I have had my media server running for a few months now, so I thought I would document how I have it set up in case anyone else wanted to follow along.
The What and The Why
I have read several articles on media servers and most of them do a lousy job explaining what one is. Instead of trying to define a media server (and almost certainly failing badly), I will describe some of how I use mine.
Before I get to the fancy uses, let me start with the most basic. For anyone who remember VCRs, you will remember how you could stop your movie in the middle and take the tape to another player and start playing from where you left off. With a DVD, you can continue where you left off but only from the same player. With movies on my media server, I can play them on any television in the house (or even an iPad) and start where I left off from any one of them to any other of them - whether I am still at home or not.
My media server allows me to have one place for all of my movies and television shows that I have on DVD, all of my music, all of my photos, all of my audio books, all of my home videos. I can then access any of these from any television in my house, any computer, any of my Android devices, my iPad, my iPhone (yes, we actually use all of those). I can access any of this data on my mobile devices (tablets and phones) whether I am in the house or not. I can either use WiFi or mobile data to access them or I can download any media to any device (with minimal effort) before I travel and watch it without data usage.
This means that when we travel, we can watch a DVD movie on our iPad from our hotel even if we don't have internet there (so long as we thought to download it before we left) or any movie we have anywhere we do have internet. With two five year old kids, this has proven to be wonderful. We can pull up a movie in the car if we need to (we generally don't, but there have been times that it has been comforting that we could).
We can even share any of this media that we choose with anyone we want who has a (free) Plex account and a way to view Plex, whether or not that have a media server themselves (this serves as a Spoiler as to what software we use for our media server).