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A few years ago, I ditched my cable box/DVR and replaced it with a Windows 7 computer running Windows Media Center and a USB-based external TV tuner. I’ve been very happy with the DVR capability of Windows Media Center with one exception: the Windows Media Center .wtv files won’t play on many other devices without conversion to a more popular file format.
I have solved that inconvenience—and gained some great new capabilities—by installing the Plex Media Server and streaming Windows Media Center content to the Plex apps on my phone and tablet and to my Chromecast device.
Here’s my hardware setup:
- Dell desktop computer (3.2 GHz processor, 4 GB RAM, 64 bit) running Windows 7 Home Premium. I’m using a wired Internet connection for the PC; speed test shows 16.25 Mbps down and 1.1 Mbps up.
- Hauppauge 1192 WinTV HVR-1950 external USB HDTV tuner
- TRENDnet TEW-812DRU AC1750 wireless router (which is hands down the best router I’ve ever had in terms of stable wireless connections, speed, and range)
- Google Chromecast hooked up to an HDTV
- iPad 2 tablet (running iOS 7.06)
- Droid Razr Maxx phone (running Android 4.1.2)
- Plex Media Server (free!) installed on the Dell desktop
- Plex app for my Razr Maxx (99 cents at the time I published this post; usually $4.99)
- Plex app for my iPad ($4.99)
After installing the Plex Media Server, I specified which folders I wanted to share via Plex. For the Windows Media Center files, I chose the media type Home Movies—apparently, the file naming and metadata for .wtv files are problematic for the Movies media type in Plex—and specified the directory for my Media Center recordings (C:\Users\Public\Recorded TV on my computer). I then installed the Plex apps on my iPad and Razr Maxx and specified my account information; you can set up your Plex account when you install the media server.
With the Media Center files now set up for sharing in Plex, I went upstairs to the TV to which I connected my Chromecast. I made sure my iPad was on the 2.4 GHz wireless band provided my router because the Chromecast works only on the 2.4 GHz frequency— not the 5 GHz band I usually use on the iPad.
With both the iPad and Chromecast on the same wireless band, I fired up the TV and Chromecast. From the Plex app on the iPad, I selected the Home Videos icon in the My Library section, and there were my recordings! I selected a show and specified that it play on the Chromecast by selecting the Chromecast icon in the lower right corner of the app:
Voilà! The file streamed to the Chromecast flawlessly without a stutter. I got the same results using the Plex app on the Razr Maxx, which means I could now stream my Windows Media Center content to my iPad, my phone, and my bedroom TV (via Chromecast)—no more file conversion and loading content onto a device! Plex transcodes the Windows Media Center files on the fly.
Bonus: streaming media on external networks
Plex gives you the ability to share the content beyond your home network, but setting that up can be tricky. I had trouble accessing my Plex server on external networks until I verified that the UPnP setting on my TRENDnet wireless router was actually on. On the TEW-812DRU, that setting is part of the Advanced Network settings:
Even though I turned UPnP on and selected the Apply button, I don’t think the setting actually “stuck” until I enabled it again and then rebooted the router. Your results may vary, but I recommend double- (or triple-) checking you have turned on UPnP before you install Plex. Otherwise, setting up the external network connectivity is going to be an exercise in frustration.
After successfully setting up the external connection, I could stream my Windows Media Center recordings, music, and other shared files via the apps on my phone and tablet while away from home. I could also stream content via web browsers on laptop and desktop computers by logging into my Plex account via the plex.tv web site.
I rarely pay for apps, but I think the sum of $6 I paid for the Plex apps on my phone and iPad was a great investment. The time I save not converting .wtv files is worth a lot more than six bucks!