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post #1 of 14 Old 04-14-2015, 12:51 PM - Thread Starter
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Question HTPC, NAS, Plex & more... What to do?

I want to build an HTPC and have been trying to do a lot of research and am less certain now than I was before I started. I want to build something that can do the following:

- Play 1080p 2D and 3D movies ripped from Bluray without issue
- 5.1 Surround
- Internet streaming (Amazon Prime, Youtube, Google Play, Netflix, Hulu, etc...)
- Light console emulation (nothing higher than PS1, maybe PS2)
- Stream 1080p video to one remote source (phone, tablet, Xbox 360, another PC, etc...) while playing 1080p video on main TV through HDMI
- Data storage for documents, web/graphic design work, photographs, camcorder videos, etc... to be accessed by other local computers (currently between 3-4TB but growing)
- Be quiet (I tried to use a hand-me-down tower PC as an HTPC a couple years ago, but the fan was so loud, I gave it back.)
- Be power efficient as I want to have access to the data files and movie streaming 24/7.
- I am not interested in any modern gaming. I have too much of a backlog to play on my consoles. If I decide to get back into PC gaming and want to do it on my big screen, I'll end up building a much more powerful Steambox.
- I am not interested in live TV or DVR
- Preferably have a simple "appliance" like interface for my wife and 5 yr old daughter (Doesn't matter if it takes me a lot of tweaking in the back end to get to this as I am comfortable with it, but they aren't)

Which of these options would be best? And, what hardware would be best? Any advice, pro/cons, tips you have would be appreciated.

(1) - A media server with plex server to hold all of the movies and data files that runs 24/7 with a simple HTPC that I turn on only when I want to use it.
(2) - A simple NAS with the movies and data files on it and an HTPC running plex server; both running 24/7.
(3) - A single HTPC running plex server with the additional storage for the data files running 24/7.

(A note about placement: my modem and router are located near my TV. Also due to the layout of my house, most likely anything I would build, even if split into a separate HTPC & server, would also be placed near my TV so that it could be hardwired into the network.)

A few questions about these options: Which would be the cheapest to build? Which would use the least amount of power? Which would be the easiest to use & maintain over time?

About my situation:
I originally decided to build an HTPC so that I could rip all of my daughter's movies and have them in one organized, easy to use place. Then move on to my movie collection. Then I thought about my current computer usage and thought it might also be a good idea to have a NAS or server. I have a power hungry desktop, an older laptop, a Surface Pro, two android phones, and a Nexus 7 tablet. I do a lot of photography (enthusiast not pro). The desktop has an extra 4TB hard drive that is about 75% full (and continually filling) with mostly photos and some videos (and web/graphic design work). The data is backed up to a local external hard drive as well as to the cloud with crashplan. I do all of my photo/video editing on the desktop, but my wife likes to digital scrapbook with the laptop using the photos stored on the 4TB desktop hard drive. So, she has to turn on the desktop every time she wants to use the laptop for her scrapbooking. I thought it would be nice to offload the data storage to a NAS or server that would run 24/7.

So, my first thought before researching was that I could build an HTPC that included the storage for my photography & web/graphic design. But then I read a lot of places that recommended having the storage separate from the HTPC. One main reason for this had to do with sound issues; having multiple hard drives in the HTPC would create additional noise. However, my router is in my entertainment center and so a separate NAS or server would still have to be placed close to the HTPC. So sound out of one or the other would make no difference. And, if I did split them, should I run the PLEX server on the HTPC or the NAS/server? I will be running the HTPC through a yamaha rx-v477 receiver to a Sharp 60" 3D TV. I am thinking either Kodi or Mediabrowser as the front end for the HTPC.

Thanks.
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post #2 of 14 Old 04-14-2015, 01:30 PM
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No live TV or PVR:

One box running all the time with a few hard drives (two or three 5TB drives will hold a lot of media), PMS and Emby servers. Then for the client part of that PC, I'd probably do something like Emby Theater or Plex Theater; or you could do Kodi front end with Emby applied so that you can stop and resume from different devices. Once this is done, you can use something like Roku devices for streaming to other rooms.
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post #3 of 14 Old 04-14-2015, 02:23 PM - Thread Starter
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Thanks. Had to do a quick Google search for Emby. Didn't realize Mediabrowser had changed its name.

With a potential use case where I could be streaming a movie remotely, watching a movie on the big tv through hdmi, and accessing the data files from two other computers, would an i3 haswell be enough, or should I go to an i5?
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post #4 of 14 Old 04-14-2015, 03:26 PM
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Watching a movie locally uses almost zero resources, as does sharing files. It's when you have a movie playing remotely to a device or connection that requires transcoding that causes the CPU usage to spike. Even on my server (Xeon E3-1246v3) it will spike to 100% on all cores. But I've done transcoding off as low as an AMD 610e here at home, and I have my dad set up to send Roku from his Celeron NUC, and it's working. One at a time, but it works.
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post #5 of 14 Old 04-14-2015, 04:57 PM
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Cheap, easy, powerful enough and flexibility don't really go together.

Use cases:
- Watching a movie locally on the TV - Trivial horsepower required. Most modern video cards and onboard video can handle hardware acceleration with very little CPU usage required. However, don't get hung up on that. The "responsiveness" of the HTPC is as important as the actual playback. If the UI runs slow/stutters etc etc, it'll ruin the experience. An ITX type system will work but not a Pi.
- File/NAS server - Trivial horsepower required. Component quality and longevity is more of a concern.
- Streaming and transcoding media for remote playback - Major horsepower required. Here, raw CPU power is key. More, the better. In addition, your internet upload speeds play a major role here as well.

Now:
- The HTPC does not have to be on 24x7.
- The File server/NAS and the streaming services do need to be on 24x7.

I'd split it into two machines to begin with. For the HTPC, a Baytrail level mini-ITX type system is perfectly adequate. For the NAS/Streaming machine, that needs to be more powerful, more efficient (24x7), and preferably a server grade motherboard (component quality, built for 24x7 operation). That's where you'll spend your most money. The ITX can be had for a $100.
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post #6 of 14 Old 04-14-2015, 06:17 PM - Thread Starter
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I tested my internet at speedtest.net a few times and I was getting just over 12 Mbps upload every time. Will that be sufficient?

kapone, say I build the file server/NAS and set it running 24/7. What's wrong with plugging that in to my TV and using it as an htpc as well? What makes the second mini-ITX system necessary? Is it just so that the UI doesn't slow down while a remote stream transcoding is happening? Not saying you're wrong. I am just trying to understand the reasoning so that I can learn. Thanks.
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post #7 of 14 Old Yesterday, 05:58 AM
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12mbps should be fine.
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post #8 of 14 Old Yesterday, 09:59 AM
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IF you have a home ethernet network and a place to put a server where mild fan noise doesn't bother you, I'd go with the two box solutions (or 3 or 4, as explained below).

I have a server with all my storage in the basement, running Windows 7. It runs a variety of applications like Plex and Squeezebox LMS. All hard drives are local. Just get a motherboard with enough SATA ports. I use SnapRAID for redundancy. To me, a NAS is pointless since everything can run natively in Windows 7 as-is, and almost any backend HTPC software you want to run works on Windows. In your case, I heartily recommend Plex Media Server.

On the client side, you have a variety of choices. Do note that you may contradict yourself wanting something easy and appliance-like coupled with the fact you want to play games. If an Intel NUC running Windows is okay and a wireless keyboard is alright, you can run whatever you want. Or you can develop your own front-end. This will be the device attached to your TV for all the "client" needs. It can run Plex Home Theater (PHT) for the client-side of watching movies.

A third alternative is running PHT on something like a Raspberry Pi (Rasplex) or a Chromebox. Cheaper and appliance like for the secondary TV's. A Roku, Xbox and other devices could also be used. This of course is just for media consumption, not playing games. It also has built-in Netflix, Hulu, etc. Most of the options to run it within Kodi and the like are not very good. You may just need to use a three box solution, assuming you already have a Smart DVD player or TV with Netflix already.

This is what I do.

Quote:
Originally Posted by GatorArchitect View Post
kapone, say I build the file server/NAS and set it running 24/7. What's wrong with plugging that in to my TV and using it as an htpc as well?
It is unlikely that you will be able to have one box with a bunch of hard drives, near your TV, be quiet.

Last edited by Valnar; Yesterday at 10:02 AM. Reason: Addition
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post #9 of 14 Old Yesterday, 10:09 AM
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I was confronted with this very same issue last year and settled on abandoning the magic box solution to a suite of solutions that acknowledge the wife factor. I purchased a Popcorn Hour A-410U from Cloudmedia to stream my Blu-ray and DVD rips over my CAT-5 network from my PC. The PC has 30TB of HDD's attached to it and serves to the PCH via NFS Share. The user interface is easy enough for my 3 and 5 year old to fight over what to watch because they can select it from their Nexus tablets via the NMJ Navigator app.

For the streaming solution I just utilize a Roku 3 which gets me Hulu Plus, HBO Go, Netflix, Pandora, etc. etc. I also use it to cast my android media files.

For gaming, I would only use a dedicated machine or console. I'm planning on a Steambox with dual boot Steam OS / Windows 10 (X-mas gift to self!)

Last edited by Dhalmo; Yesterday at 10:14 AM.
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post #10 of 14 Old Yesterday, 11:27 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Valnar View Post
IF you have a home ethernet network and a place to put a server where mild fan noise doesn't bother you, I'd go with the two box solutions...

It is unlikely that you will be able to have one box with a bunch of hard drives, near your TV, be quiet.
Unfortunately, my house is not wired for ethernet. And the location of my cable modem & router near my TV is also not easy to wire to another room. We don't have basements down here in Florida and the only room I could get to by punching into the wall and running cable would be my bedroom. I don't really want a 24/7 server with fan noise running in there either. So, my only options are to use Wifi, powerline ethernet adapters, or have the server near my TV (maybe with the speaker volume turned up.)

If I am stuck with having the server near the TV is there anything I can do to try to reduce the noise? My sitting position on the couch is about 12 ft away from the TV (and server). I have plenty of space, so I was thinking about using a larger case with 120mm fans, Silverstone GD08B and potentially a quieter aftermarket CPU cooler, maybe a Noctua NH-L9i or a Scythe Big Shuriken 2.
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post #11 of 14 Old Yesterday, 11:36 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GatorArchitect View Post
Unfortunately, my house is not wired for ethernet. And the location of my cable modem & router near my TV is also not easy to wire to another room. We don't have basements down here in Florida and the only room I could get to by punching into the wall and running cable would be my bedroom. I don't really want a 24/7 server with fan noise running in there either. So, my only options are to use Wifi, powerline ethernet adapters, or have the server near my TV (maybe with the speaker volume turned up.)

If I am stuck with having the server near the TV is there anything I can do to try to reduce the noise? My sitting position on the couch is about 12 ft away from the TV (and server). I have plenty of space, so I was thinking about using a larger case with 120mm fans, Silverstone GD08B and potentially a quieter aftermarket CPU cooler, maybe a Noctua NH-L9i or a Scythe Big Shuriken 2.
You are pretty much screwed with the more hard drives you need. I think in the old days (5 years ago Lol) an HTPC with a single hard drive was common, but now with servers or NASs needing multiple hard drives to store data, you'll have noise....and you need to put it somewhere. Only you can answer that question....or simply live with the fan noise.
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post #12 of 14 Old Yesterday, 04:58 PM
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I moved from having an over powered HTPC acting as server and client to a dedicated headless media server/NAS and several thin front-ends. I much prefer my current setup.

Server placement is obviously a major issue for you. Have you investigated PowerLine adapters? Even my 5/6 year old 200Mbit adapters can easily push the 40+Mbit required for raw Blu-ray streams. Assuming these adapters give you additional placement flexibility then something like the Dell PowerEdge T110 II can be had for as low as $300 and would comfortably transcode, stream and act as a file server simultaneously. You can make the server act as an appliance by installing something like FreeNAS or OpenMediaVault, with simple click to install Plex plugins.

For a front-end I agree that a cheap Bay-Trail machine is hard to beat. Although the Haswell based HP Stream Mini Desktop is even better (CPU&GPU) and can be found for less than $200 with Windows included.

However, you mentioned your consoles, why not use the native Plex/Netflix/Amazon apps on one of them?

If the PowerLine adapters won't work for you, you could take a look at actual media server/NAS appliances from QNAP and Synology. The QNAP TS-x51 units have Bay-Trail processors and while no where near as powerful as the T110 II mentioned above, should be able to transcode/stream a BD and stream a raw 1080p BD at the same time. They support Plex Server through a simple plugin based user interface. The QNAP TS-x51 have HDMI out so I suppose you could use it as your media server and front-end, but I have no idea how well they work. My friend has a different 4-bay QNAP (populated with 4*4TB WD Reds) under his TV and it does not produce a noticeable amount of noise.
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post #13 of 14 Old Today, 06:26 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nxsfan View Post
Server placement is obviously a major issue for you. Have you investigated PowerLine adapters? Even my 5/6 year old 200Mbit adapters can easily push the 40+Mbit required for raw Blu-ray streams. Assuming these adapters give you additional placement flexibility then something like the Dell PowerEdge T110 II can be had for as low as $300 and would comfortably transcode, stream and act as a file server simultaneously. You can make the server act as an appliance by installing something like FreeNAS or OpenMediaVault, with simple click to install Plex plugins.

For a front-end I agree that a cheap Bay-Trail machine is hard to beat. Although the Haswell based HP Stream Mini Desktop is even better (CPU&GPU) and can be found for less than $200 with Windows included.
I did a little digging about powerline adapters. They have come a lot farther than I had thought. The new 1200 models released earlier this year should increase the speed even more to the point that it might make it a viable option. I guess I could always buy one of those and test the speeds with my laptop before deciding.

I like the look of that little HP Stream Mini, but would the celeron processor in it still provide a snappy interface with Kodi, Plex Home Theater or Emby Theater as a front end? Or should I step up to a NUC?
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post #14 of 14 Old Today, 08:34 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GatorArchitect View Post
I did a little digging about powerline adapters. They have come a lot farther than I had thought. The new 1200 models released earlier this year should increase the speed even more to the point that it might make it a viable option. I guess I could always buy one of those and test the speeds with my laptop before deciding.

I like the look of that little HP Stream Mini, but would the celeron processor in it still provide a snappy interface with Kodi, Plex Home Theater or Emby Theater as a front end? Or should I step up to a NUC?
I think you would be very surprised at the performance of the HP Stream Mini. Good single threaded performance combined with Intel HD 40000 series graphics means that it can comfortably run Plex/Kodi/Emby front-ends (and even light gaming like Team Fortress 2). The only constraint is the RAM, I'm unsure if you can upgrade it. Of course the NUCs are great too if you don't mind spending the extra money.
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