Remote access to media

The goal: using my laptop in the living room, physically connected to nothing but connected wirelessly to my home network, I want to access audio/video media on my network on my home entertainment system.

The laptop (soon to arrive) comes with Vista Home Premium, but I have an extra license for Vista Ultimate if using Remote Desktop is the answer. I may occassionally have something on my laptop that I want to get onto my TV/Stereo.

My primary desktop is set up down the hall in the den, running Vista Ultimate. The audio is already wired into my stereo via 30’ cables in the crawlspace. I can play my digital music collection on my stereo in the living room, but I have to walk down the hall to do it. The video card has 2 DVI outputs already in use, and also an unused S-Video output. I could run an S-Video cable through the crawlspace to my living room as well, into my stereo, and from there into my television. Most of what I want access to is on this computer (my music collection, a few home videos, streaming video from the Internet (Netflix).

If it helps, there’s a second desktop in the den as well, running XP.

I want to be able to sit on my lazy butt in the living room, with an untethered laptop (no cables running across my living room floor to the stereo/tv) and play my favorite songs on the stereo without having to go down the hall to select songs, hit play, pause, etc. I’d also like to be able to pick a movie from Netflix’s Watch Instantly collection and watch it on my TV, again without walking down the hall to select, play, pause, etc.

My first thought was to Remote Desktop into my main PC from the laptop and play my media, but I think that’ll just get my media to my laptop. My experience is that the remote session is a separate session, and doesn’t interact with the audio/video hardware on the host PC, and therefore that’s not going to get output to my stereo/tv. Is there a setting in the Remote Desktop software that will allow me to do this? If not, is there a way I can accomplish this?

Bonus points for being able to put a DVD into my laptop and view it on my TV (will happily share the DVD drive for access by my primary desktop), or for browsing the Internet on my laptop and viewing that on my TV.

Your requirements are … tricky.

But not entirely insurmountable. UPnP is the protocol you need to use, and it is built into Windows Media Player.

Your desktop (with media player and library) is a UPnP Server - it can stream media to your UPnP client on the laptop. However, it should also be a UPnP Control Point - this means that you can get it to play material locally from a remote client (I do this to annoy my son, stopping our Pinnacle SoundBridge from playing Iron Maiden and switching it to Il Divo from work (I prefer the Iron Maiden myself, but the annoyance factor is sweet). I assume you can also do this with video files in your library, but I don’t know about the Netflix stuff - if they can be seen as part of the Windows Media Player library, you should be able to do it, otherwise, I am not sure.

You are right about Remote Desktop - it creates a virtual session and virtual video output. However, you may be able to use the inbuilt Remote Control functions to get a video to play on the second monitor (attached to your TV) - Remote Control can’t stream that to your laptop but you may be able to start it on the alternative monitor. You may be able to do the Internet-on-the-TV thing, as well, by remote controlling the desktop. However, as I recall, Microsoft remote control stuff requires that the PC be logged on and the user approve the remote takeover. A VNC variant may be better.

As for the DVD on laptop, you will be trying to stream DVD quality material across your wireless link to the desktop PC for realtime playback - it may well be a step too far.

Of course, there are much better solutions to this problem if you dedicate a system not running a MS operating system to acting as a media server. There are plenty of Linux based media servers with a wide range of capabilities and control options available. You will still have issues with trying to stream a DVD over the wireless from the laptop, though.

Si lets you control a computer remotely from any PC on the Internet. Seems like that would work, though I don’t think it’ll let you stream the DVD.

As si stated, you have an interesting mix-mash of requirements. Firstly what kind of TV do you have? If you’re using the S-video option then watching movie files would probably be ok, but browsing the internet would be difficult. The resolution you’d have to set on your computer would be very low (I think I normally used 640x480 when I did this a few years ago). Personally I think an easier solution would be to park one of your computers right next to the TV and use a wireless keyboard and mouse to control it. I personally haven’t had much luck with the bluetooth keyboard/mice combinations, but I had a great logitec IR wireless that worked great for a year or so. As soon as I find a damn wireless keyboard/mouse that I like, I’ll have my system set up that way.

Older laptop hooked vie DVI to the TV (HD set). From that I can pull all the music from the Network Drive that I have. Plus that would let you download via Netflix and watch on your tv. I’ve personally never found a VPN display that I really like. They almost always seem to have crappy resolution. Plus over wireless you’ll have trouble sending a large video file. Wired would be a better idea…or perhaps a pre-n wireless device.