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Media Center: Now Considering as the next step.. (1 Viewer)

Kyrsten Brad

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Well folks, I guess this is the place to make my first inquiries about acquiring and setting up a Media Center (if this is the proper term). My Blu-ray/UHD Blu-Ray/DVD library is getting quite sizable and I'm beginning to get interested in having my collection "ripped" and stored onto a Media Center which I could then access from my main Home Theater setup.

So now the learning begins.

What kind of setup would you recommend for a collection of 300-500 Blu-rays/UHD Blu-rays and a smattering of DVDs and how is the best way to go about this?

What kind of equipment would I need (in addition to of course multiple-terabyte hard drives).

Not to be understated, I'll need to educate myself about the legalities of ripping & copying each Blu to this server.

Any and all decent advice welcome.
 

Dave Upton

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Brad,

First things first, you will need a NAS. This is a network attached storage device that acts like a big file share on your network. I strongly recommend going with QNAP, something like this unit here as this is a future proof investment. On the cheaper (but not as fast) side is a Synology unit like this.

Then you can fill it up with drives. For your collection size, if you don't want to compress anyting to save space you will need approximately 15TB. I would go with 4 of these drives, as after raid you will end up with at least 20TB usable. If you want to go smaller, you certainly can but don't cheap out at this stage, as it's a pain to replace drives later.

Once you've done that, you need a front end to play back your media.

I generally recommend Kodi, which will run on most PC's, but one of the best options is an Intel NUC like this running Windows, as Linux versions can be a little finnicky. You'll also need to buy a hard drive and some memory as well as a copy of Windows 10.

If you want a cheaper option for Kodi, an Android Kodi box can work, but will suffer a little bit of performance issues in comparison to a PC, so I recommend the NVIDIA ShieldTV as a backup option.

Total cost to get a NAS up and running: ~$2000 (QNAP) or ~$1500 (Synology)
Total cost for NUC front-end box: ~$700 for PC or $200 for shield TV.

Once you get this all set up, you just need to start ripping your Blu-rays to the NAS using a tool like AnyDVD HD. You can then use a tool like Handbrake to turn each into a single playable file, or use an easy all-in one tool like MakeMKV, which I strongly recommend. Here's a nice guide on how to rip your discs: https://www.howtogeek.com/161498/how-to-backup-your-dvd-and-blu-ray-movie-collection/
 

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I have two basic recommendations:

1) Don’t. Invest in streaming and/or good media storage to make your family happy, and spend the time and money you’ll save with them.

Also, this is early days for HTPC 4K UHD and there’s no solid solution.

2) Ok, you’re ignoring good advice and want to be a crazy HTPC person and want to spend time fussing with media rather than actually watching with your family...

2a) Define your goals. Do you want a digital library to feed a single high quality display? Do you want your own “cloud” to feed multiple devices through your home or outside the home? Do you want this to be a DVR?
2b) Define your budget
2c) Buy the hardware and software accordingly.
 

DaveF

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DaveF

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Finally, last quick comment:

Dave advises a NAS. I argue that a NAS is possible solution depending on your goals and budget, but isn’t the universal solution.

You need some sort of RAID solution to provide 15TB+ storage with resiliency to at least one drive failure, and the ability to increase capacity by replacing individual drives. That can be a third party standalone NAS box like a Synology. But it might be SnapRAID running within your server / playback computer. Or it could be a custom built unRAID system. Etc.
 

John Dirk

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Dave F. Too funny in post #3. :cheers:Brad. Humor aside, Dave makes a good point. I've run HTPC solutions for over 10 years and can't see ever doing it differently. The rewards are great but the time investment and frustration factors can be high, especially in the beginning.

My library is about the same size as yours but yours is heavy on Blu Ray while mine is the opposite. In other words, you'll need a lot more storage. I took a systematic approach when it came to ripping. In my initial pass, I only ripped the titles [about 200] I found myself watching over and over again. The rest were ripped only when I felt the need to watch them. I disciplined myself with the mantra, "if you watch it, you rip it." To date I have about 400 ripped and probably a couple of 100 that have yet to make the cut.

Dave U recommends Kodi and I do use it. I have personally not found it reliable enough to function as my main front end though, so I primarily use JRiver's Media Center. You have to pay for the initial software and major upgrades but I have found it to be worth it's price. Among other features, JRiver can [with the help of AnyDVD which is a must for any HTPC solution] rip DVD's and Blu Rays seamlessly and add them to your library. It also has some excellent Audiophile features. Kodi is an excellent free solution and Dave U is probably right in that you should start there.

I personally do not use a NAS solution, at least not yet. I have a 250GB SSD as my boot drive and two 3TB internal HDD's for movie storage. I started years ago with two 3TB USB movie storage drives which I now use for periodic backups. It's not entirely elegant but it works for now. I am not willing to accept the limitations of traditional RAID, which is mainly why I've avoided NAS solutions. A while back I thought Drobo might be the answer but read too many negative reviews to feel comfortable with it. Based on Dave U's comments I'll be taking a look at QNAP and Synology. For 4K UHD titles my preliminary decision is to just have a good standalone player on hand.

I'm an HTPC fanatic and so I highly recommend it but only for those who can handle the technical work. If you go down this road, please be patient. Thanks to HTF, you'll always have help on hand when needed.
 
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DaveF

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In terms of time commitment: it takes 20-45 min to rip a blu-ray, and 30 - 60 min to rip 4K (I think). Assuming 30 min per disc, that’s 250 hrs to rip a 500 disc library. Fortunately, you can insert a disc and go to bed, and then insert a disc and then go to work in the morning: you don’t have to stare at the PC for two weeks of rip time. But you’ll be spending weekends working on it and it will take you months to rip your whole library.

And that’s just for the literal rip, without any time for identifying the main title(s), or doing filenaming, or copying into the library, and the inevitable server metadata management. If you’re really nuts and also extract commentaries and special features, it’s another hour per discs on average. Not that I would know from personal experience...cough...cough...

I love my HTPC. I love not having media be decor. But it’s a hobby unto itself. It took me 3 months to convert my library to minimum state, and I’ve been fussing with it for a year since then.

A good friend thought he wanted a media server. He bought the NAS, the drives, started setting it all up, started ripping, and then hit technical snags. It was going to cost more time and money to resolve and get good playback to his main TV. And he realized he was fighting with his media, not actually enjoying his content. So he returned everything and quit the HTPC, focusing on discs and streaming services.

But another friend keeps it simple: buys a blu-ray, rips the main title and transcodes it, and copies to his Synology NAS which runs Plex, and is done. Keeps it simple both in process and capabilities.
 
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Dave Upton

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Dave F. Too funny in post #3. :cheers:Brad. Humor aside, Dave makes a good point. I've run HTPC solutions for over 10 years and can't see ever doing it differently. The rewards are great but the time investment and frustration factors can be high, especially in the beginning.

My library is about the same size as yours but yours is heavy on Blu Ray while mine is the opposite. In other words, you'll need a lot more storage. I took a systematic approach when it came to ripping. In my initial pass, I only ripped the titles [about 200] I found myself watching over and over again. The rest were ripped only when I felt the need to watch them. I disciplined myself with the mantra, "if you watch it, you rip it." To date I have about 400 ripped and probably a couple of 100 that have yet to make the cut.

Dave U recommends Kodi and I do use it. I have personally not found it reliable enough to function as my main front end though, so I primarily use JRiver's Media Center. You have to pay for the initial software and major upgrades but I have found it to be worth it's price. Among other features, JRiver can [with the help of AnyDVD which is a must for any HTPC solution] rip DVD's and Blu Rays seamlessly and add them to your library. It also has some excellent Audiophile features. Kodi is an excellent free solution and Dave U is probably right in that you should start there.

I personally do not use a NAS solution, at least not yet. I have a 250GB SSD as my boot drive and two 3TB internal HDD's for movie storage. I started years ago with two 3TB USB movie storage drives which I now use for periodic backups. It's not entirely elegant but it works for now. I am not willing to accept the limitations of traditional RAID, which is mainly why I've avoided NAS solutions. A while back I thought Drobo might be the answer but read too many negative reviews to feel comfortable with it. Based on Dave U's comments I'll be taking a look at QNAP and Synology. For 4K UHD titles my preliminary decision is to just have a good standalone player on hand.

I'm an HTPC fanatic and so I highly recommend it but only for those who can handle the technical work. If you go down this road, please be patient. Thanks to HTF, you'll always have help on hand when needed.
John,

Have you tried Kodi since version 16 came out a year or so ago? Now we're on version 17 and it is rock solid. I personally don't really like the interface of JRiver very much, but to each their own.

@DaveF I would be very careful steering people away from NAS. If you're going to put in the effort to actually rip discs, why not protect the data in such a way that you don't have to repeat that work later? These days NAS appliances are about as easy to set up as a home router, and provide a level of redundancy and performance many desktops can't match.
Throwing a bunch of drives in your main PC is certainly an option, I'm simply stating that a NAS comes with many other benefits, like using less power, being able to host a VPN, Plex or Roon install, and last but not least - being able to backup all your data from your PC to your NAS so that you don't risk data loss at home.
 

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I’m on a train somewhere near Scotland...so let’s see if I can use this time to write something more straightforward on the topic. :)

Preface: I’m not an expert. I’m using experience and knowledge from building an Emby system and two years real research and implementation. You’ll find info and opinions counter to mine. That info could well be right and me wrong.

Warning: You will be a guinea pig if you want 4K. HDR support is not robust. I believe it requires madVR and a mid to high level GPU, which are not cheap due to crypto-currency miners buying all of them. Dolby Vision has no HTPC support. You should plan on having a conventional 4K player to ensure playback, insurance to 4K HTPC problems.

HTPC
I’ll assume you want a somewhat canonical distributed HTPC system.

You need three key hardware elements:
  1. NAS with at least four bays, preferably five or more, that supports storage increases with arbitrary drive sizes. Fill it with at least four 6TB drives, for 18TB of data and 6TB parity — room for all your current media, space to grow, and resilient to a single drive failing. DO NOT get a NAS that sets storage against the smallest drive and requires all of them to be replaced to grow storage!!!
  2. Windows PC to be the server and disc ripper. You need at least one LG WH16NS40 internal drive with 1.02 firmware, and a 250GB+ SSD for scratch space and local caching. Video card irrelevant unless you’re doing 4K HDR playback from it. Then you need something like an Nvidia 1050GT or better.
  3. Streaming boxes for all displays. If you want Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, get an Nvidia Shield. If you’re fine with DD5.1 and vanilla DTS then get whatever streaming box you like that supports Plex.
Software
  1. NAS requires no additional software if you’re buying a box. If you’re rolling your own or incorporating it in your server PC (as I did), you need freeNAS or unRAID or SnapRAID or such. A few days research there to go that route. These range from free to about $100.
  2. AnyDVD HD from RedFox to rip discs to ISO, including UHD. About $100.
  3. MakeMKV to remux movie from ISO to MKV file.
  4. MKVToolNix because it’s super useful in dealing with MKV files and their metadata.
  5. VLC because it’s super useful to quickly play an MKV aside from your media server system.
  6. Plex server with annual subscription. Plex is the big dog in this arena with support for seemingly every device out there and solid streaming ability. It’s user friendly as these things go with robust forums. If you want to research and demo (which you should)... I’m an Emby user, lifetime subscription for version 3. It’s aesthetics and design goals for my needs best. The developers are very responsive to user feedback on the forums. I tried Kodi in 2016 and couldn’t figure it out: super configurable to the point of being user hostile. That was two years ago; I don’t know how it is now. It’s worth researching and demoing all three. They can all run on the same server simultaneously (with some care and thought) to let you try them out. And you can say run Emby server but use Kodi as front end, among other mix-n-match options.
  7. Install the client software on your streaming boxes, e.g. Plex Media Server on the server PC and Plex on your Shield or AppleTV boxes and iPhones and Android phones.
Ripping
This isn’t a how-to guide. But hopefully it will point you in the right direction.
  1. Rip disc to ISO with AnyDVD HD.
  2. Configure MakeMKV settings to only extract main title, with all forced and native language tracks and subtitles, and save to MKV.
  3. Rename MKV file to “Movie Title (YYYY).mkv” according to IMDB info.
  4. You’ll have a “Movies” folder. Copy the mixed movie into its individual folder in that Movies library parent folder: NAS/Movies/Star Wars (1977)/Star Wars (1977).mkv
  5. I like metadata in the movie folder, versus the server software folder. On the NAS it’s easier to see and manipulate the metadata. On the server is faster (on an SSD) and ostensibly gets backed up with normal PC backups.
 

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Warning: You will be a guinea pig if you want 4K. HDR support is not robust. I believe it requires madVR and a mid to high level GPU, which are not cheap due to crypto-currency miners buying all of them. Dolby Vision has no HTPC support. You should plan on having a conventional 4K player to ensure playback, insurance to 4K HTPC problems.

If one chooses the path of ripping 4Kbluray discs, be prepared to keep up with current gossip about what new 4Kbluray discs have been cracked, and which ones are "pending". Apparently there is no general algorithm (yet) which easily cracks 4Kbluray discs. So far it has to be done one disc at a time by the anydvd/deuhd/makemkv designers.

For example, currently there is a new "AACS 2.1" strain on the recently released Sony 4Kblurays titles "The Patriot" and "Fury", which has not been cracked yet. It is taking slightly longer for the makemkv/deuhd folks to crack them, than the titles which only use the older "AACS 2.0" strain.
 

John Dirk

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Ripping
This isn’t a how-to guide. But hopefully it will point you in the right direction.
  1. Rip disc to ISO with AnyDVD HD.
  2. Configure MakeMKV settings to only extract main title, with all forced and native language tracks and subtitles, and save to MKV.
  3. Rename MKV file to “Movie Title (YYYY).mkv” according to IMDB info.
  4. You’ll have a “Movies” folder. Copy the mixed movie into its individual folder in that Movies library parent folder: NAS/Movies/Star Wars (1977)/Star Wars (1977).mkv
  5. I like metadata in the movie folder, versus the server software folder. On the NAS it’s easier to see and manipulate the metadata. On the server is faster (on an SSD) and ostensibly gets backed up with normal PC backups.

Amazing write up Dave and I hope you're enjoying Scotland by now. It's one of the few places I have yet to visit. Regarding the comments above, forgive my ignorance, but what is the advantage of MakeMKV? I have been ripping my Blu Rays to ISO [and DVD's to standard Video_TS folders] for years. JRiver automatically scans the folder and adds metadata which is usually accurate but can be edited if necessary. KODI basically did the same last time I checked. AnyDVD HD [configured appropriately] will strip out the "extras" from Blu Ray discs leaving only the basic features you mentioned.
 
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John Dirk

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John,

Have you tried Kodi since version 16 came out a year or so ago? Now we're on version 17 and it is rock solid. I personally don't really like the interface of JRiver very much, but to each their own.
It's probably been about a year since I tried Kodi but even before then, Kodi was pretty solid where movies were concerned. The problems I've had with it centered mostly around its TV support and associated add-ons. To be fair, JRiver isn't great in that area either but Kodi was worse. In the end I'm looking for a single front end that will do a decent job of everything. It's been hard to find which is why I still have both installed.

I hear you concerning JRivers interface. It's not for the uninitiated and took some time for me to get used to but it does have a [Theater View] mode which is much more friendly for movie viewing.
 
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DaveF

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@DaveF I would be very careful steering people away from NAS. If you're going to put in the effort to actually rip discs, why not protect the data in such a way that you don't have to repeat that work later? These days NAS appliances are about as easy to set up as a home router, and provide a level of redundancy and performance many desktops can't match.
Throwing a bunch of drives in your main PC is certainly an option, I'm simply stating that a NAS comes with many other benefits, like using less power, being able to host a VPN, Plex or Roon install, and last but not least - being able to backup all your data from your PC to your NAS so that you don't risk data loss at home.
I differ on semantics and budget, not the essential feature.

An HTPC needs a RAID, resilient to failure of at least one of its drives. That RAID should be networked for whole-home access, and maybe even streaming outside the home.

But for any enthusiast that’s going to spend the time to setup an HTPC, they should be aware of the options.

NAS are good simple appliances: plug in drives and connect to network. It can even be your Plex server. Very easy.

The downsides: it’s around $450 just for the enclosure. It’s four drives only, typically. And while they should be robust, you have a new risk of firmware and hardware failure of the RAID itself and are limited in data recovery to devices specific to that maker and no real data extraction options for the typical user. (I have a BIL who didn’t realize this risk, think a “RAID” was a “backup” because of the dual drives, and lost all his data from NAS’s controller dying, corrupting all the data.)

Since I was building a PC from scratch, I bought a case that can hold up to seven 3.5” drives. I saved $450, keeping my costs down to start. I run snapraid which is a sort-of RAID 4, not the most robust for the long run but functional. But the files are written as normal windows NTFS data so I’m immune to custom firmware and RAID hardware failures and am not at the mercy of buying a new QNAP (or whatever) bid for attempted recovery if catastrophe hits.

Other approaches are to build a dedicated computer running say freenas for arbitrary storage expansion and compete personal control.

Retail NAS are simple and robust and a great solution for many. But some HTPC enthusiasts prefer the DIY approach.
 

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Amazing write up Dave and I hope you're enjoying Scotland by now. It's one of the few places I have yet to visit. Regarding the comments above, forgive my ignorance, but what is the advantage of MakeMKV? I have been ripping my Blu Rays to ISO [and DVD's to standard Video_TS folders] for years. JRiver automatically scans the folder and adds metadata which is usually accurate but can be edited if necessary. KODI basically did the same last time I checked. AnyDVD HD [configured appropriately] will strip out the "extras" from Blu Ray discs leaving only the basic features you mentioned.
Thanks. :)

Muxing to mkv is more work but leaves you with individual video files playable by every playback system out there. Change your server or client software? No problem, everything understands mkv. Want to transcode and create multiple versions for local vs internet streaming? Everything can transcode mkv, even in real-time for streaming lower bitrate to your older appletv.

I tried iso to start (full, not menu stripped) and it was ultimately too inflexible. I’ve never tried the stripped iso approach. But I know you’re at the mercy of the iso playback in the clients, which I think is generally less robust and more quirky and less attended to than playback of mkv and other video containers.

Basically, MKV is the HTPC de facto standard.
 

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I differ on semantics and budget, not the essential feature.

An HTPC needs a RAID, resilient to failure of at least one of its drives. That RAID should be networked for whole-home access, and maybe even streaming outside the home.

But for any enthusiast that’s going to spend the time to setup an HTPC, they should be aware of the options.

NAS are good simple appliances: plug in drives and connect to network. It can even be your Plex server. Very easy.

The downsides: it’s around $450 just for the enclosure. It’s four drives only, typically. And while they should be robust, you have a new risk of firmware and hardware failure of the RAID itself and are limited in data recovery to devices specific to that maker and no real data extraction options for the typical user. (I have a BIL who didn’t realize this risk, think a “RAID” was a “backup” because of the dual drives, and lost all his data from NAS’s controller dying, corrupting all the data.)

Since I was building a PC from scratch, I bought a case that can hold up to seven 3.5” drives. I saved $450, keeping my costs down to start. I run snapraid which is a sort-of RAID 4, not the most robust for the long run but functional. But the files are written as normal windows NTFS data so I’m immune to custom firmware and RAID hardware failures and am not at the mercy of buying a new QNAP (or whatever) bid for attempted recovery if catastrophe hits.

Other approaches are to build a dedicated computer running say freenas for arbitrary storage expansion and compete personal control.

Retail NAS are simple and robust and a great solution for many. But some HTPC enthusiasts prefer the DIY approach.
I misunderstood your direction then. I am totally fine with snapraid/freenas and the other storage platforms that let you get a DIY storage server - my only issue with them is the complexity for the average user.

I work in enterprise IT, so strongly considered buying a 16 drive supermicro server to run as my NAS, but ultimately decided I didn't want the headache. So far my QNAP nas has been very good to me - and I've installed a google cloud plugin that lets me replicate all my data to a google cloud storage instance, so data loss is never a major risk.
 

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And if I go 4K HTPC next year, I’m open to swapping out my all-in-one HTPC Server/Player/RAID for a NUC + NAS + Shield combo for overall simplicity improvements. :)

Waiting anxiously to see how 4K UHD HDR shakes out over the next 9-12 months.
 

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And if I go 4K HTPC next year, I’m open to swapping out my all-in-one HTPC Server/Player/RAID for a NUC + NAS + Shield combo for overall simplicity improvements. :)

Waiting anxiously to see how 4K UHD HDR shakes out over the next 9-12 months.
Right now 4K HDR playback is a mild nightmare, requiring external players, MadVR config and all sorts of work, but it appears the Kodi devs plan to offer native support as soon as they can.
 

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