How to Turn Your Android Device Into a Media Server
You have an old Android device sitting in a drawer. Meanwhile, you're working out how to afford the hardware to build a media center. What you haven't realized is that the hardware is already there, sitting in the drawer!
Save time, space, and your electricity bill by turning your old Android device into a media server.
Yes, You Can Use Android as a Media Server
It's true - your Android device can be configured to stream content around your home to compatible devices. Better still, it's probably already connected to your home network and loaded up with your favorite music and movies.
Perhaps you've heard about Android set-top boxes (such as those running Android TV) that stream video from the internet? Well, this is similar, but instead of buying new hardware, you can use the Android device you already own.
Related: What Is the Difference Between Android TV and Google TV?
The process is simple: all you need to do is install the right media server software. While it will run from battery power, keeping your old Android phone plugged in provides a more reliable solution.
So, grab your old Android phone, charge it up, and make it useful again.
What You Need for an Android Media Server
Setting up an Android media server is straightforward, but you'll need a few extra things first:
Old Android phone or tablet
Suitable charger/mains power adapter
High-capacity microSD card for additional media storage
USB OTG adapter for connecting USB storage
Media streaming software
With the hardware connected, you'll be ready to install some media streaming software. The choice you make will depend on your existing entertainment setup.
Media Server or Caster?
You probably already know that you can cast content from your Android phone to a TV. This might be via a game console, set-top box, media streamer, or an actual Google Chromecast stick.
While useful, this isn't the same as serving media.
A media server maintains a library of the content stored on the device, allowing remote browsing and playback.
To cover all basis, we're going to look at a pair of tools that cover both options.
Which Android Media Server App Should You Use?
Various media server tools are at your disposal on Android. The question is, which one should you use?
Kodi is perhaps the best choice to convert your Android device into a media server.
BubbleUPnP meanwhile lets you cast to any DLNA/UPnP ready device. Perhaps a smart TV, perhaps a game console or streaming device.
We're going to look at each of these options in turn. We'll also examine why setting up a Plex server on an Android device is a waste of time.
Create an Android Media Server With Kodi
Your best option for an Android media server is to install Kodi and configure it as a server. Once set up, any Kodi installation can then connect to the server over UPnP.
Start by downloading and installing Kodi on your desired Android server.
Download: Kodi for Android (Free)
Upon the first launch, accept the file access permissions when prompted. With the app running, you can enable server functionality.
Tap the Settings cog
Click Services > UPnP / DLNA
Here, switch Enable UPnP support to On
Similarly, switch Share my libraries to On
Your Kodi server is now ready to use. To access the server, you'll need a second device running Kodi normally. Before proceeding, ensure both devices are connected to the same network.
Click Videos > Files > Add videos
Here, select Browse
Find UPnP devices in the list
You should see the Kodi device listed along with its IP address
Select this, then OK
You can repeat the process to add the server as a source for music. Any attached devices can also be browsed and added as sources.
To play, open Videos > Files and select the Kodi server. You'll then be able to browse the library and play the chosen media.
Final note: you'll enjoy better results using the Kodi client app rather than the HTTP interface on a browser.
Related: How to Use Kodi: The Complete Setup Guide
Set Up an Android DLNA Server With BubbleUPnP
If you don't want to use Kodi, BubbleUPnP is a good alternative. This lets you configure your Android device as a network source for devices like set-top boxes, networked Blu-ray players, and game consoles.
However, there is no library or browsing option. The media must be cued and ready to play on the Android device before playback.
Download: BubbleUPnP (Free)
To use BubbleUPnP:
Browse your device and select the media you wish to play
Tap the Cast button to select a destination
Image Gallery (3 Images)
With the media playing through your TV you can use the BubbleUPnP app to control playback or the remote control.
Can You Set Up a Plex Server on Android?
Things are a little confusing with Plex on Android.
You have two options here: a client app, and the server app. However, the server app is only available for Nvidia Shield devices. While you might find it "in the wild" or use a build.prop hack to bypass Play Store restrictions (non-Shield devices are listed as "incompatible"), the Plex Server app for Android remains unreliable.
We've tested this with another Android device set up as a client, and from a Windows PC, and neither was able to stream from the Android-powered Plex Server.
Meanwhile, brief exploration of the Plex client app for Android reveals a Sharing menu in the Settings screen. Among the options here are Advertise as server. When enabled, this allows other Plex apps to stream content synced to the device.
Specifically, this refers to content streamed from Plex. Unfortunately, it doesn't refer to files stored on your Android phone – these cannot be accessed from another Plex client.
In short, Kodi remains your best option for a full media server experience on Android.
Congratulations: You Converted an Old Android Phone into a TV Box
While Android has the hardware and networking capabilities for serving media, it isn't blessed with a wide selection of media server apps. Fortunately, Kodi is up to the task, but Plex is in a good position to provide a strong alternative – eventually.
If all you want to do is stream media from Android over a Chromecast or DLNA device, BubbleUPnP is ideal.
Wondering if it's time to turn your current phone into a media server? Watch out for these warning signs that you need a new Android phone.