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Access Content on Your Windows Media Center PC Remotely

This article is a part of the Build a Media Center PVR PC series.
RemotePotato

If you have an Android phone, an iPhone, an iPad, or even just a Windows computer, you can use a free software package called Remote Potato to access your Media Center PVR PC from virtually anywhere, via the Internet or even 3G or 4G (for mobile devices). There are a few software packages that you may need to download first, and it is advised to read all of the information, help files, and manuals prior to starting. This way, you’ll have a good understanding of what you will be doing, and you’ll also be more confident when exposing your computer to the Internet.

What you’ll need, or need to consider, before proceeding (from the Remote Potato web site):

  • A PC running Windows XP (SP3), Windows Vista or Windows 7.
  • 2Gb of RAM or more is recommended.
  • The ability to stream video is subject to CPU requirements and compatible video files; a dual or quad-core CPU running at 1.2GHz or greater is recommended.
  • If you intend to purchase a client app to use with video streaming, we recommend that you download the free server software first and confirm that it is able to stream video to a web browser.
  • Streaming of HD recorded television is also possible although it requires a more powerful CPU. Certain audio and video codecs may not be supported in a streaming scenario although the folks at Remote Potato make every effort to provide support for new and unsupported codecs on an ongoing basis and in future updates to both server and client apps.

The Remote Potato site has a great Resources page that includes FAQs, forum links, and change log information.

Armed with your newly-acquired understanding of how Remote Potato works, you’ll want to go to the Remote Potato Downloads page to get a free copy of Remote Potato Server, but don’t install it just yet. This is the main server program that will act as the Internet interface to your Media Center PC. With Remote Potato, you can easily start or stop the server at will, and you can define exactly what is available for access. You can (and without question should) set up a user login name and password to prevent unauthorized access to your recordings, channel line-up, remote controls, etc.

Next, if you plan to use an Android phone or Windows laptop/desktop to use to watch media and control your WMC PC, you might want to grab the Remote Potato Streaming Pack that is compatible with your operating system. There are two versions available, 32-bit and 64-bit. The Streaming Pack lets you stream AC3 encoded audio, otherwise known as Dolby Digital, and from what the site indicates, is not necessary for iPhone, iPad or SilverLive clients.

There is a free Android app available called Remote Media Center, and a paid Remote Potato iPhone app that costs money (at the time of this writing, about $6.99 US). You’ll want to grab the Android one for sure if you have an Android phone, but you might want to wait until you have your server up and running before spending money on the iPhone app. You can typically access your new server from any web browser; the app just makes it a little more convenient.

There used to be a really good basic guide available for Remote Potato, which was written by Dean Nelson. As of the time of this writing, the site is not longer available. Fortunately, Google’s cached content was able to offer a summary of Dean Nelson’s Remote Potato Beginner’s Manual; here is a summary, with our own images provided:

  1. Step One: Download and Install Remote Potato

    Downloading Remote Potato is easy enough – just go to the Remote Potato web site to download the most recent version. Now you can proceed with installing Remote Potato and the Streaming pack that applies to your operating system. There are a couple of things to be aware of after installing. When you first start Remote Potato, the server should be stopped. On the main page, you’ll want to check the box (if it’s not already checked) next to “Start Remote Potato server with Windows”.

    If you want to use your phone as an remote control you have to enable the “IR Helper Option” inside Remote Potato. Both the Android app and the web browser interface can show you an image of an actual WMC remote controller, and you can press on any of the keys to control WMC just as if you were sitting in front of it with the actual remote! This is one of the coolest features of remote access to your media server, although the virtual button response time is good, is obviously not as fast as the actual remote. This is pretty straight-forward, just like any other program installation. You might need Internet access to download and install any additional needed files for your operating system, like Microsoft .NET Framework 4.

    During installation, you should be prompted for log-in credentials to use when you access Remote Potato from afar. You don’t have to do this but if you don’t then you run the risk of anyone being able to access (and delete!) your recordings and schedules if they know your DynDNS address. Make sure you choose a non-obvious user name, and use a complex password (numbers, capital and lower case letters, symbols, and 8+ characters total):
    Remote Library access credentials

    If you are prompted by the Setup Wizard to enable security, you should.
    Enable security
    You can run the wizard any time using the link in the Remote Potato UI on the bottom right, next to the pototo image.

    Once installed, open up the program so you can do a little configuring. On your first run, Remote Potato should ask you if you want it to configure your Windows Firewall settings; if you use Windows Firewall then go through this quick set-up. Once that’s done, you should see a message at the top of the screen says “Server is running” – press the Stop button in the top-left corner to put the server on hold for a few minutes while you set Remote Potato up:
    Remote Potato Server is running

    Still in the General tab, you’ll notice a couple of checkboxes to the right – “Start Remote Potato minimized” and “Start Remote Potato with Windows”. You’ll most likely want both of those checked. Go ahead and check the other tabs in Remote Potato to see if there are any other settings that you want to change.
    Remote Potato Startup options

    When you’re done, press the Play button (where the Stop button used to be) to start the remote access action.

  2. Step Two: Set Up a Dynamic DNS service

    If you already have a DynDNS account then you probably don’t need this part of the tutorial so, chances are, you will need to make a new account. DynDNS allows you to access your computer like a website, like yourmediacenter.dyndns.org. Dean Nelson’s guide mentioned that you can use a free Dynamic DNS service to get a domain name that won’t change when you ISP changes the IP address on your Cable or DSL modem. Unfortunately, the guide was written in 2010, when DynDNS.org offered a free option. They no longer do, so you can either pay for an account, or use a different free service like OpenDNS to keep track of your home computer’s IP address. You normally would set up client devices once, and if your home computer IP address changes, you wouldn’t be able to connect. This is where OpenDNS and their free updater client utilities come in handy, allowing you to confirm the computer’s IP address from any web-browser-enabled device:
    OpenDNS client utility

    While you’re at OpenDNS.com, you’ll want to sign up for a free account. Not only does this free account let you manage your IP address, but it lets you filter your internet for the entire family. You can block or allow certain categories or specific sites, and you can even customize the “blocked” page. All that is required is a free account, and entering the DNS server IP addresses for OpenDNS into your home router’s settings. The paid version offers more features, but for this article, the free version will do just fine.

    Now that you have access to your external IP address, you can proceed to the next steps.

    Next, you’ll need to configure your router’s port settings. Depending on the brand of router you have, you should look for and set up two things:

    1. Set up a fixed local network IP address on your router for your Media Center PC. If you have only one computer (the Media Center PC), you probably don’t have to do this.
    2. Set up a Port Forwarding rule to send all traffic on port 9080 (the Remote Potato default) through your router’s firewall to your Media Center PC’s IP fixed network address.
  3. Step Three: Forward Port 9080

    If you’re not familiar with the term “port forwarding” then read this article from PortForward.com to help understand what it is. This step depends on several factors, mainly your firewall and your router. Assuming that you use Windows Firewall, since Remote Potato automatically configures settings for Windows Firewall, there’s nothing else we need to do with the Remote Potato server computer’s firewall. If you use a different firewall, check your firewall settings to grant full permission to Remote Potato.

    The other factor here is your router, and that’s where things can get tricky. I have a Netgear WNDR3700-NAS – just log into my router (my router address is 192.168.1.1- your router’s address may vary), go to Port Forwarding/Port Triggering, plug in the port and IP address to which the port should be forwarded, and that’s it.
    Router port forwarding

    Depending on your router model, you might need to enable the port forwarding rules by clicking the little checkboxes next to each rule. Not all routers are set up this way and not all routers will require the extra step of clicking a checkbox to enable forwarding.

    For more help with port forwarding, DynDNS has partnered with PortForward.com to make tutorials on router set-ups with many of today’s popular routers. Unfortunately, Remote Potato (being the relatively new program that it is) isn’t listed specifically as one of the available applications for these routers, but that’s OK; once you find your router, you should be able to follow the general guidelines for the Remote Desktop program tutorial to get an idea of what you need to do. (If the option of TCP or UDP protocols comes up in any of part of your router setup, enable forwarding for both.)

  4. Step Four: Test Remote Potato

    First, you will want to open the Remote Potato user interface, and with the server stopped, select the Music Library button. In the window that opens, enter the user name on the computer whose music library you want to share:
    Music Library account

    From another computer (or even a mobile phone) go to your DynDNS or OpenDNS URL using port 9080 ) or external IP Address ). Make sure you have http:// at the beginning, and :9080 to the end of the URL so you can access port 9080, which is reserved for Remote Potato. If you see Remote Potato then sweet! You’re all set. If not, you’ll need to check your settings. Go through this tutorial again and see if you missed anything.

    Note: If you attempt to access your DynDNS URL from the same computer (or even the same network) that’s hosting Remote Potato, your browser will time-out. It’s basically like telling a dog to look at her tail – she’ll run around and around and eventually stop (or maybe she’ll gnaw at it for a bit but, luckily, browsers don’t gnaw). So, to test Remote Potato from your home PC, you’ll just need to enter http://localhost:9080 instead of your DynDNS URL.

While this guide is intended to be basic, hopefully it helped you to enjoy remote streaming of your TV recordings, music, and movies. Thanks to Dean Nelson for his contributions towards helping the basic user understand Remote Potato, the requirements, and how to set it up.

Enjoy your media (from wherever)!

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