iTunes Home Sharing - Easy Media Sharing for PCs over the Home Network

iTunes Home Sharing - Easy Media Sharing for PCs over the Home Network
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Want to share the iTunes library on the central media PC in your house with other PCs and laptops on the network? This has long been possible in iTunes if you know a little about network sharing and your iTunes folders or manually transferred your content- and if each machine is “beholden” to the same iTunes store account. In iTunes 9, Apple has simplified the process for us, and now it’s easier than ever.

Ready to give it a try? Let’s dig in.

First of all, you’ll need a wired or wireless network that connects all the PCs in the home system. I set it up with wireless networking across a Vista, Windows 7, and Windows XP machine.

Next, all the PCs need to be running iTunes 9.

And finally, Home Sharing needs to be enabled on each PC.

Enable Home Sharing for Each PC on the Network

To enable Home Sharing, click on Advanced → Turn on Home Sharing. You’ll need to have an Internet connection, and you’ll need to enter your iTunes Store login and password. Then click “Create Home Share.”

iTunes will inform you that “Home sharing is now on” and admonish you to use the same account on each machine on the network.

When you go to the next machine and follow the same steps, a new folder will appear on both machines after a few seconds. Here’s what it looked like for me:

Sharing Folder in iTunes

(And if you’re wondering what that ancient Palm LifeDrive is doing in the list, yes, it is possible to sync a non-iPod device with iTunes.)

What if one of the machines on the network has a separate iTunes account? That’s fine. The Sharing account (that of the first PC) is actually separate from the main iTunes (store) account on each PC. The only requirements are that each PC be on the local network and be authorized.

Sharing Media

In the image below, my Windows 7 notebook is displaying the content from my Vista desktop PC, which contains the music and media collection. It takes a few seconds to load the folder with song titles and associated information.

Sharing to Windows 7 Notebook

When a song is selected and played, the default action is to stream the music over the network. However, it is possible to transfer (copy) music to the second PC by dragging and dropping the tunes into a playlist or folder there.

Other media, such as television and movies, works the same way. Here’s Dr. Horrible on the notebook.

Dr Horrible on Notebook

For some reason, Battlestar Galactica and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles did not show up as shared media on the notebook. (I’ll have to troubleshoot that.)

Music in the sharing folder that is not on the local machine cannot be synced with an iPhone or iPod, but oddly, if you purchase iPhone or iPod Touch applications, they can be distributed to other machines in the network. Look at the choices under settings.

Sharing Settings

Clever Apple. If we purchase new music, TV, movies, audio books, or applications, they can be automatically sent to the other machines on the network. Stuff we’ve already bought, well, we’re on our own.

iTunes and Home Theater Setups

If you have a networked PC integrated into your home theater system, it’s easy to use iTunes with Home Sharing enabled to distribute music and other content to up five PCs, Macs, or laptops in the home network. This sharing takes place in the background. In other words, you can be listening to other music in iTunes, watching an iTunes TV show or movie on the big screen, or just using the PC with iTunes minimized. As long as iTunes is running and the computer is on, sharing is enabled as far as the network reaches. Sharing files in the background over the network is much easier than using “sneaker-net” (using a thumb drive to manually distribute iTunes content).

Our test network consisted of a Windows Vista PC hooked to the Internet via a TrendNet wireless router. This desktop PC has 1.5 TB of media storage and acts as the server. On the wireless network are a Windows 7 notebook and a Windows XP notebook. The system was set up purposively to be as simplified a system as possible. No single computer is the “boss” computer, and the network is intended to share and share alike, even if one or more PCs are absent from the network. (You can read about how the network was set up here.)

It’s been possible to share iTunes folders over Windows networks for a while now, but only with some inconveniences from Apple’s DRM scheme. Home Sharing eases the burden considerably, making setup as simple as logging into your sharing account and promising to share all of your content, including previously purchased DRMed music.

iTunes and Content Sharing to Your iPhone or iPod Touch

This would have been a great feature, but iTunes 9 does not provide a Sling Player-like ability to serve your iTunes content over the Internet to your iPhone or iPod Touch. Until Apple gives in on this concept, Simplify Media is an application that runs on Macs and PCs that can do this.

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