Mar 23 2014
11:18 am

I got tired of fooling around with Windows Media Center and Windows Media Player. They keep changing stuff, removing options, burying settings in obscure places, etc. etc., making it more and more difficult to stream audio from my network to my stereo. Plus I had a lot of connectivity problems with other devices including phones and tablets.

I recently stumbled across JRiver Media Center. It can rip, catalog, organize, and play all your music in just about any known format. I had seen it before, but thought it was just a player. I learned that it also has a DLNA media server. And it is very, VERY fast. It also supports photos and video but I don't use those features.

The Media Server, though, is why I'm using it now. It's amazingly good. It can transcode to MP3 on the fly for renderers that can only play MP3 (like Roku or Tivo). It can also decode FLAC and WMA lossless to PCM on the fly for "bit perfect" streaming to devices that support it. It also supports "high-definition" formats up to multi-channel 192k/24b, if you're into that sort of thing. (And presumably you have a $10,000 DAC and a $50,000 stereo to play it on.)

Anyway, you have fairly precise control over the DLNA conversion and playback options, and there are built-in profiles for popular renderers. My only complaint is that it can't (yet?) run as a service. You have to be logged in to Windows. (It does have an option to start the server when you log in, so you don't have to leave JRiver Media Center running all the time.)

Right now I'm still using an XBox 360 hooked up to my stereo to play music. (I haven't used it for games, did use it for streaming movies a couple of times but Roku is better.) At some point (when something breaks, prices come down, or there's better software in them) I'll probably upgrade to an AV receiver with a built-in DLNA network player (such as this one).

You can browse/play the library and playlists from your DLNA device. You can also "play to" any network DLNA player from your desktop. JRiver also has an Android app ("Gizmo") that can control the media server playback. You can pick a server, a renderer (which can be the Android device or any other DLNA player in your network, which it finds automatically), browse and play artists, albums, playlists etc. It also works with other DLNA/UpNp remote apps. There's apparently a similar app for iOS.

Speaking of playlists, this is the first media software I've tried that would cleanly import Windows Media Player playlists. I have one that has about 1800 "favorite" songs culled from my library over the years. I would not want to have to rebuild that by hand. In fact, it would be impossible because there's no way I could remember what all's in it. I also noticed that if you use JRivers organizing tools to rename or move files, it automatically updates any playlists the files appear in to fix up the paths, etc.

The CD ripping capabilities work great. You can rip to just about any format, and it has a "secure" error-correction reading mode that takes a little longer. (About 6 minutes per 60 min. CD on my system.) I had used dbPoweramp in the past, and it seems a little faster but JRiver seems to do a comparable job and is a lot more convenient. There are also batch format conversion, renaming, and file moving/organizing features that are easier to use than dbPoweramp.

The mobile syncing/format conversion features worked great for my Android phone and tablet, once I figured out how to set up the options and launch it.

The JRiver user interface takes some getting used to, but once you figure it out it's way more flexible and responsive than Windows Media Player. And the level of control you have over every aspect of operation is way more refined. Because there are so many options it can get a little technical, though. This stuff is still too complicated because of the lack of standards.

Anyway, I recommend JRiver Media Center, especially as a streaming music server. There's a free, fully functional 30-day trial, and a license is $50. There are versions for Windows and Mac, and a Linux version is in development.

R. Neal's picture

P.S. I turned off all that

P.S. I turned off all that Windows media stuff. Go to control panel > programs and features > turn Windows features on or off, and look under media features.

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