Home Video Server

If you are anything like I am, you’ve probably got a very large collection of DVDs or Blu-Rays on the shelf. It gets to be kind of a pain to get up, search for the video you want to watch, fire up the DVD or Blu-Ray player and put in the disc and start to watch. Lots of work!

So I started to look into home video servers and methods to show my collection without having to get up and do the manual work. There are many ways of making this happen. There are hardware solutions where you put your collection of discs into a jukebox-like device and serve them up to your screens. And there are software solutions that allow you to take a video file and serve it up to your screens. Which is best?

Well, after looking at the hardware solutions and seeing the cost associated, I decided I wanted to find a software solution to fit my needs. There are a number of solutions out there, from Linux-based systems to Windows-based systems.

But the one caveat to all of this is you have to get your discs into a digital format. With the discs being copy protected, it becomes necessary to find a way to rip your movie after removing the copy protection. There are a number of products out there, both freeware and purchased products, that will do this for you. I won’t go into the various products here, but suffice to say, most of them work great.

Ripping your discs is a time-consuming endeavor. It is also costly in terms of storage depending on the number of discs you are copying. In my house, I have set up a Mediasonic HF2-SU3S2 ProBox 4 Bay Hard Drive Enclosure with four 3TB drives installed. I’ve then set those drives up into two Raid-0 sets (Mirrored) for redundancy. These two sets are then mapped out in my media server for use. I also have two 4TB Seagate Backup Plus drives I use for the raw DVD video. The Seagate drives are used when I make a duplicate copy of the disc. I then use the copy stored on the drive to then convert the movie to a digital format for the media server.

Converting your discs to digital versions can be done with a number of software titles. I’ve used Video Convertor from AVS Media as well as Video Convertor-Ultimate from Wondershare.   Both products are updated regularly and both do a great job of converting my discs to various formats.

So, once you have gone through and ripped all of your discs into digital versions, now you can finally get them served up.  I looked at a number of different products to serve my videos, but the one I came back to was Plex.  Plex is an open-source product that is generally free to use.  If you want to watch your videos on a mobile device (Android, iOS, Roku, Kindle TV, etc), the app will cost you a minimal amount.  Setting up the software was a complete breeze.  The Windows installer only took a couple of minutes to work and I was up and running.

To make this work right, you’ll need to register on the Plex website.  Doesn’t cost you anything and I’ve seen no security issues with it as of yet.  You’ll also need to make sure your digital videos are named according to the guidelines provided by Plex.  For example, a movie would be: The Blues Brothers (1979).mpg.  A television show episode would be:  Gilligan’s Island s01e01.mpg where the season and the episode are denoted.  Once you have all this set up, it is easy enough to point Plex to your video directories and start the process.  Plex goes out to a couple of sites to get movie and TV show data and applies that data to your videos.  You’ll end up with something like this for your shows:

Plex-ExamplePlex transcodes on the fly so it serves up the best video for whatever device you are watching on.  It remembers where left off on each video and allows you to watch from multiple devices at once.  All you need is a decent internet upload speed and you are good.

I’ve been using this for about 3 months now and find it to be absolutely awesome!  If you are looking for a very low cost method of serving up your videos wherever you are, this is something to look at.