but I REALLY want to understand because I think it's valuable to know this stuff. And helpful to me in my situation.

Some brief questions:
- it said, "how many computers to deploy this to?". Arbitrarily, I said 5. One of which was my laptop. How do I "get" those other three? Where do I deploy them from? I don't get this process.
- How do I make sure I'm actually creating a network as opposed to just accessing remotely? What is that process/software/application called? I was SURE I just followed the instructions but I had no idea there was more than one option.

Perhaps understanding what I want to be able to do is more helpful to you. I know how hard it is trying to explain something with computers without being there with the person asking questions.

1. I want to be able to access my parents' laptop and tower when they call me telling me their "Outlook isn't working". Rather than have to decipher what they screwed up this time, or make sense of their descriptions of problems that don't make any sense, I'd love to be able to just jump in there from home and see what the problem is. (You ever try navigating someone through their User directory to get their Firefox Profile over the phone? UGH!! Nightmare!!)

2. Since you mentioned it, accessing my media with this would be sweet as well. I'm going to visit this weekend and set up WMP to share my files with my laptop. Works fine. But as I mentioned before, I don't need anything more than access to my home network. So that would be cool as well; being able to turn on my laptop at my parents place using their internet connection and access just those shared folders on my tower at home to see videos, play music, look at photos. Saving them to my laptop would be cool too but one thing at a time. :) 
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March 25, 2011 7:41:55 PM

Yes, I know, anything like this is hard to understand at first, esp. if networking is not your strong suit. But it's also one of those areas you just have to try it, experiment, and learn by your mistakes.

LogMeIn is a company. They offer many products. Their remote desktop solution comes in both free and fee-based versions (LogMein Free and LogMeIn Pro, respectively). These are strictly remote desktop solutions. You control someone else's desktop display, keyboard, and mouse from a remote computer.

LogMeIn Hamachi is another product. It's a VPN. It is NOT a remote desktop solution. It's a network access solution. You ***can*** run a remote desktop solution on top of LogMeIn Hamachi (RDP, VNC, even LogMeIn Pro/Free!), and all kinds of other apps/service/protocols (http, ftp, telnet, smb (Windows file sharing), etc.).

I realize this can be hard to grasp, but at some point the light bulb will turn on and you'll recognize the differences.

When you say you installed the product last night, I assume you mean LogMeIn Free. Yes, video quality sucks because you used a remote desktop solution. A remote desktop solutions works by sending screen updates back to the controlling PC as the display changes. Obviously the more the remote display updates, the more demands it places on your network connection to support it. For a full screen movie (or even small windowed movie), that’s simply more than your connection can handle. That’s why you don’t watch movies, or play online games, or anything else that’s video intensive using a remote desktop solution! That’s why most remote desktop solutions blank your background (at least by default) when the session begins – to minimize display updates that suck up your bandwidth. Now you come along and decide to watch a movie!!!

However, had you installed LogMeIn Hamachi, you would have had remote access at the network level. That movie would have been available as a shared folder. Now you run your media player locally and tell it to connect to the remote share made available over the Hamachi network. Now your video should play smoothly because all you’re sending over the Hamachi network is the data, not the display and its updates. Get the difference?

But as I said last night, even accessing the raw data over your shares w/ LogMeIn Hamachi may still result in poor video quality if the available bandwidth can’t support it. But using LogMeIn Hamachi at least makes it possible. LogMeIn Free/Pro makes it virtually impossible.

That’s why you really need both a remote access solution (VPN) for some things, and a remote desktop solution for other things. You’d typically use a remote desktop for things that don’t require a lot of screen updating (e.g., administration, office apps, configuring the network or a printer). For something that could just as well run locally, like the media player, you just need access to the data, so a remote access solution is more appropriate.
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March 25, 2011 8:58:38 PM

Ok, realised just now that I had NOT in fact installed Hamachi anywhere but on the laptop. Just installed it on my desktop. I now see the second network.

Ok, I now understand the difference between the Hamachi which creates a new VPN on your system that you can share with whomever you like just like the Home Network I already use in my living room to watch videos. And then there is the remote connection which I also created (the access to which lives on their website?) which lets me use them as a means of reaching another computer that has that password and login. Right? Or did that just sound like a jumbled mess? I see that one is remote access and one is simply network sharing.

Question... (of course) and perhaps ridiculous... do I need to leave my computer ON to use the VPN or even the WMP option? Or can I assume these things are accessible even with the computer off.

UPDATE: I've connected both to the VPN. Not sure how I get to see the folders on the tower from the laptop. Working on it...
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March 25, 2011 9:28:51 PM

You're catching on.

You need to leave your computers on if you intend to use Hamachi since those are the very resources Hamachi is making available! Hamachi is installed in the OS, so when the OS is up, it's up. When the OS is down, it's down. Of course, you can enable/disable Hamachi as you like should you not want to be connected all the time.

Hamachi only uses the LogMeIn website to track other users. It acts as sort of a rendezvous or directory service, so everyone on the Hamachi network can find each other. So say you have Hamachi on two computers. You create a named network for yourself and create a username/password. Now go to the other Hamachi installation and join that same named network, providing the same username/password. Because you’re both connected to the LogMeIn website, the LogMeIn servers are able to locate each machine and negotiate the session between them. You don’t have track your public IP, you don’t have to open/forward/manage ports on your firewall, none of that nonsense. LogMeIn takes care of all the details and just gets you connected. Once it does, you should be now be sharing the same virtual network and able to ping each other.
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March 25, 2011 9:29:43 PM

I see your latest update.

Now verify the connection by trying to ping the other machine's IP (the 5.x.x.x one).
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March 25, 2011 9:36:47 PM

Constant time outs...
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March 25, 2011 9:50:07 PM

Are you using local firewalls on those machines? If so, temporarily disable them.

Btw, I assume you're already behind a router, so you have that firewall to protect you anyway.
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March 25, 2011 11:08:17 PM

Ok, now I'm getting constant replies.
But my tower won't have a firewall running.??
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March 25, 2011 11:23:03 PM

I had you turn off your firewall just to prove it does work.

Your firewall is protecting the hamachi virtual adapter/network just like it's protecting the actual physical adapter/network. IOW, your firewall is doing exactly what you asked it to do, protect your machine. And just like you can’t ping any physical network adapter that’s protected by the firewall, you can’t ping the hamachi virtual network adapter either. As far as the firewall is concerned, it’s just another network connection that needs protection.

So if you want to use the hamachi virtual network adapter to make services available from a given machine, you have to open the ports for that adapter using the firewall management system (again, just like you would have to do w/ the actual physical network adapter).

In short, the presence of hamachi neither increases or decreases the burden associated w/ managing a local firewall.
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March 25, 2011 11:28:48 PM

Now that you’ve confirmed basic connectivity w/ ping, you can try accessing your shares.

Just like your actual network adapter is bound to TCP/IP and the file/printer sharing services, so is the virtual network adapters just created by Hamachi. So you can map your network shares w/ Hamachi just as if they were physical network adapters.

So let’s say you have the following:

Pinky:
local ip address: 192.168.1.100
hamachi ip address: 5.10.4.5

Brain:
local ip address: 192.168.1.101
hamachi ip address: 5.89.12.7
local share: myshare

Suppose you wanted to access myshare on Brain from Pinky. How would you do it? From a command prompt on Pinky, execute the following:

net use * \\Brain\myshare /persistent:yes
or
net use * \\192.168.1.101\myshare /persistent:yes

This assigns the next available drive letter to myshare on Pinky. Of course, this is all local.

Now let’s do the same thing, except this time use the VPN:

net use * \\5.89.12.7\myshare /persistent:yes

Again, this assigns the next available drive letter to myshare on Pinky. But this time it was established over the VPN. And since the VPN is available anywhere in the world you have an Internet connection, so are your shares!

:) 
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March 25, 2011 11:40:58 PM

Super. This is all awesome. But unfortunately, I have to hit the road. I don't think Hamachi is going to be something I can set up this time but definitely on Sunday when I get back. For THIS weekend it'll have to be WMP.

Can I just download the remote program on my folks' computer to access it from here when I get back?
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March 25, 2011 11:47:15 PM

tinpanalley said:
Super. This is all awesome. But unfortunately, I have to hit the road. I don't think Hamachi is going to be something I can set up this time but definitely on Sunday when I get back. For THIS weekend it'll have to be WMP.

Can I just download the remote program on my folks' computer to access it from here when I get back?


Sure, just install it over there and have it join the same named network. Just remember, if they have local firewalls too, you could have issues there as well.
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April 1, 2011 6:02:31 PM

Ok, well one thing became very clear in my parents' house: WMP DOES access my home network shared files fully. Very cool seeing all my music and video while away from home. But streaming smoothly was impossible without an ethernet cable connected to my laptop from their home network. I guess that could have been an issue with the signal in the house.

Anyway, I need to set up the remote connection so that I can finish up some stuff I was doing on my parents computer (installations, Outlook settings, etc). I'll look back over your helpful notes to make sure I'm doing the LogMeIn Free correctly. I guess what I wanna do is deploy to my dads computer.
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April 11, 2011 5:45:21 AM

Best answer selected by tinpanalley.
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June 17, 2011 3:41:42 PM

eibgrad said:
...Voila, now both the desktop and laptop can see each other and exchange files over the virtual network! Doesn't matter where you go, as long as you have internet access, the two systems behave as if they were actually on the same physical network, just like at home.


Does this do anything weird to my main network at home? I mean the Network connection that is my actual internet connection? Does it confuse the computer? Can the computer be joined to two networks at once?
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