To me, the Holy Grail of media servers is one that will stream both local and internet content to any DLNA renderer on the home network. The renderer doesn’t have to be in the same room as the media streamer. Only one media streamer is needed to serve the entire house.
Every DLNA media server available can do this with locally stored content, such as videos and music on a home hard drive. Several common programs can be loaded onto a PC and stream internet content to that PC only. If that computer can be physically connected to a TV, then you have big screen entertainment.
Only one can stream audio and video content, both local and internet, from one home server to any DLNA player in the house. The registered (paid for) version adds the MediaBrowser, which gives you the ability to stream over the internet from your home server to a remote computer.
Where Do I Get It?
The best place to find a copy of Serviio is the publisher’s web site. Versions are available for Windows, Apple, Linux, Synology, QNAP, and, if you’re clever, other NAS devices.Serviio is free to try. The trial period is, basically, forever. Certain advanced functions automatically disable after 15 days. Some people will never use those advanced functions, leaving the base program free for use for a long, extended trial period. There are no nag screens. If you eventually master Serviio operations, the $25 cost is a bargain. You should pay for it.
[Update: Sept 18, 2015: I’m probably the last person on Earth to find this out, but ROKU now supports a free and easy to implement native DLNA renderer and Serviio supports the ROKU DLNA player. The can see each other and they get along well with each other. Woo Hoo. I have Serviio installed on my QNAP NAS. It serves my music library, a few videos, and some channels that Serviio can still get through to via the internet streaming feature. Also, I noticed Plex can also stream videos directly off the internet like Serviio, but the quality is much much lower with Plex. Serviio rules. So does ROKU. It’s about 100 times better than the last time I tried it a few years ago. Lots of channels, including HBO Go, which seems to be rare find on streamers and smart TVs. Plus, a built in generic DLNA renderer which was unheard of a few years ago … The old way of thinking was ‘why give away what you can sell and make money on’.]
Serviio is powerful and extremely capable, but not especially user friendly to configure. (Actually, no software based media servers are easy to configure.) Most of this blog chapter is dedicated to how to set up Serviio. Hopefully, this will clarify some of the more confusing details and get you started.
Serviio requires the free Java Runtime Environment. The JRE is safe to run. The security issues that were popularized in the past involve the Java browser plugin. Serviio doesn’t use it. As a precaution, disable browser access in the JRE control panel after you install it. Install the JRE before installing Serviio.
[Update: 1-15-2015: Serviio 1.5 includes the JRE within the Serviio download for Windows and Apple. There is no need to install it as a separate application unless you are running Serviio on Linux or a NAS. The 1.5 update also appears to make Serviio more responsive.]
Serviio uses plug in files to control the rendering of internet streams. They are referred to as groovy files. Serviio does not include any groovy files during the installation. You download them separately from a Serviio forum page. All available files are compressed into one zip file. Download the zip file. Expand it. Then copy all groovy files into the Program Files\Serviio\plugins folder if you’re on Windows and the analogous folder on another operating system. The plugins do not litter any display screens. They operate as behind-the-scene control files for the video source.
[February 17, 2014 update – Until recently, the same Hulu you could watch online for free through your PC was available through Serviio. Many of the examples below include titles originating from free Hulu. RSS access to free Hulu has been disconnected, probably at the source. The other plugins work as they always have … some work well, some don’t work, and some used to work but were stopped out by the content provider. The forum posts provide good insight into which ones are currently functional.
Update: 1-15-2015: The CBS and Crackle plugins still work pretty good in the USA. ABC and CW do not work. Hulu is still only a memory.]
To the best of my knowledge, there are no plug in files that render from sites that routinely infringe on copyrights. You can’t get there from here. You can access only those streams which are otherwise made available by common, legal, web sites. I don’t believe any are available from unofficial sites, either. Serviio is squeaky clean in that respect. There are nearly 100 groovy files, covering a wide range of viewing and / or listening tastes.
[April 3, 2014 update: This is not technically true any more. At least one plug in provides unreliable back door access to some television programs (no movies). Unlike some of the other media players, the most egregious and commonly known infringement sites are still unavailable. A couple of years ago, a different site was accessible for a short while until it mysteriously disappeared from the internet after a few weeks.
[Update 1-15-2015: The web site referenced by the above-mentioned plug in set off malware detectors when I got curious about what said website offered to browsers. All I did was try to visit the main website screen. The warning worked. I used the back button and got out of there. Hint to crooks – be more subtle.]
Serviio doesn’t support sites you need to sign into, such as Netflix or Amazon Prime. All the sites you can access are free.
The QNAP Version Comes From Another Web Page
A dedicated and talented Serviio supporter ported Serviio to QNAP as a personal project. It works very well. It is available from the forum section of the Serviio web site. Even better, all of the groovy files you had to install manually on the PC version are included by default in the QNAP version.
[Update 1-16-2015: As of Serviio 188.8.131.52 Revision 2, QNAP version, the QNAP Java runtime module, supports Serviio. Version 1.5 for QNAP is expected to be available shortly.
Previously, you needed to either visit a QNAP wiki page and download a version of Java that works on QNAP ARM processors or visit the Oracle site and figure out which JRE module to download. At one point, possibly even now, the QNAP wiki download link may have been hacked because it once took me to a site that looked quite suspicious. Ever since that date, I’ve been reluctant to click on it again. Now, you don’t need to worry about malware or guessing which one out of several Oracle downloads is the right one for your NAS. Consequently, I’m removing some text written earlier that covers how to navigate that side trip as it no longer applies.]
Install the QNAP Java runtime module before installing Serviio. It’s available on the Apps page on you NAS.
The Serviio web site covers Serviio for Synology.
The QNAP and Synology versions provide one special benefit. They’re always-on devices. Your NAS device runs continually. You never turn it off. This means your local and internet streaming is available on demand without first having to turn on a PC in another part of the home. Wake-on-LAN works unreliably on desktop computers.
Of course, you can always put a spare sleeping computer next to a television, connect it to the TV using an HDMI cable, and remote control the works using a wireless keyboard and mouse (USB or Bluetooth) from across the room and have Easy Home Theater.
The Serviio Web Site
Serviio’s programmers and volunteer support staff are exceptionally gifted programmers and software designers. Serviio is the best media server in the world, or at least top top tier, in my opinion. I believe it’s the only one that can stream to your television or other media device(s) via DLNA across the home network from one server. The Serviio web site provides voluminous documentation. Much of it is clearly written and very helpful.The organization could use improvement. Everything you need to make Serviio work is there, but you sometimes have to look really hard for it. Be persistent.
Finally, you have to tell Serviio what to play and / or show. Media on a hard drive is fairly easy to define. Open the Serviio Console, navigate to the Library tab, and tell it where your media is stored.
The Online Sources Tab is where you tell Serviio which online streams you want to view on demand. This is the most complicated part of Serviio configuration. Each media source has its own syntax. Fortunately, they follow patterns. For example, if you understand CBS.com’s syntax for one show, you can figure out the others easily. Some sources are easier than others.
[Update 5-8-2015: Serviidb.com no longer exists, but the examples below illustrate a valid syntax. Sometimes, looking in the groovy file for a source provides syntax examples. The serviio forum provides more examples for each related groovy file. Most examples further below cane from hulu, which is no longer accessible from serviio. Those were the days.]
Online Sources Examples
Note the Source Type list box. It won’t play if you select the wrong type of stream. The forum provides information for each groovy file, but, as I said, you might have to dig for it.
You can control the level of detail shown on the DLNA player from this screen. Sections are available for audio, video, and images. The screen display can look a little messy if you don’t disable the ones you don’t need.
Serviio will also transcode media formats, providing the processor of your server has sufficient horsepower.
Video streams from the internet play well on Android devices, providing you have a capable DLNA renderer and the appropriate codecs. Some Android renderers are fussy about playing audio associated with internet video streams. They apparently do not provide the proper ARM codec. BS.Player Free, from Google Play, automatically downloads the proper codec for your ARM processor, allowing Skifta to play your internet streams flawlessly.
There are also a couple of Android apps specifically written for Serviio. Registered users may download and use ServiiGo, which allows you to browse the media files and streams known to Serviio. ServiiDroid is an extremely useful app. It brings the Serviio management console to your Android device.
Serviio has more features and configuration tweaks to consider, but this is enough to get your started. The Serviio Forum is active and provides a lot of helpful information. Don’t be afraid to ask a question there.