June 14, 2005

Streaming music with SlimServer

Author: Dmitri Popov

Converting your CD collection into MP3 or another digital file format gives you the ability to enjoy the music on your computer and stream it all over the house and the Internet. To do the latter, however, you have to install and configure a streaming server on your computer. That might sound like a daunting task, but there is a streaming server application that makes the whole process pretty painless. SlimServer from Slim Devices is a cross-platform streaming server that runs on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X and supports a wide range of formats, including AAC, AIFF, FLAC, Ogg Vorbis, MP3, WAV, and WMA. Although it was developed to stream music files to Slim Devices' Squeezebox2 hardware player, it works perfectly with any software MP3 player capable of working with network streams.To try it out, download a copy of SlimServer for your platform. On Windows and Mac OS X run the installer by double-clicking on the SlimServer Installer. On Linux, make sure you have Perl version 5.6.1 or higher installed, then use the RPM package management software to install the downloaded RPM package, or you can opt to compile the server from the source, which is also available on the Web site.

To launch the server on Windows, choose Start > SlimServer > SlimServer. On Mac OS X, you can launch the server via the SlimServer control panel. On Linux, you can launch the server with the command/etc/rc.d/init.d/slimserver start

Using SlimServer

Once started, the SlimServer runs on port 9000. To access its Web interface, launch your browser and point it to http://localhost:9000. If you're using the Windows version of SlimServer, you'll find it comes with its own browser that allows you to configure and control the application. The built-in browser is similar to a standalone Web browser such as Firefox, and you can use it to access SlimServer locally.

SlimServer's interface is divided into two parts: The left pane contains all the commands and menus, while the right pane controls the Music Player and playlists.

When you start it for the first time, the Music Player displays 'Your player was not found.' In order to make it work, you have to 'connect' your MP3 player to it by clicking on the http://localhost:9000/stream.mp3 link (replace localhost with the appropriate IP address if you are accessing the server remotely). If you browser is configured properly, the Music Player will open the link.

SlimServer is not particularly picky regarding the player software, so you can use virtually any MP3 application, but there are no guarantees that all of its features will work properly. VLC Media Player, for example, will play streamed files, but the Next and Previous buttons won't work.

If you want to make use of all SlimServer's features, try SoftSqeeze, a Java-based software version of the Squeezebox2 player. While it's not the most sophisticated player available, it makes a perfect companion to SlimServer.

Once the server has detected the player, it enables the Music Player and shows an empty playlist. The left pane allows you to browse and pick the music tracks you want to add to the active playlist. You can view your music collection by albums, artists, genres, years, or you can simply view the contents of the music folder. Alternatively, you can use SlimServer's powerful search feature to search through your music collection.

If SlimServer doesn't show the contents of the music folder, make sure that you've specified the correct path to it. Go to Server Settings and check whether the path in the Music Folder field is correct.

Tip: If you add or remove music files from the music folder, you have to rescan it by going to Server Settings and pressing the Rescan button. Even after a rescan, SlimServer sometimes fails to update the content of the music folder. If that happens, go to Server Settings > Performance and use the Wipe Cache button to clear the cache.

Once you've added the music tracks you want to the playlist, click on the Play button in the Music Player to start streaming. Use the Repeat and Shuffle buttons to specify the repeat and shuffle settings. If you are using the SoftSqueeze player, you can specify these settings directly in the application.

You can use existing playlists, such as those from your MP3 player, with SlimServer. Export, if necessary, your playlists as.m3u files and save them in a folder. In SlimServer, go to Server Settings, enter the path to the folder in the Playlists Folder field, and press the Change button. Go back to the start page and press the Browse Playlists link. From the list of available playlists, pick the one you want.

SlimServer can also display artwork such as album covers. If the MP3 files already contain artwork in their ID3 tags, SlimServer will display them automatically. You can use third-party tag editing utilities to add artwork to the MP3 files. Alternatively, you can point SlimServer to the folder containing artwork in any format supported by browsers (for instance, JPG or PNG). Let's say you have albums covers with album names saved in PNG format as, for example, Back in Black.png, Physical Graffiti.png, The Raisor's Edge.png, etc. Go to Server Settings > Interface, enter %ALBUM.png in the Artwork field, and press Change. Enter the path in the Artwork Folder field and press the Change button. SlimServer will then pick up the correct cover for the albums and tracks based on the image file's name and album title.

Dmitri Popov is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in Russian, British, and Danish computer magazines.

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