Hot on the heals of my last Blog post (about DNS Pi-Holing), I thought I’d follow up with another part of my home network infrastructure that might be useful to folks.
So: we have a substantial movie collection- dvds that have accumulated over the years. But dealing with physical media and whatnot is kind of a pain- and the kids have a remarkable ability to destroy dvds and dvd players. I wanted a better solution.
I’d been ripping those dvds to disk for years (I use Handbrake and MacDVDRipperPro to do this, but there are other options). In fact, in an effort to speed this process, I bought a stack of bare dvd drives off ebay and plugged them all into a computer so I could rip 6 discs at a time. We called it The Rippenator.
Plex Media Server allows you to build libraries of movies, tv, music, pictures… media in general. You can make collections and playlists, too. Once you have your media on a disc, you can point Plex at a folder and say “These are all my movies” or “These are all my tv shows” or whatever. Assuming you’ve kept your file names reasonable, Plex will go index those folders and download the various bits it needs (movie posters, trailers if you want, imdb information, etc…), and start building an interface. You can, of course, set preferences on what you want it to grab and not. TO BE CLEAR: Plex doesn’t download media itself.
Anyway, once you’ve established your libraries and whatnot, the Plex Server just sort of runs. You’ll need a computer to do this- but depending on how many users and the nature of your media (1080, 4k, h264, h.265, sd, etc etc etc), and what you’ll be playing it on (more on that in a minute…) you might not need too much of a computer.
For example: I have (right now) five users in my house, with many, many devices (5 ipads, several phones, two Roku, and god knows what else). Most of my library is h.264 encoded (larger files but less processing than h.265), and I’m using a Mac Mini from (ahem) 2009. It’s a Core2Duo @ 2Ghz with 5gb ram. It does totally fine most of the time- but if I throw a large 1080 h.265 file at it and ask it to transcode AND burn subtitles, it’ll choke. I’m currently looking at building a beefier server as my library is still growing and my users are growing, too. I’ll likely end up with a mini server of some sort running some flavor of Linux or whatever.
Further! There are versions of Plex that will run on Mac OSX, Windows, various Linux distros, and a few other things, too. Supposedly you can run a version of it on a RaspberryPi 3 B+, but that’d be woefully underpowered for me (so I’ve not investigated it further). If you’re running a NAS, you might be able to run Plex Server directly on that (but there are serious caveats there re: transcoding. Most NAS boxes have processors entirely too lightweight for that sort of work…).
As far as players/clients: Plex clients will run on nearly anything. I have a pair of FIRST GENERATION iPads that can (and do) run Plex. iPhones, Andriod, PS4, Roku, AppleTV, web… nearly anything. It’s lovely to be able to play whatever media on whatever device.
With a bit of setup, it’ll play remotely too. And if you pay a couple of dollars to unlock some features, it’ll let you plug in a IP-Enabled TV tuner and watch/record live TV as well. There are also plugins for some channels (PBS, for example) that give you direct access to their web content via the Plex interface, too.
Storage: As you might imagine, all this media can chew up space on a disk. I store mine on a Synology NAS unit, but if you’ve got the space for some drives in your existing tower, that’d work too.
In conclusion: Plex Media Server is a wildly flexible, inexpensive, and lovely way of building your own practical media server. If you build it with old leftover gear, it can be set up for basically $0 and get you started. If you have more serious needs, a modicum of research will let you figure out what you might need for nearly any use case.
[edit because I’m an insufferable dingdong that can’t remember to include a link]