A media server is a type of computer that stores and delivers audio and video content. Homemade media servers often used to distribute video and audio content to various locations throughout the home, but the realm of in-vehicle media servers is usually more focused. These servers are usually designed to deliver content to the head unit. However, a car media server can also serve a broader purpose for delivering streaming media to various devices that are all connected via a wireless network.

Some head units include SSD or traditional hard drive while others have USB connectors or SD card slots that let you add storage. Others are directly compatible with media servers and some can be connected to a media server via an auxiliary input. In most cases, you will end up having to put together a homemade media server, allowing for a huge amount of customization.

Media servers may include:

  • Solid state or traditional HDD storage
  • Optical drives
  • flash drive
  • SD card storage
  • Network connection

Some types of automotive media servers include:

  • OEM infotainment systems
  • Aftermarket carrier
  • DIY media servers

Significantly expanded entertainment options

There are several types of media servers, and each system works differently. The most basic functionality of car media servers is to store one or more digital files that can be remotely accessed by the head unit or computer . This can be done through direct audio and video connections or through a network connection, and the simplest media server simply consists of Network Attached Storage (NAS) from which the head unit or computer can retrieve content.

More complex servers are essentially computers that perform the same function. In the case of head units that were not designed for use with media servers, the media server can send audio and video data to the auxiliary input. These media servers are usually connected to an LCD and controlled using a touch screen or alternative input method. Some specialized media servers also include optical drives and other options.

When you build a car media server, you have many options. For example, you can remap an old laptop or connect a small computer to inverter and stream media to the head unit, phones, tablets and other devices.

Presence of an OEM multimedia server

A number of OEM infotainment systems include some type of media server functionality, although they usually do not include a separate server unit. Ford Sync, Kia UVO and other similar infotainment systems are capable of storing and playing audio and video files. Other infotainment systems do not have built-in storage, but they do allow you to access digital content via an SD card reader or USB connection.

Adding a Media Server to an Existing Car Audio/Video System

If you want to add a media server to your car or truck, you have several options. The simplest solution is to buy a dedicated media server. If you don’t mind upgrading your head unit, you can also buy a video head that is designed to work with a media server.

Another option is to create a DIY server. There are many ways to do this, but you will generally need some basic components such as:

If you have an old laptop lying around, you can use it as a car media server. Other simple options include tablets and smartphones. However, you may also want to consider building a new system or using a low profile bookshelf type computer. There are also a number of tiny, inexpensive Linux-based computers.

Some of the most beautiful DIY media servers use LCD touch screen displays that meet the demands of both the display and the input device. In this case, audio can be transmitted through the auxiliary input on the head unit while the touch screen is used to display video content.

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