One of my key intrest areas in technology is media and integrating everything that was once done in an analogue and ‘seperated’ manner, into a connected digital lifestyle.

I’ve spent the last few years working towards this target personally and am finally at a stage where any of my media is accessible, anywhere, on any device; it’s all fast and compatible.

So, I thought that I would write about how to achieve this; or at least how I have, and how someone could go about replicating a completely digitally connected home.

This article will be the first of many in this ‘series’, so bear with me; I may even seperate these out on to a different domain for reference if they prove popular.

Okay, so by media I mean audio, video and pictures. But that’s not all that’s required; universal accesibility of files is also important and then so is maintaining a secure network. Harder than it sounds sometimes!

So firstly, this really requires an N-spec wireless router (or hardwired cables if they’re built in to the walls etc..) and I would recommend connecting any devices that just won’t support N (except for portables) to the network with cabling. I designed my physical network topology around that; ensuring that the devices that didn’t support N were easily cable-able from the router.

Although this is not necessarily ‘required’, I went down the server route; this is a relatively inexpensive box running a cheap C2D with 2GB of RAM. The key is lots of hard disk space; 2TB of hard discs make both backing up networked computers and sharing media possible, although obviously less is okay if you have less to store/ backup/ share! This is connected via Gigabit cabling to a Gigabit router. This is mainly for future’s-sake as most of the rest of the network is either 100Mbit or N-spec wireless but it seemed pointless not to go for Gigabit given the choice; any 100Mbit router you have lying around should be fine, or use one of the ports on the back of the wireless router.

This server is running Windows Home Server. This is a fantastic server operating system that doesn’t require you to have a keyboard, mouse or screen on the server but rather use their client software to remotely access it. The software is intuitive and easy to use to set up media sharing and backup of any windows machines. This also allows you to create a VPN or Remote Desktop tunnel through to your Windows machines from the outside world, whilst maintaining security, along with sharing your files with you wherever you may be.

This server is also running both iTunes Media sharing and Windows Media Connect allowing Macs, Windows Machines and the XBOX360s access to the media. On top of that, the file directories are available over the network volumes anyway.

So I live in an appartment with one other guy. Also a Computer Scientist. We have technology all over the place. He’s a Windows guy, I’m somewhere in between Windows and Mac.

We’re both 360 users and as it turns out; the 360 is the best device to have under your TV-set by far. It easily grabs and plays all of the media from our server. We have one centralised store of music, video and audio which we both update with our music as we purchase it.

So; I have no music on my computer. No video. No pictures. And… as a plus, only I can access my pictures on the server thanks to folder protection in Windows Home server and thanks to Wireless-N, it’s as fast as if they were on my machine. (Although I do copy files locally to work on them in photoshop etc…).

So what about outside the house? Orb. Orb is fantastic. It’s a media server that can be used via a web interface, or any platform with a client. I can be at my girlfriend’s house and her, her family and I can watch a movie from my server on her TV (via a laptop).

My iPod Touch / iPhone using Wifi can play 100s of GB of music even when I’m on the other side of the world.

No need to carry a USB Thumb drive, as any computer I go to, I just log in to my home machine, or else download them to the machine right there. Added bonus… no need to update them when I get home; the new files are just there on my home screen.

Part two coming soon…