For a movie server (or interface), my top concerns are:
1.) Having a nice GUI rather than having a file directory set up. As an example, if you can take a Redbox with the ability to play movies and put it in your house, that’s the functionality that I want. It needs to automatically display cover art when browsing or selecting movies from the server or movie storage.I've own different types of media players, and I keep coming back to Dune and PCH. They are probably one of the best media players out there. Boxee Box is good, but their support is lacking, and Intel discontinued their chip. So, what you buy is what you get. If you do not care about HD sound / surround sound Boxee Box is probably one of the best out there as well. I never consider to buy one due to the lack of support.
However, Dune and PCH have some of the best jukeboxes out there, but I do agree that XBMC is probably the best. There are new Android based media player coming out that will support XBMC, but many of them have bugs and doesn't work 100% yet! Furthermore, the Android media player do not support HD sound or ISO files. It's an Android thing, which XBMC is working on.
2.) The ability to support subtitles or close captions. I have a hearing loss, so having access to subtitles or close captions is a huge plus for me. (However I understand HDMI does not display close captions although I could be wrong).Subtitles support will depend on how you rip your movies. A lot of people use MakeMKV because the software is easy to use. However, I've ran into some problems with BD movies lagging, stuttering and lip sync issue. So, I only use MakeMKV for DVD movies. For BD movies, I used ClownBD and rip them to main movie only M2TS file, with HD sound, AC3 secondary sound track, and English and Spanish subtitles because my parents are Spanish speaking .
3.) Gigabit Ethernet compatibility if possible. I understand 10/100 is adequate for DVD streaming but I need something that can perform well when viewing Blu-ray movies or HD content from the server. If 10/100 devices are fine for HD or blu ray viewing then I can work with that.I would worry about the media player supporting gigabit connection because none of the media player that say "THEY SUPPORT GIGABIT CONNECTION DO." The reason is due to their processor isn't powerful enough to support it. So, 100 mbps will do just fine
4.) The ability to play most common video formats either in native format (original) or via up-scaling if possible.Most media players nowaday support pretty much every format.
My initial plan was to just build a HTPC and allow that to be my DVD movie server. However, there apparently are products such as set top boxes out there that serve this function and sort of neglect the need to build a HTPC.
Does anyone have any suggestions or ideas on what box might accomplish this task in a stable and efficient manner?These are the following boxes I recommend from experience and ownership:
1) Dune Smart Series (They are reliable, dependable and easy to set up and use. Furthermore, they've got a good juboxes selection. HOWEVER, DUE TO THEIR PRICE INCREASE PEOPLE DON'T LIKE TO BUY THEM. THEIR HARDWARE HAS NOT BEEN UPGRADE IT FOR A WHILE, AND I DON'T THINK THE PRICE INCREASE WARRANTS BUYING ONE, BUT THEY ARE EXCELLENT. If you don't mind spending more for less this is a good media player.
2) Popcorn Hour A210 / A300 series. The YAMJ / Eversion / EAON jukebox skin is probably one of the best out there. They are a little bit complicated to set up for your network, but once you get it going they are pretty solid. Their firmware upgrades are a PIA too, but it gets easy to do once you start doing it.
3) Mede8er MED500/400 series. This is probably the best 1185 Realtek chip media player out there. The only issue I found with this media player was it doesn't support full BD ISO. Their jukebox is similar to YAMJ. However, if you want to do TV Shows, you will have to use ThumbGen, which is kind of slow and at time PIA to use.
4) AIOS, this is probably the most inexpensive and excellent media player for the money. It is based on the 1185 Realtek chip. It does support a jukebox, but it requires some work, and if you are not computer / network savvy, it will be a little difficult to set up. Also the remote isn't very responsive, but you can fix this easy with a Harmony remote if you own one already.
5) Another option would be to build HTPC