HP's MediaSmart Server: Reasons for a Second Look

Hewlett-Packard’s MediaSmart Home Server is a very good product that has had a tough time justifying its existence. But a new software refresh is making the job easier by adding some very appealing media capabilities.

Servers aren’t products that get consumers really excited and Microsoft hasn;t helped much, initially by botching the launch of the Windows Home Server and then by doing its best to keep the product a secret. HP has taken the basic Microsoft software—a modified version of its enterprise-grade Windows Server operating system—and added significant extra capabilities.

The latest addition to the MediaSmart servers ($600 for the 750 gigabyte version, $750 for 1 terabyte) is a nifty video-conversion program that will be released this month as a free upgrade to second-generation servers (EX485 and EX487). One of the frustrations of efforts to stream video around the home network is that different players require different formats. The software automatically converts video, including non-copy protected DVDs, to the widely recognized h.264 encoding in both a high-resolution version, suitable for playing on a large-screen TV, and a low-res copy suitable for handheld devices. This will allow your stored videos to be played through an Xbox, PlayStation 3, and assorted other devices.

A second component, called iStream, lets that same video, as well as music stored on the server, be played on an iPhone or iPod Touch once you have downloaded the free application from the Apple iTunes App Store. If you have set up your MediaSmart Server for remote access, you'll be able to stream the content to wherever you are.

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