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2016 HTPC for Catfisch Cinema (1 Viewer)

DaveF

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I've wanted an "media PC" for a long time. But finances and practicalities have thwarted me until last year. Previously, it was finances. In 2012 I had the finances, but my goals were in conflict, so I gave up without building.
https://www.hometheaterforum.com/community/threads/2012-multi-room-htpc.311039/

In 2016, I had a new goal, pretty simple, and doable. And I built my HTPC. I've been tweaking it for the past year, but it's been essentially done the past couple months (and was usable well before that).

In May 2016, after a couple months of research and discussion, I ordered the parts: Total cost approximately $1300.


The key software
  • DrivePool to merge multiple drives into a single logical media drive
  • SnapRaid for creating parity data of the files stored on the pooled drives
  • Emby for Media Server
  • PowerDVD 16 for disc and ISO playback
  • AnyDVD HD for extracting media from my purchased discs
  • MakeMKV for extracting MKVs from the ISOs from my purchased discs
  • MKVToolNix for setting metadata in MKVs
  • ImgBurn because sometimes you're going the other way around and want to make an ISO
 
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DaveF

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Here's a quick overview of the build process:

The hardware and Silverstone case:
IMG_7176.jpg IMG_7177.jpg IMG_7178.jpg
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Getting the parts installed. I had major setback initially, with erratic power and stability. The problem was the major power connection to the motherboard wasn't locked in. I had to remove the MB from the case, get the cable snapped and locked by applying pressure with the MB flat on a table, and then install the MB in the case on its standoffs.
IMG_7184.jpg IMG_7198.jpg
I did preliminary setup and install work on my living room TV with my ace support team
IMG_7200.jpg

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After doing all that and having it installed in the theater electronics closet, I decided that it was running too hot and the stock fan was running too fast and too noisily. I bought a Noctua CPU cooler, which is ... bigger. Partially gutted the HTPC, installed the new cooler, and put everything back in place.
IMG_0220.jpg IMG_0223.jpg IMG_0225.jpg IMG_0251.jpg IMG_0257.jpg

Here it is installed in the electronics rack
IMG_8136.jpg
 

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DaveF

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An fundamental aspect is the RAID. I bought 3x5TB WD RED Drives. The 5TB drives are seemingly discontinued and I think I was lucky getting them, as that's the perfect size for getting started.

I have two drives pooled to form a 10TB logical drive using DrivePool (it's set as the Z: drive in Windows and the physical E: and F: drives are hidden from user access).

Using SnapRaid the third drive is the parity drive. SnapRaid is a set of command utilities. They're called nightly with a Windows Task Scheduler configuration, and check for data changes to the pooled drive. From that the parity drive data is updated. Weekly another Task Scheduler entry runs and does a scrub of the data to check for "rot", so to speak. This means any one of the three drives can fail and I can recreate all the missing data. And it self-checks all data on about a two month rate against invisible parity errors. It's not a "backup" but it's resiliency against random failure. I can re-rip all the discs and re-download all the demo material, but that would be so time consuming I hate to think of it.

There are many options for RAID systems. I'm happy with SnapRaid and Drive Pool and recommend them for hobbyists. First, they run within Windows 10, and can co-exist with a normal Windows build and HTPC server software. They don't require a dedicated NAS build.

DrivePool is cheap and SnapRaid is free.

They use normal Windows NTFS format and files are saved complete: they're not breaking up files into RAID-unique sub-blocks than can only be read by that flavor of RAID software or hardware. You can pull the drives out and put them in any other Windows machine and read the files.

SnapRaid is really simple: it checks for changes to files and updates parity data. It's not a realtime RAID system like a Synology box or other software options. It also means it's not running in the background while you're copying or modifying 50GB media files, and not slowing down your system unexpectedly. But because it runs on a timed script, you're at risk of losing data between updates. But for me that was only a real issue in the beginning when I was processing all my media en masse. Now, adding a movie or two every month or two, not a concern.

For future reference, here's the configuration approach I used:

Setting up DrivePool + SnapRAID

DrivePool
  1. Right-click Recycle Bin and set delete to immediately for the three drives. ((This is not necessary since I exclude the recycle bin in the snap raid configuration. But I do it anyway to avoid forgetfully filling up the drives with deletions))
  2. Install & run DrivePool
  3. Add the data drives (not Parity) to create the DrivePool
  4. Set "Automatic Balancing" to "Balance automatically" and Balancing Trigger to be 90%.
  5. Disable Balancer: SSD Optimizer.
  6. Enable Balancer: StableBit Scanner.
  7. Enable Balancer: Volume Equalization.
  8. Enable Balancer: Drive Usage Limiter and set fill limit to 95%.
  9. Enable Balancer: Prevent Drive Overfill and set to 95%.
  10. Disable Balancer: Duplication Space Optimizer. I'm not using Duplication so this isn't needed.
  11. Disable Balancer: Ordered File Placement (if installed)
  12. Run Disk Management in Windows to change the Drive Letter to Z: (because Z is cool)
  13. Reboot
  14. To include data already on disk(s) comprising the pool, move (not copy) files from original drive to pool drive. This is going to take over six hours! There is a faster, Expert-mode technique, but I'm not using it.
  15. Set balance option to back to "Do not balance automatically" after all data is moved to pool in desired manner. Uncheck "Allow balancing plug-ins to force immediate balancing." Apparently you don't want DrivePool moving files after SnapRAID has run.
  16. These machinations left some folders, at the root level of the original media drive. After rebooting I could delete them.


snapRAID
  1. Download and install Notepad++
  2. Download, unzipped, and copied snapRAID to folder name of my choice: C:\snapRAID
  3. Rename snapraid.conf.example to snapraid.conf
  4. Manually edit conf file. This configuration synopsis is the best I've found. See below for current Configuration file. (If using Elucidate, double-check anyway. it seemed to add Parity drive as a Content drive.)
  5. Create a new sub-folder named "logs" in the snapraid folder
snapraid.conf
Code:
# Configuration for snapraid started with Elucidate and manually edited
# See https://sourceforge.net/p/snapraid/discussion/1677233/thread/29fbcfdc/#7fe9

# Defines the file to use as Parity storage
# It must NOT be in a data disk
parity G:\SnapRAID.parity

# Defines the file to use as content list
content E:\SnapRAID.content
content F:\SnapRAID.content

# Defines the data disks to use
# The order is relevant for parity, do not change it
disk d0 E:\PoolPart.<random number>
disk d1 F:\PoolPart.<random number>

# Defines files and directories to exclude
# Remember that all the paths are relative at the mount points
# Format: "exclude FILE"
# Format: "exclude DIR\"
# Format: "exclude \PATH\FILE"
# Format: "exclude \PATH\DIR\"
exclude desktop.ini
exclude *.unrecoverable
exclude Thumbs.db
exclude \$RECYCLE.BIN
exclude \System Volume Information
exclude .covefs

Scheduling Nightly Sync
Ultimately, I found Elucidate was a poor interface to Windows Task Scheduler and isn't quite updated for Win10. While there's some learning value in setting a schedule in Elucidate and even running the first sync from Elucidate, having done that, it's easier and necessary to use Task Scheduler. Elucidate can't schedule more than one item, so Task Scheduler is necessary to create a schedule Scrub or any other routine. So I recommend not installing Elucidate and going straight to Task Scheduler and the command line to get started.
  1. If there's no password set for the account, create one in the Windows Accounts control panel. Task Schedule requires a password.
  2. Run Task Scheduler in Windows. (The Assassin tutorial for scheduling with Elucidate is a good overview for key inputs to be set.
  3. Click on the top-level "Task Scheduler Library" folder, in the upper left pane.
  4. Click "Create Basic Task..." in the upper right pane
  5. General Tab: Name it "SnapRAID Sync". Add a description. Select "Run whether user is logged on or not". Configure for Windows 10.
  6. Triggers Tab: New. Create Daily schedule for 3am
  7. Actions Tab: New. Action: Start a Program. Here we cheat a bit. Program: C:\snapraid\snapraid.exe -c "C:\snapraid\snapraid.conf" -l "C:\snapraid\logs\sync-%D.txt" sync (When you Ok the new Action, an alert will ask if you meant to to have program arguments. Accept it, and it will move the arguments to the arguments input automatically.)
  8. Conditions Tab: Select Wake the computer to run this task.
  9. Settings Tab: No changes
  10. OK
  11. Editing the Trigger schedule, Daily at 3am. Random delay disabled. Repeat task every... disabled.
  12. Edit the Conditions to enable Wake the Computer.
  13. Ok, and enter password.

Scheduling Weekly Scrub
  1. If there's no password set for the account, create one in the Windows Accounts control panel. Task Schedule requires a password.
  2. Run Task Scheduler in Windows.
  3. Click on the top-level "Task Scheduler Library" folder, in the upper left pane.
  4. Click "Create Basic Task..." in the upper right pane
  5. General Tab: Name it "SnapRAID Scrub". Add a description. Select "Run whether user is logged on or not". Configure for Windows 10.
  6. Triggers Tab: New. Create Weekly schedule for 6am on Sunday night.
  7. Actions Tab: New. Action: Start a Program. Here we cheat a bit. Program: C:\snapraid\snapraid.exe -c "C:\snapraid\snapraid.conf" -l "C:\snapraid\logs\scrub-%D.txt" scrub (When you Ok the new Action, an alert will ask if you meant to to have program arguments. Accept it, and it will move the arguments to the arguments input automatically.)
  8. Conditions Tab: Select Wake the computer to run this task.
  9. Settings Tab: No changes
  10. OK
  11. Editing the Trigger schedule, Weekly at 6am on Sunday night. Random delay disabled. Repeat task every... disabled.
  12. Edit the Conditions to enable Wake the Computer.
  13. Ok, and enter password.

Initial Sync
As noted above, Elucidate is a good way to learn and run the first sync. But ultimately, it's just as good to use the command line and not install Elucidate.
  1. Run Command Prompt in Windows
  2. Enter the following command into the command prompt:
    C:\snapraid\snapraid.exe -v -c "C:\snapraid\snapraid.conf" -l "C:\snapraid\logs\sync-%D-%T.txt" sync
  3. This will take hours. It took 4 hours for a 2 data drives with 3.5TB of data.


Hide Drives after the Fact
  1. Export current registry
  2. http://wisdombay.com/hidedrive/index.php (to calculate value)
  3. http://www.thewindowsclub.com/show-hide-a-drive-in-windows#comment-2302583854 (for correct RegEdit path)
  4. Click drives to hide, in my case E, F, G
  5. Calculate ‘NoDrive’ Value: 112
  6. Open Registry Editor (An improper edit inside the registry editor can cause your system to behave strangely or even can entirely ruin your windows installation. So be careful while dealing with Registry)
  7. Navigate to this key HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE –> Software –> Microsoft –> Windows –> CurrentVersion -> Policies -> Explorer
  8. In the right-pane, create a new DWORD entry "NoDrives".
  9. Now use the above given 'NoDrives' Registry Key Value Calculator, to find the value for your choice of drive combinations to hide. Enter that value (112) as the Decimal value for the "NoDrives" DWORD key that you created in Step 3.
  10. Reboot PC. The desired drives will be hidden in Windows Explorer, My Computer and in the Send To menu.
Finished!
 
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Adam Lenhardt

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An fundamental aspect is the RAID. I bought 3x5TB WD RED Drives. The 5TB drives are seemingly discontinued and I think I was lucky getting them, as that's the perfect size for getting started.
I had one of the 5 TB WD Red drives and returned it because it made a clicking sound every few sections to stay spinned up. This was a problem with a tower that was sitting right next to my desk as I worked. I doubt it'd even be audible well away from the viewer behind a closed door in a rack. Other than that issue, it was a great drive and I hated to give it up.
 

DaveF

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And on more recent reading, particularly the last BackBlaze reliability report, there are more reliable drives than the WD RED drives.

I actually bought the StabileBits bundle and got scanner along with DrivePool. So the drives' SMART are monitored and the drives regularly scanned for problems. So I've guarded the RAID as best I can.
 

mattCR

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Nice. I ended up storying too much internally for the kind of storage I'd want with Snap or FlexRaid solutions. So, I picked up an 8-Bay QNAP, which I store in another room, and connect everything to it. (TS-831X)

Been very happy with the results.
 

DaveF

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What use cases do SnapRaid and such become inadequate, in your experience?

If I add storage, the next step would probably be 2x6TB for 2x6TB parity and 3x5TB storage. Which I think SnapRaid and DrivePool can handle without effort.

Of course, I'm not during this as a live DVR. I don't think SnapRaid is the best choice for that.
 

jcroy

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The key software

...
  • AnyDVD HD for extracting media from my purchased discs
  • MakeMKV for extracting MKVs from the ISOs from my purchased discs

(On a huge offtopic tangent, in regard to dvd extraction. This may be going into verboten territory).

If one has a lot of patience and is willing to acquire the technical know-how by one's own research + trial & error, another option which I've followed for many years is using older now-free software to do iso extraction from dvd discs, with no "encumbrances". (ie. If one doesn't want to pay $$$$ for legitimate full versions of AnyDVD or DVDFab). This means using old discontinued software such the final version of the old dvd decrypter (discontinued in mid 2005).

Without going into details, if you can figure out how to extract the isos from the the original Rush Hour 3 and Hairspray dvds (released by New Line back in late 2007) using only the final version of dvd decrypter and several other adjunct free programs, then you can pretty much extract the iso from just about any dvd that is not defective due to manufacturing defects. (Hint: The original Hairspray dvd from 2007 will cause the final few versions of dvd decrypter to deliberately crash and die. It will require some non-trivial elbow grease to get dvd decrypter to NOT crash and die on the Hairspray dvd disc).
 

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(Admins: If this is an inappropriate topic on this message board, feel free to delete my previous post).
 

DaveF

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For DVDs, can't you use MakeMKV or Handbrake, No gymnastics required? Or any of handful of $25 programs. I mean, if $25 is $$$$ for a person, they can't afford to buy the DVDs, let alone the PC hardware, to begin with.
 

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(Admins: If this is an inappropriate topic on this message board, feel free to delete my previous post).

I've confirmed from the Owners: This topic is no longer verboten regarding personal use of the media you own. :)
 
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jcroy

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(As another long rambling tangential aside).

I should qualify why I prefer to not use full fledged modern programs like anydvd or dvdfab, in favor of ancient discontinued programs from a "generation" ago (such as dvd decrypter).

For the record, currently I don't rip any bluray discs for viewing purposes. I only extract the undecrypted isos from bluray discs, largely to check my newly purchased bluray discs for the presence of random bad sectors due to manufacturing defects. The few times I have encountered random bad sectors on bluray discs, they went back to the retailer for an exchange (or refund).

I make it a point to only purchase blurays that I am willing to devote my full attention to watching them. If I am not willing to watch a movie from start to finish with my full attention, then I won't bother buying the bluray. This is largely for self-discipline type reasons, which severely restricts any OCD impulse buying of blurays on my part. (In the past, I had a bad habit of impulse buying a lot of blurays which I only watch once or never).

With that out of the way, most of my interest is primarily in dvd.


As a secondary hobby (beyond watching movies + tv shows on dvd/bluray), I have an unhealthy fascination with deciphering the additional basketcase drm schemes on many dvd discs released by companies like Sony + Lionsgate (ie. arccos), Disney + Paramount (ie. ripguard), and New Line (ie. puppetlock/xprotect, etc ...). As a byproduct of this obsession, I've become semi-fluent in reading the contents in the *.ifo files on dvd discs and deciphering the basketcase mangling schemes which attempt to trip up or crash then-current ripping programs. (For example, current Lionsgate dvd basketcase drm schemes attempt to fool programs like anydvd/dvdfab into doing semi-random "jumping jacks" into the wrong directions).

Nowadays I frequently go through dump bins and thrift shops, searching for older $1 (or $2) dvd titles which are known to have some basketcase drm garbage encoded on the dvd discs. Largely to feed my fascination with deciphering these basketcase schemes, and seeing how these various "strains" evolved over the years. (As a byproduct, it turns out many of these basketcase drm laden dvd titles were decent movies which I otherwise wouldn't have thought of watching).

So to "preserve" a lot of this basketcase drm garbage for further examination, I always use the ancient final version of dvd decrypter and some adjunct free software to extract the isos.
 
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jcroy

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If I had the patience of a saint, in principle I would write my own ripping program for my own purposes. But alas, I don't have that kind of patience.
 
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jcroy

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For DVDs, can't you use MakeMKV or Handbrake, No gymnastics required? Or any of handful of $25 programs. I mean, if $25 is $$$$ for a person, they can't afford to buy the DVDs, let alone the PC hardware, to begin with.

I still prefer to watch the raw unmodified *.vob files, especially for tv shows. If there's problems, I'll run a raw vob file through another program which ejects the padding packets and rewrites the timestamps to be sane.

Occasionally I'll use makemkv or a mkv toolkit, if I'm dealing with audio or subtitle streams I want to remove. (Currently I don't have the patience to write my own program to strip out audio or subtitle streams from vob).
 

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What is the practical difference from a VOB vs an MKV container of the video data? (In all cases I assume no transcoding of the original data.)
 

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What is the practical difference from a VOB vs an MKV container of the video data? (In all cases I assume no transcoding of the original data.)

In theory, it shouldn't matter.

In practice, it would depend on how smart/dumb the mkv converter is at dealing with problematic sectors from a vob file. In a few rare cases, I've encounter problematic vob sectors where a vob->mkv converter just outright skipped over the problematic sectors. When that particular spot is played on the mkv file, it looks like a slight skip/jump.
 

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(On a slightly different tangent).

Another nasty drm to look out for is Cinavia, which is very popular on more recent blurays by Lionsgate, Sony, etc ... Current versions of powerdvd are designed to detect Cinavia from "unauthorized copies" and displaying a warning message + turning the audio really low. Apparently Cinavia has so far been so resistant to direct cracking, that some companies (ie. Lionsgate) have also been using Cinavia on their current dvd releases.

The current "hacks" vary, but they are not complete by any means. The anydvd solution is to manipulate the powerdvd program, such that it ignores the Cinavia subroutines.

The easiest way to bypass it when playing Cinavia encoded vob (or mkv) or m2ts files without any further cracking, is to use an open source video player such as VLC, media player classic, etc .... (If one is still into burning dvdr or bd-r discs, the easiest solution is to play these burned copies on older bluray players manufactured before 2012. Cinavia was only mandated starting in 2012 by the bluray licensing folks).
 
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DaveF

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Well fortunately I don't buy DVDs anymore so don't have to worry about whatever the current problems are.

There are challenges with some blu-rays. But they seem to be about determining the correct playlist within MakeMKV, and not getting the ISO per se.
 

jcroy

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There are challenges with some blu-rays. But they seem to be about determining the correct playlist within MakeMKV, and not getting the ISO per se.

Sony's "screenpass" is the primary bluray extra drm which keeps the anydvd/dvdfab/makemkv folks busy nowadays. Bluray's filesystem structure makes it easy to do, which would be a lot harder to pull off on dvd.

Basically splitting up a movie into many individual segments, with hundreds of playlists of sequences to play these segments.

Though I wouldn't be surprised if Sony comes up with some more extra basketcase drm stuff in the future, if bluray continues to be a viable.
 

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