Remember the days of spinning silver discs to make music and movies come alive in your home theater? Those days, despite the power of Blu-ray with its 1080p video and 7.1 24 bit 96 kHz surround sound audio are reportedly over. What will replace silver discs? Media files on a computer. You can see the trend now with all of this whiz-bang streaming audio and video ranging from Pandora to Netflix to CinemaNow and beyond but sadly while those services are easy to use and convenient - they perform poorly. They are riddled with compression and low resolution thus making Blu-ray a much better choice for audiophiles and videophiles alike.
What kind of media servers are there on the market today? Lots. AppleTV is a popular one but it has become more of a streaming box. The highest end servers for movies come from Kalidescape but this unit requires one to not just own a physical disc but to store the Blu-ray in the multi-disc player. Meridian's Sooloos is another popular high end solution which is known for its high end meta data and wonderful control of complex music collections. Dune HD is a more up-and-coming solution that is much better prices than the others. Do it yourself media servers in the form of HTPCs (home theater PCs) are also popular. An Apple Macbook can make for a pretty mean media server using applications like iTunes and Amarra to rebuffer the digital jitter using the computer's own internal RAM. Needless to say - there are all sorts of media servers today and no shortage about to hit the market.
Where the rubber hits the road with media servers is in the applications. Every product from AV receivers to Blu-ray players to streaming media players like a Roku to your HDTV all come packed with built-in applications. For television manufacturers - you have more of a chance to make profit on the sale of an HDTV via applications than you do selling the physical set. That's why today you see CinemaNow, Amazon on Demand, Pandora, Rhapsody and so many other applications as standard offerings in an HDTV. If you are using a media center PC or HTPC - the world is your oyster. Try JRiver for home automation on the cheap. Look to IMDB and other Android based applications for "cover flow" art work for your movies and music. There a just so many options.
The biggest issue facing media server clients is how to rip discs. Compact Discs are easy to rip as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act allows anybody who owns a CD to rip it as they see fit. DVDs and Blu-rays are another story. They are more encrypted and allow for consumers to have digital copies via studio-controlled services like Ultraviolet but they don't want you, the customer, doing the ripping. Consumers argue that they bought the disc and own the disc then they should be able to do what they want with it. Kalidescape is involved in a nasty and prolonged law suit over this exact topic.
Hopefully, this site has proven to be a good primer to the world of higher end home theater media servers.