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February 11, 2011

Watching your recorded TV on the road with Remote Media Streaming

My family has been using Windows Media Center as our main DVR for several years now, but it has only been since the dawn of Windows 7 that we’ve really gotten into watching our recorded television shows when we travel. This is thanks to a very cool and easy-to-set-up feature in Windows 7 called Remote Media Streaming.

Remote Media Streaming is set-up inside of Windows Media Player, and effectively sets up a connection between our Media Center PC back home and the netbook we typically take along when we travel. Once the connection is made, we can get to the media on our WMC back home and play it on the netbook. And while we can enjoy or pictures, home videos and music from the road, most of the time, the kids use this feature to watch the TV shows they’ve recorded back at home.

How does it work?

Remote Media Streaming lets you easily share media across the internet by linking your Windows user account to a verifiable Online ID such as a Windows Live ID. This creates a secure peer-to-peer connection between the home PC and the remote PC. And while this association is a simple task for the end user to accomplish, under the hood, Windows 7 is doing some pretty creative things to resolve some of the technical challenges behind it, as the Engineering Windows 7 blog explained:

A typical home network will get a single unique IP address from an internet service provider, and this IP address is shared by all the devices and PCs in the home using Network Address Translation (NAT)…This creates a challenge for a remote PC or device to make an unsolicited connection inside the home, both in terms of resolving the home’s unique IP address and traversing the NAT to communicate directly to a unique PC or device on the home network.

Once a secure, peer-to-peer connection has been established, there are also a variety of adverse network conditions that can affect the experience. Remote Media Streaming uses a number of algorithms to detect and adjust playback to best meet the available bandwidth for the connection. A broadband (always on) connection is recommended for the streaming PC (although uplink speeds on these can vary greatly), and the streaming PC must be part of a Home network (not Work or Public network).

Of course, the network connection on the receiving PC is equally important, but as you’ll see below, I’ve streamed recorded television from our broadband-connected Media Center PC at home to my netbook on a variety of public Wi-Fi networks, and have been pleasantly surprised with the quality and consistency of the playback.

First things first, though. Let’s get RMS set up:

Setting it up

Setting up Remote Media Streaming is easy, but you will need a Windows Live ID to complete the process. Also, the steps below must be completed for any Windows 7 PC that will either share, receive (or both) content via the Internet using this feature.

1. Open Windows Media Player.

2. Click on Stream and select Allow Internet access to home media…


3. Select Link an online ID.



Linking an online ID is the process of associating your Windows user account with an online ID like Windows Live. If you haven’t done this, you will be directed to a web page where you can download and install the Windows Live ID Sign-in Assistant to quickly facilitate the process.


4. You will see WindowsLiveID listed in the online ID providers. Select the Link online ID link.


5. Next, log in with your Windows Live ID.


6. After signing in, you will return to the Internet Home Media Access dialog. Select Allow Internet access to home media .


7. Windows Media Player will confirm that Remote Media Streaming has been set-up .


Once this was set-up on our Windows Media Center PC, we repeated these steps on our netbook and any other laptop we may use to access our media. Then, when we sign in from the road and open Windows Media Player,  our Windows Media Center PC shows up in Windows Media Player’s left navigation pane under Other Libraries. I just click on the PC, browse its media libraries and play its content.



The Streaming Experience

Our netbook, an HP Mini 311, features the Intel Atom + Nvidia Ion chipset, so it has no problems rendering even high definition content. In my experience, if there is anything likely to affect the playback quality of the stream, it is likely to be network related. If you’re connected to a slow or poorly managed public Wi-Fi network, this may impact the quality of the playback. That said, to date I’ve been absolutely amazed at how smooth and easy playback has been for us on public networks.

Below – a quick I shot from our hotel while we traveled out of town to a wedding this past summer. The hotel had an 802.11g public Wi-Fi network that we were connected to, and you’ll see in the video that we had no issues playing back recorded TV over it.

Streaming recorded TV from home over a public Wi-Fi network

When we take the kiddos to see their grandparents, Grandpa’s got an 802.11n network that has worked flawlessly. I’ve also had good luck watching recorded TV while I sat at the auto dealership waiting on repairs to my car (another public 802.11g network).


Copy restrictions..

While the ability to watch our recorded TV on the road is awesome, there are some DRM restrictions to be aware of. While we can easily watch any recorded TV that has been marked “Copy Freely” by the provider (in our case, the local cable company), we are not able to stream any copy-protected recordings. Flagging a show with copy protection is determined by your provider, and varies by company. In our case, most of the kiddo’s cartoons are copy freely, so we’ve not run into any issues.


Going to sleep…

Once you enable Internet access to your media, the PC will no longer be able to go into Sleep mode. If you want your PC to be able to sleep,  you should disable this feature by going back into Windows Media Player, selecting Stream and unchecking Allow Internet Access to my Home Media. Finally, select Don’t not allow Internet access to home media to turn the feature off.



There are a few steps to take if you have issues getting your media streaming to work. To begin with, select Diagnose Connections in the Internet Home Media Access dialog. This will run tests and return status for the remote hosts you can connect to:


If you suspect your router is causing an issue, you can select Port forwarding information to see the port numbers that you must open on your router for media streaming.


You may also need to check the settings of your antivirus programs in case they need to be adjusted to allow streaming.

Learn More…

Remote Media Streaming is easily one of the most impactful features Windows 7 has brought to the way my family watches TV. There’s a lot of great info out there about remote media streaming. For the real enthusiasts’ take, check out what Windows Entertainment and Connected Home MVP Barb Bowman had to say about it. More on set-up can be found here and here. For help, see here. For the Engineering Windows 7 perspective, see this.