Chromecast, Roku and Fire TV sticks are often hailed for their web streaming capabilities, letting you Netflix binge on the cheap. You can, however, easily stream local files from your computer to these HDMI-enabled dongles as well with the right apps installed—here’s how to get everything set up.
Your Chromecast is controlled by your phone or by the Chrome browser on a laptop, so you need an app that works with either (or both). Plex is one suitable solution (which we’ve written about before). Set the server software up on your main computer, then use a Chrome browser or Plex’s smartphone apps (Android, iOS) to beam your media files to the Chromecast.
As Chrome has both local media playback capabilities and an official Chromecast extension, you can just use Google’s own browser to beam your videos to the dongle if you don’t mind a rather bare bones (and occasionally sluggish) solution. Third-party Chrome app Videostream offers a somewhat smoother experience for browser casting if you’re on a computer.
Returning to smartphones, there are a bunch of apps that will do what Plex does. Videostream Mobile (Android, iOS), VLC Streamer Free (Android, iOS), LocalCast (Android, iOS), and AllCast Premium (Android) are currently some of the best apps that will do the job for you.
Roku Streaming Stick
Once again, Plex is an excellent choice. To get your local media up on a Roku stick, you need to install the Plex server app on your computer, build up your library, then use the Plex app for Roku devices to stream content. As long as your computer is powered on and connected to the network at the same time as the Roku, Plex’s free tools are enough to get the job done.
There are other options: Roku does in fact have a native Media Player app for local files, but you need another application to set up the media on your computer and serve it out to the rest of your home network—the likes of Twonky, Windows Media Player, Tversity and (of course) Plex are among those supported. It’s not the most straightforward solution, but it works.
Other Roku channels that can get local content up on your HDMI stick include MyMedia, PlayTo, and Emby. The process is much more straightforward on the full Roku boxes, which feature a USB port that you can plug an external hard drive straight into, but there are still plenty of options available to you if you’re using the Roku Streaming Stick.
Amazon Fire TV Stick
Yes, you guessed it: Plex is available for the Amazon Fire TV Stick as well. In fact, there are a bunch of apps that are capable of picking up video (and music) files from a local network and displaying them on a big screen through Amazon’s HDMI dongle, but in terms of overall ease-of-use, simplicity, interface design, and extra features, Plex is the clear winner.
Vimu Media Player is another option, though you will have to pay for it and set up your own UPnP/DLNA server separately. VLC for Fire is also capable of picking up local files made available on a home network, and like the many other VLC applications, it offers support for all the most common file types (some users report that you need to install ES File Explorer as well, however).
There’s also the impressive Kodi media software (previously XBMC), which provides a ton of useful functionality but is tricky to configure. To start, you need to sideload the app onto your device then add your computer’s media library as a source to get all your content available on the Fire TV Stick. If you want to give it a go, full instructions are available on the Kodi wiki portal.