Overhauling whole-whome video streaming... need basic/cheap/easy clients. - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 9 Old 11-13-2012, 01:43 PM - Thread Starter
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This post turned out to be MUCH longer than I expected... if you want to skip the minutia, see the bold/underlined items.

About 2 years ago I setup a VERY basic whole-home local-network movie streaming system around XBMC. My main goal was a unified UI across all screens and separate libraries of Kids Movies/Shows and other Movies/Shows.

At the time, this is the relevant equipment I was using:

File Server:
- 2TB WD Elements USB drive served by Netgear READYSHARE Router
- Almost all files are h.264 encoded MKV at either 480p or 720p, only a handful of 1080p or other codecs/containers

Theater:
- HTPC running XBMC (Prebuilt Acer Aspire SFF PC - AMD Athlon X2, GeForce 210, Win7)
- Panasonic AX100u 720p Projector
- Onkyo NR1007 AVR
- Sony S570 BD player
- TiVo S3
- Harmon 900 remote
- Powerline AV 200mbps

Living Room:
- Win7 HTPC running XBMC (FrankenPC from spare parts - Intel P4, GeForce 8400 PCI, Win7)
- Sony 30" 16:9 CRT w/ HDMI
- Yamaha AVR (no HDMI)
- Sony NS70H HDMI DVD Player
- Harmony 650 remote
- Powerline AV 200mbps

Bedroom:
- AppleTV 2 running XBMC
- Vizio 37" 720p LCD
- Samsung P2550 BluRay Player
- TiVo S3
- Harmony 600 remote
- Poweline AV 200mbps

Kids' Room:
- AppleTV 2 running XBMC
- Proscan 32" 720p LCD w/ built-in DVD
- Harmony 300 remote
- Wireless 802.11n

For about a year, everything just worked so I stopped tinkering and didn't stay up to date on the latest hardware/software/etc. I intended to setup MySQL for syncing coverart and resume points but never got around to it.

Then, slowly, things unraveled...

First, the FrankenPC in the living room died... won't post a bios screen, likely fried due to heat build up in an enclosed TV cabinet. We very rarely watch TV in the living room and, if we do, it's just the news or a random casual DVD with friends. Because of this, I never repaired/replaced the PC and the living room is without a network client.

Not long after that, XBMC on the ATV2 in the bedroom became very buggy with very frequent restarts. I updated the iOS version (the last version of iOS 5) but then was unable to re-jailbreak the device for an unknown reason. It's not bricked, it just won't jailbreak by any of the common/free methods. Since the bedroom TV is used 90% for my wife's TiVo viewing, I never repaired/replaced the ATV2 and the bedroom is without a network client.

Most recently, YouTube in XBMC has stopped working on the ATV2 in the kids' room. Since it's the last working ATV2 in the house and YouTube only represented ~10% of their viewing, I haven't tried to fix it (i.e. don't want to risk a similar incident as above). Also, I currently have the device set to boot directly to XBMC (bypassing the native ATV2 interface), so using the native YouTube feature isn't currently an option.

So now 2 out of the 4 screens in the house are without a network client. The two most important screen still have XBMC (Eden on the Kids' ATV2, pre-Eden on the Theater HTPC). The theater is where I do my personal viewing of movies, TV, sports, etc. The kids' room is used for frequent (near constant) viewing of Disney movies, Disney JR tv shows, VeggieTales, etc.

Lastly, the READYSHARE (USB NAS) function of the Netgear 802.11n router has worked well, but it is a bottleneck in terms of bandwidth. The READYSHARE transfer rates max out at around 4 MBps but can drop to as low as 1 MBps at times. The bottleneck is in the READYSHARE feature, not the network as a whole. 720p files play fine, even 2 files on different devices simultaneously. A single 1080p file will usually play fine but may see anywhere from 1 - 10 buffers per 2 hour movie. Simultaneous playback of two 1080p files leads to constant buffering on both. The reason for using the READYSHARE USB NAS feature was so my clients would not be dependent on a PC running. Given the performance of the READYSHARE feature, I've come to the conclusion that I will need a dedicated USB NAS device (Pogo Plug, etc) or I just need to suck it up and use a PC as a server... likely the later based on what you'll ready below.

Now the main question, what is the cheapest/easiest current method for setting up a whole-home server/client system with the same/similar UI on all four screens?

My goal now is to, as inexpensively as possible, get back to a unified UI and feature set across all 4 screens. Since the ATV2 is hard to find and expensive (thanks to the ATV3 not yet being Jailbroken), I don't want to just find more ATV2s. I'm actually leaning towards financing most of this project by selling the two ATV2s I have since they will currently demand somewhat of a premium.

Main Priorities:
- Unified UI with coverart/metadata and near universal file playback
- Stability for uninterupted daytime use by non-tech people (wife, babysitter, mother-in-law, etc)
- Basic surround-sound support for DD and DTS (not worried about DTS-HD or TrueHD)
- h.264 decoding up to 1080p (mostly 480p and 720p MKV)
- HDMI output at 720p
- Separate libraries for Kids Movies/TV Shows and all other Movies/TV Shows, selectable/excludable in the client

Secondary Priorities:
- Netflix
- Youtube
- Amazon
- Vudu
- iOS/Android app control
- Shared resume points (pause in one room, resume in another)
- DLNA access for PlayOn (Hulu without Plus subscription, etc)

Non-concerns:
- High-res Audio (DTS-HD, TrueHD, etc)
- Live TV and PVR (TiVo S3 used for recording in Theater and Bedroom)

Proposed Solution:

Right now, I'm leaning towards a PLEX based solution. I would move the USB drive (currently attached to the Router) to the Theater HTPC which would act as both PLEX server and also PLEX client (or maybe use PleXBMC if it's still supported). I would then add PLEX-capable Samsung Blu-Ray players in the Bedroom, Kids' room, and Living Room (which needs a Blu-Ray player anyway). Samsung BD-D5700 players are dirt-cheap from CowBoom right now, one of the main drivers taking me down this route... I already have one on the way for testing and will add others if my trial works out and I can figure out one potential kink.

This setup would remove the Netgear READYSHARE bottleneck, give a unified UI in the three rooms where the non-tech folks would be most likely to access it, and cover all of the primary and secondary concerns (except iOS/Android app control), other than the one below concern...

What I'm unsure of how to achieve with this arrangement is two separate libraries for Kids Movies/Shows and other Movies/Shows. Right now the kids (triplets) are 3 and not really operating the electronics on their own. For now, this segregation of content is purely for convinience, i.e. not having to scroll through non-kids content on the kids' TV. That said, in the future it will be more necessary for the kids' TV to only have access to age appropriate content when they can operate it themselves.

Is it possible to operate multiple libraries from a single PLEX server and select which are accessible from the client? Or, alternatively, to run multiple PLEX server instances from a single machine?

One added bonus of the above hardware configuration is I could also use other more basic DLNA servers (such as Serviio) in case PLEX goes down or inexplicably disappears from the earth.

This approach would leave me with a fair bit of leftover hardware, including:

- 2 x AppleTV 2 boxes
- Samsung BD-P2550 or Sony BD-S570 (one or the other would stay in the Theater)
- Sony NS70H HDMI DVD Player

Again, I would likely sell the two ATV2 boxes to pay for the three BluRay players... they might net enough to make some other upgrades too, like Tivo Premier DVRs to replace the S3s in the Theater and Bedroom. The extra Blu-Ray player and DVD Player I would probably keep on hand as backups since they likely wouldn't have very high resale value.

Please chime in with any help you might have on the above questions as well as my overall plan of attack as well as any alternatives you might be able to offer.

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post #2 of 9 Old 11-14-2012, 10:20 AM
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If you are going to sell your ATV2's that are jailbroken at least you will get a fair amount of money for them on eBay! smile.gif

I'm currently running the following:

Main Server:
- Intel Pentium G620
- 120GB Crucial M4 SSD (Boot/OS/App Drive)
- Two 2TB Hard Drives (Movies, Music, TV Shows, etc)
- Plex Media Server
- Windows 7 Media Center
- Two Avermedia Duet ATSC Dual Tuners (OTA ATSC)

3 Client Locations:
- Samsung Blu-Ray Player (BD-D5300 or BD-D5700) as Plex Clients
- Xbox 360 as Media Center Extenders

I would have really loved to have everything in one box at each TV but unfortunately I have not been able to find a solution that works as well as each of those 2 devices at each TV. HTPC at each TV is not something I'm interested in at all.

My video collection is similar to yours and the Samsung Blu-Ray players handle pretty much everything I have thrown at it (480p & 720p Xvid, MKV & MP4 files make up the majority of my collection).

I tried pretty much every other Plex client out there (Roku, ATV2, Google TV, etc) and they all have issues that don't work well with my setup/collection. The Samsung Blu-Ray players have worked the best. Hope this helps! smile.gif

EDIT: Also if you are looking for dirt cheap clients you can get the BD-D5300 on eBay right now for $40 shipped: http://www.ebay.com/itm/320962190879 I ordered a BD-D5700 from this seller already and it has been running like a champ for Plex for about 2-3 months so far. I have been running BD-D5300's for over a year as well. There is really no difference between them for Plex usage at all that I can see.
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post #3 of 9 Old 11-14-2012, 12:48 PM
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The way most Plex clients run you end up seeing the content of all the Plex servers so having multiple servers won't help. As for clients, you ideally want to be able to Direct Stream or Direct Play from the Plex Media Server. This allows for lower powered NAS devices, such as the ARM based ones, to be used as servers. Check with Plex to see which work. Netgear has some ARM based ReadyNAS servers which are supported. Not sure about Synology and Qnap. These servers will not transcode.

The Sony 2nd gen GTV Plex client will Direct Play virtually everything. The Roku's will Direct Stream a lot of stuff in unsupported mode. Marc's and PC's will of course Direct Play everything. The ATV2 Plex client is not as stable as these but it is nice. Samsung Blu-ray players (older generations) also have a Plex client though I am not familiar with the Direct Play capabilities. I doubt they would be as capable as the Sony GTV.

Philip
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post #4 of 9 Old 11-16-2012, 05:20 AM
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Take a look at RaspberryPI with XMBC

Its a cheap option for all the tvs that do not need Surround.
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post #5 of 9 Old 11-16-2012, 11:58 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by space2001 View Post

Take a look at RaspberryPI with XMBC
Its a cheap option for all the tvs that do not need Surround.

Doesn't it have issues with decoding DTS and AC3? I heard you need to pass them through. I also heard it has issues streaming over SMB.
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post #6 of 9 Old 11-17-2012, 06:19 AM
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I got my Raspberry Pi this week. From what I've done so far, it would not pass as a video medio center even in a bedroom (testing Raspbmc). UI navigation is slow, medium bit rate videos stutter, X264 only. I probably need some tweaking to get it working better, but I don't think it will ever have enough horsepower to meet my video needs. I am hoping it can be a cheap adequate audio streamer (I've already streamed 24/96 FLAC successfully through HDMI), controlled by phone/ tablet apps. I haven't tested analog audio out yet, but word is that it has some crackles that need to be fixed in the pi firmware.
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post #7 of 9 Old 11-17-2012, 03:27 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thugnerd View Post

I got my Raspberry Pi this week. From what I've done so far, it would not pass as a video medio center even in a bedroom (testing Raspbmc). UI navigation is slow, medium bit rate videos stutter, X264 only. I probably need some tweaking to get it working better, but I don't think it will ever have enough horsepower to meet my video needs. I am hoping it can be a cheap adequate audio streamer (I've already streamed 24/96 FLAC successfully through HDMI), controlled by phone/ tablet apps. I haven't tested analog audio out yet, but word is that it has some crackles that need to be fixed in the pi firmware.

FYI, hardware acceleration for MPEG2 and VC-1 is available through paid plug-ins.
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post #8 of 9 Old 11-28-2012, 07:57 AM - Thread Starter
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I tested a Samsung D5700 with Plex and wasn't happy with the results. My 480p and 720p MKV files played fine, but 1080p files had frequent stuttering and buffering... while the same 1080p files play fine through AnyShare and on the ATV2 through XBMC (on the same power-line network port). The interface on the D5700 was also slow/clunky and didn't give the MovieWall feature for movies or Cover Flow style interface for TV shows (for some reason the C-series players get a newer version of the Plex app than the D series players). Also, the lack of any ability to only show the Kids' Movie library in their room would have probably been a long-term deal breaker. I'll be passing the Samsung D5700 to my brother who's looking for a WiFi Blu-Ray player as a Christmas gift.

I've decided I'm going to stick with XBMC since I prefer the interface and add-ons for online streaming. For clients, I'll stick with the one ATV2 that is still jail-broken in the kids' room (it's running solid now after forcing it to update to XBMC 11.0.4) and sell the other on eBay or Craigslist. I'll also keep the Acer HTPC in the Theater as I'm now using it to experiment with XBMC 12.0 (Frodo) Beta.

As for low-cost clients for the Living Room and Bedroom... I've decided old tricks are the best tricks. I picked up a Dell Dimension 4700c (SFF, P4 3.2 GHz, 2GB Ram, PCI-E slot, TOSLINK audio output) for $30 on Craig's list and tossed in a $9 Acer GeForce G100 HDMI video card... this card is roughly the equivalent of first-gen ION graphics and handles everything I've thrown at it. I pulled the 250gb HDD out (probably throw it in the Office desktop as a photo backup drive) and I'm booting OpenElec from a USB stick. I'm using it in the Living Room (with the addition of some USB powered laptop cooler fans on the back of the cabinet to draw cold air in the bottom and out the top) with the HDMI connected directly to the TV and the TOSLINK to the old Yamaha AVR. The fans only come on when the PC is on (S3 sleep and wake from the Harmony remote) and are not audible even when they are on.

I then flipped into scrounger mode re-purposed a Dell Optiplex 740 P4 Desktop that my office's IT department was getting ready to scrap... no HDD or RAM, but after I threw in the 2 x 512mb memory sticks and 8400GS from the dead Living Room PC it is booting OpenElec from a USB stick and humming along just fine. Since it doesn't have the TOSLINK output and is in a large case, it's in the bedroom now (behind the TV in a chest/cabinet connected via DVI-to-HDMI and 2ch analog audio.

While possibly not the most elegant or low-power solution, I'm back up-and-running on all four screens with my preferred UI with a total out-of-pocket cost of $39. My next upgrade will probably be a Pogo Plug to replace the built-in USB NAS feature on the Netgear router... especially if refurbs hit $20 again like they have in the past.

I ruled out RaspberryPi for now because, once you add in a case/power-supply/SD-card, the total cost jumps pretty quickly from $35 up to $60-$75, as well as the fact that it seems marginally powerful enough to power the UI. That said, I am going to test a GBox Midnight (Android mini-PC) that a co-worked bought and didn't like... he wanted to use Google Play Movies/Music and Netflix via the remote only, and both are fairly keyboard/mouse dependent. I'm going to give it a shot before he returns it to Amazon and see how well it does. I doubt I'll buy it from him this go around (he wants what he paid, $100) but if it is fairly solid once setup (minimal crashes, smooth UI, good network playback performance) then I'd possibly consider it in the future if another PC or ATV2 dies.

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post #9 of 9 Old 11-28-2012, 12:25 PM
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OpenElec 3.0 For Raspberry pi. New audio engine.
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