Category archives for "media consumption"

Happenings in the tvOS space and some personal details

Both Plex and VLC have announced that they’re working on a media player app for the newly announced Apple TV. This is exciting news since I’ve always wanted to use my Apple TV to access my NAS and play media files. If Apple approves these apps (and why wouldn’t it), the cumbersome jailbreak days have finally come to an end.

On other news, now that I have a new NAS, I started experimenting with my home theater setup. Right now I’m using my 4 year old non-retina 2,2 Ghz Intel i7 MacBook Pro as a media server component for Plex. The server is running in a closed clamshell mode with the help of Caffeine. This accesses the media share on the NAS and serves up content to the various clients in the household.

I plugged the net into my LG TV, installed the Plex app on top of it, subscribed to the service (because for some reason that app requires subscription) and there you go! The TV interface is so much inferior to the outstanding quality of the Plex Home Theater app that I even tried running both the server and front end component on the same 4 year old machine. Well, it wasn’t a good decision framerate wise. πŸ™‚

But since then I’ve come to actually like the app for the TV, it’s basic, but once you figure out how the spatial system works, it’s a nice little thing. On the positive side, Plex plays everything, every subtitle, looks awesome and it is the media center solution. I didn’t even bother trying to use the NAS built in whatever station and accessing it from the TV. I’ve seen the LG TV OS and it’s horrendeous, don’t want to use it for playback, ever.

Also tried running the Plex server on the NAS, but even the Intel Atom version failed to play a 1080p video, so it’s a no go. You need a dedicated media player box unfortunately. But with this comes additional benefits: setup is super easy, you log in with your Plex credentials, then whatever device is in front of you, you get to continue watching the media item. It remembers position, watched list, everything. So cool.

And it is coming to the Apple TV as well. I’m sure it will have a glorious interface, and I’m also sure it will require the Plex subscription.

I’m buying a new NAS

I’ve tried to replace my old 2006 ReadyNAS model for a new one at least two times in the past 5 years. It never worked out, buying a new NAS always feels like an extra spend I don’t want to make. This year, however, it failed me, and a couple of days ago it failed me again and wouldn’t boot. It was fixed easily (reset button!), but I don’t trust my data in a flaky device.

Now it’s time to make that spend. πŸ™ Spent half a day researching the topic and I’m buying one of the cheapest Synology models with two new 4 TB WD Red drives. Total cost will be around €420 + taxes. I could’ve gone for the 3 TB drives, but I felt the price difference is not that significant.

Since a four bay NAS was out of the question (as we say, I’m not “shitting money”) I was contemplating on getting a more powerful DiskStation 215+, then I realized it’s not worth for my purposes. Here is why: for some reason I thought a newish Synology NAS will be able to serve as a media server. In my last December setup I was using my old laptop as a media server with Plex and it was a good solution. I could access the media content from all my devices (iPads, iPhones, TV), because the old MacBook Pro was doing the transcoding (like fine, I should add).

Turns out, basically no matter what Syno model I buy, I won’t be able to skip the media server component, because they’re built with ARM processor architectures and these are not suitable for transcoding. Yes, if you follow the news, the new Syno models are always getting faster and faster, but according to this table, they can’t even transcode a 720p stream. Better yet, Plex has a nice article detailing these issues. (The Syno’s don’t even have a HDMI out, so that’s a tell.)

To combat this, I could buy a high-end Intel based Syno model or choose one of the most expensivru Intel based QNAP devices, but those play around €1200+taxes+disk. The deal here is that Syno will essentially be a file server, so I don’t need an expensive one.

The educated answer to this problem is that I need a media player component in my setup that does the transcoding and outputs the stream to the TV. (Or I could buy a Mac mini and install Plex Media Server on that one – that’s another €600 drop on hardware. Or I just use my old MacBook Pro laptop at this point!)

Do I need transcoding? According to the guys at Plex:

For ARM or PPC models, the format of your media will need to 100% match the formats your clients can play. Without the transcoder, you may also run into issues when viewing your media remotely as you will only be able to stream the media at full bitrate (…)

There are also situations where transcoding is required even if your media is otherwise compatible with your playback device. This can be the case when:

Using Subtitles: For many Plex apps, subtitles have to be “burned in” to the video stream but the Server. That requires transcoding to do.

Remote Access: When your Server is accessed from outside your home, it may not be possible to stream the content at the full quality.

I’ll be able to install Plex Media Server on my Syno, but it will only be able to Direct Play or Direct Stream the video to my TV. This means that I won’t be able to watch a movie on my iPad while my wife watches a different movie on TV, and this also means that if the server has to deal with a weird subtitle, there will also be problems and the source stream needs to be 100% compatible with my TV. OK, so an ARM Syno is not a media server. Then what?

I could still go with it. I haven’t tried it, I will try it. We have an LG-47LA620V TV set. According to this spec, that TV has got a LAN port! Better yet, this LG TV has got a Plex client. I can plug the TV into the switch, install the Plex client on the TV, the server on the Syno, and boom, I have a Direct Play/Direct Stream solution.

I could use my old laptop as a 100% competent media server. The Plex client needs to install on the TV still, or if that fails, I could force my laptop to output the HDMI as well.

As a third option I could reinstate my 2012 Popbox media player, but I don’t like this option for various reasons: no proper updates, problems with subtitles, bad as shit UI and UX, just can’t match the convenience of Plex.

I’m still glad I spent as little money on this as needed. I find it particularly difficult to research the topic without actually having the access to the devices. Consider this post part 1 of the series.

update 09/15/15: after all this reasoning I’ve ended up buying a different, 4 bay Syno. πŸ™‚