In the beginning
One of the first reasons for setting up a media system at our home was to allow us to play music through our stero system. Our initial take on this consisted of an old computer that could barely manage to decode MP3 files. The system ran WinAMP and was hooked up to the TV as a monitor using an RCA video out on the video card. This did the trick and provided an added benefit of giving us a central location to store all of our music. The media server was born.
Time passes but things remain the same
Over the years the system was upgraded and its capabilities enhanced. The music side of things has remained largely unchanged though. We can access our music from any device connected to our network which is really all that we wanted.
The one exception was the ability to play the same music in multiple rooms at the same time. Basically doing what some sound systems do with multi-room functions but using just computers and whatever speakers they happen to be attached to. This way we could avoid having to run more wires throughout the house and the versatility simply couldn't be beat by even the best sound systems out there. We have experimented with a few options for this and have found that by far the simplest solution is to run a ShoutCast server on one system and then connect to that system from each room that you want to listen in. While there is a slight offset between rooms due to network latency and general timing issues we have found that you don't tend to notice it over the din of a party and even if you do it makes for an amusing conversation piece. All in all not quite a perfect solution but certainly a much cheaper alternative to a costly custom sound system.
We would like to add better playlist based music playback support (most likely a web based interface) to allow simple touch screen type access to music from anywhere in the house. The current base setup will likely stay unchanged due to its simplicity and flexibility.