In May 2005, iTunes evolved from a music player into a video library manager, paving the way for video iPods (October 2005), Apple TV (March 2007), and AirPlay video streaming (September 2010). Since then, iTunes libraries have become bigger and more central in homes, as users now stream content stored in iTunes — sometimes called a media “server” — to “clients” including Apple TVs, iPads, iPhones, and iPod touches. Unless you stream all of your content from the iTunes Store, you probably have some space-consuming videos sitting in your computer’s iTunes library, where they can be accessed by client devices so long as both the server computer and iTunes are turned on.
Apple has resisted calls to release a standalone, inexpensive iTunes home media server for years: 2008’s release of Time Capsule came tantalizingly close, but couldn’t act as a standalone streamer. So when my video library became too large to keep on my iMac, I bit the bullet and bought a used Mac mini to serve as an iTunes server. It works well, and consumes a lot less power than keeping my iMac on all the time, but it’s still a full-fledged $700 computer — overkill for streaming videos to the Apple devices in my home.
Today, I’m going to help you build a small, inexpensive, and ultra energy-efficient iTunes media server. Depending on the size of your iTunes library, it could cost as little as $150, or as much as $300, in either case much less expensive than a Mac mini. The key component is Intel’s new Compute Stick, a tiny basic Windows PC that can plug directly into an HDTV, run iTunes, and stream videos across your network. For around $130, you can now get an iView-branded Compute Stick with a CPU similar to the 12″ Retina MacBook, bundled with a wireless keyboard and trackpad. Although there are some important caveats you should understand up front, the Compute Stick can become a ~3-Watt video server using a $20+ microSD card, radically reducing the energy required to stream iTunes content in your home. If you need more storage and power, you can easily add a near-silent $90+ hard drive with 2TB-5TB of capacity…