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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi everyone, I'm looking to get some straightforward general information. I've been searching this forum and trying to learn all about HTPC for about a week now, but am overwhelmed at all they can potentially do! It's like a whole new world has been opened up to me as to the potential of my home theater.


At first I was going to just buy a Sony 400 BD Megachanger, but realized that would only serve one TV, and the changer would be full as soon as I put my movies in and have no room for expansion.


OK so what I want to do is store all my BDs and DVDs in a centralized server and have the movies available to all my TVs in the house. (Master bedroom, living room, media room which isn't built yet). I have just about 300 BD titles, and over 100 DVD titles and of course this number will probably double or triple by the end of the life of the format.


Also what I want to build must be very simple to use so my wife can use it without weird glitches or going through a lot of tedious and confusing steps to play a movie.


Here's the plan that I came up with reading the forums the past week. I plan on building a RAID 5 server with minimum 12TB storage to start. Also this server will be my rip-station as my laptops don't have BD drives. I have my entire home wired with Cat5e and I can add more drops fairly easily in my house, so no issues there. On the TV ends, all 3 are HDMI compatible, and two of them have AVRs they hook to for surround sound/switching (I like uncompressed sound from BDs). I was looking into the WDTV Live or upcoming Popbox or Boxee to attach to the TV in the living room and the bedroom, mainly because of the pretty user interface.


So far, is my planned proposal going to serve my purpose the way I'd like? Are there any holes in my plan? I realize I haven't gone into very much detail, but I do have many more specific questions I'd like to ask if this general set-up will serve my needs.


Also to give a little bit more background, I do understand that a full blown HTPC can serve as a DVR and TV tuner with all sorts of cool little features. However, we have AT&T U-verse which as of right now doesn't integrate into a HTPC at all. Also, I have a couple BD players that stream Netflix and Amazon movies so I'm covered in this department as well. The media room which isn't finished yet and may not be for a couple years, will get a full blown HTPC build when the time is right.


Thank You so much for your help and this awesome forum!


Mark
 

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You don't need raid.

only add storage as you need it (drive prices continuously drop)

beware of cooling issues, noise issues, get an good UPS for the server. with current video ards you do not need the biggest baddest CPU. Two of the three HTPC's i have, use 2.8 ghz pentiums with bluray playback.


Buy AnyDVD HD


keep things simple, get them working, then add complexity later.


good luck, and hide the credit cards charges from your spouse!
 

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can you hire a sys admin?
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·

Quote:
Originally Posted by fschris /forum/post/18221053


can you hire a sys admin?

What would a sys admin do that I could not? Not trying to sound defensive, I just plain do not know.
Quote:
Originally Posted by heartsurgeon /forum/post/18221013


You don't need raid.

only add storage as you need it (drive prices continuously drop)

beware of cooling issues, noise issues, get an good UPS for the server. with current video ards you do not need the biggest baddest CPU. Two of the three HTPC's i have, use 2.8 ghz pentiums with bluray playback.

I like the sound of RAID because it reads as one massive drive with a little bit of hardware failure protection built in. Also from what I undestand, I can just keep adding drives to the RAID to expand, isn't that right? I'm no expert on RAID so please correct me if I am wrong.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Markolc81 /forum/post/18221112


I like the sound of RAID because it reads as one massive drive with a little bit of hardware failure protection built in. Also from what I undestand, I can just keep adding drives to the RAID to expand, isn't that right? I'm no expert on RAID so please correct me if I am wrong.

I would recommend using RAID for data protection; but in my opinion for home environments, software-based RAID is better long-term than hardware-based RAID. Here's why I make this assertion. With hardware-based RAID (that is, a RAID controller card with specific hardware and firmware on it) you are hostage to the particular card make and model. If that card fails and you can't get an exact replacement, then you run a real risk of not being able to recover your RAID data. With software RAID systems (such as the simple disk mirrors available in Windows or the more sophisticated mirror and RAID 5 schemes in Linux) you are never hostage to your hardware. Simply replace the server hardware and move your drives over to the new box and read them. The configuration information is stored on the drives themselves in a generally interoperable format.


Now granted hardware RAID systems can be much faster for reads and writes than software RAID, but for home use simply streaming movies you will never tax a software RAID system to the point it can't keep up. I used Linux-based software RAID in my home systems with excellent results.


[Edit] -- forgot to add that it's partially true about simply adding drives to a RAID array. It really depends on the particular controller chosen and the software interface. Again, in my opinion something like LVM (Logical Volume Manager) on Linux managing software-RAID volumes would be the best fit. You have software RAID and then you have the ease of logical volume expansion by simply adding additional drives (physical volumes) and integrating them into the existing LVM (logical volume).
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·

Quote:
Originally Posted by bmeeks8 /forum/post/18221181


-- forgot to add that it's partially true about simply adding drives to a RAID array. It really depends on the particular controller chosen and the software interface. Again, in my opinion something like LVM (Logical Volume Manager) on Linux managing software-RAID volumes would be the best fit. You have software RAID and then you have the ease of logical volume expansion by simply adding additional drives (physical volumes) and integrating them into the existing LVM (logical volume).

Here's where my lack of broad computer expertise comes into play. I have used Windows all my life starting with 3.11, and MS-DOS before that. One time I installed Linux onto my old laptop (2002 maybe) and I was so frustrated trying to configure the OS that I never tried Linux again. So long story short, i'm familiar with Windows, and not at all with Linux. (I'm using a Vista equipped laptop atm). Are there software RAID programs for Windows based OSes that will allow me to simply add HDDs at will?


Also, does software based RAID require a lot of tweaking after it is set-up, or will it just run once it's set up like a single hard drive would in a typical PC build?
 

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I will throw my two cents in......I use a Drobo\\Droboshare serving 3 htpc's and have zero problems serving up hd movies. What I like about the drobo is I can use any hard drive make\\size and it just takes care of itself. Might work for you or not.
 

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Another option is Windows Home Server; it doesn't use raid, but you select folders that you want backed up (duplication). Some people like it, some don't, obviously you need need more HDD space using this method, but space is relatively cheap these days.


The nice thing about WHS is that you can add/subtract any size drive you want. I'm setting mine up now, and I have 3 250gb HDD (from old server) and 4 1.5 tb HDD. It's really nice to be able to mix and match and not worry about needing an exact drive replacement in the event of a failure.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by heartsurgeon /forum/post/18221013


You don't need raid.

only add storage as you need it (drive prices continuously drop)

beware of cooling issues, noise issues, get an good UPS for the server. with current video ards you do not need the biggest baddest CPU. Two of the three HTPC's i have, use 2.8 ghz pentiums with bluray playback.


Buy AnyDVD HD


keep things simple, get them working, then add complexity later.


good luck, and hide the credit cards charges from your spouse!

+1 My philosophy exactly.



Mike
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·

Quote:
Originally Posted by walford /forum/post/18222303


Do I understand correctly that you want to concurently serve 3 different BR disks to 3 differnent TVs?

What I'm looking to do is serve all my movies to at least 3 different TVs, without handling the discs.
 

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You're doing it right by working out the back-end of your system first. Once you get your server sorted out, then you can worry about the myriad of frontend choices.


Windows Home Server is far and away the easiest way to do what you want, especially since you're already familiar with Windows. You can buy a pre-build WHS appliance, or you can build a server yourself and install WHS with no more difficulty than installing any other version of Windows. WHS is very simple to manage, and is essentially infinitely expandable so it can grow with your collection. You can add drives of any size at any time. You can even use external USB drives if your server case runs out of room, which hardware RAID and unRAID (another pseudo-RAID) cannot.


The only down side to WHS is that for some reason, Microsoft decided to use simple duplication for data redundancy. This means that if you have 10TB of data, it will require 20TB worth of drives to maintain "backups" in case of drive failure. There is a way around this, though. There is a free program called FlexRAID that will allow you to use parity-based redundancy instead. Parity-based redundancy is what hardware RAID uses, and only requires as much space as your largest hard drive. So even if you have 10 2TB drives (or any number of drives) full of data, you only need 1 2TB drive to "back up" everything. This is the setup I use, and it works well. I have had a drive fail since my initial setup, and FlexRAID was able to recover my data.


WHS uses basic the basic Windows file sharing system, so any device on your network will be able to access the data without a problem. You also have the benefit of WHS's backup system, which is probably the best network backup available for Windows machines.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·

Quote:
Originally Posted by candre23 /forum/post/18222533


The only down side to WHS is that for some reason, Microsoft decided to use simple duplication for data redundancy. This means that if you have 10TB of data, it will require 20TB worth of drives to maintain "backups" in case of drive failure. There is a way around this, though. There is a free program called FlexRAID that will allow you to use parity-based redundancy instead. Parity-based redundancy is what hardware RAID uses, and only requires as much space as your largest hard drive. So even if you have 10 2TB drives (or any number of drives) full of data, you only need 1 2TB drive to "back up" everything. This is the setup I use, and it works well. I have had a drive fail since my initial setup, and FlexRAID was able to recover my data.

So If I understand you correctly, FlexRAID will take over Windows system of duplication and use parity instead? If that's true, I'm beginning to like the idea of WHS w/FlexRAID.


So then I can get a nice big server case and then have all the expandability I'd probably need for 5-10 years??
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Markolc81 /forum/post/18222643



So then I can get a nice big server case and then have all the expandability I'd probably need for 5-10 years??

That depends on what your ripping. I've been making MKV's for about 6 months, all HD movies. I'm up to 7TB right now.


Mike
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Markolc81 /forum/post/18222643


So If I understand you correctly, FlexRAID will take over Windows system of duplication and use parity instead? If that's true, I'm beginning to like the idea of WHS w/FlexRAID.


So then I can get a nice big server case and then have all the expandability I'd probably need for 5-10 years??

It is worth noting that FlexRAID takes parity "snapshots" instead of using live parity. This means that it works more like traditional backup. It only creates parity backups at specified intervals (say twice per day) instead of constantly maintaining parity in real-time (like hardware RAID). This means that in the event of drive failure, any changes made since the last snapshot will be lost. This is not really a problem for media servers, since files are rarely changed, if ever. It is something to keep in mind though.


But basically, yes. You can use FlexRAID instead of WHS duplication and get all the benefits of redundancy without needing double the number of hard drives. And since WHS allows easy addition and removal of drives, you can upgrade your server indefinitely. For instance, if you fill your server with 2TB drives today and run out of room in 5 years, you can swap out those 2TB drives for 10TB drives (or whatever is available at the time) one at a time without having to start from scratch. The same cannot be said for hardware RAID, which can only use drives of matched size. If you create a hardware RAID with 2TB drives, you can only ever use 2TB drives. If you run out of ports, you have to start all over again with larger drives.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·

Quote:
Originally Posted by candre23 /forum/post/18222716


It is worth noting that FlexRAID takes parity "snapshots" instead of using live parity. This means that it works more like traditional backup. It only creates parity backups at specified intervals (say twice per day) instead of constantly maintaining parity in real-time (like hardware RAID). This means that in the event of drive failure, any changes made since the last snapshot will be lost. This is not really a problem for media servers, since files are rarely changed, if ever. It is something to keep in mind though.


But basically, yes. You can use FlexRAID instead of WHS duplication and get all the benefits of redundancy without needing double the number of hard drives. And since WHS allows easy addition and removal of drives, you can upgrade your server indefinitely. For instance, if you fill your server with 2TB drives today and run out of room in 5 years, you can swap out those 2TB drives for 10TB drives (or whatever is available at the time) one at a time without having to start from scratch. The same cannot be said for hardware RAID, which can only use drives of matched size. If you create a hardware RAID with 2TB drives, you can only ever use 2TB drives. If you run out of ports, you have to start all over again with larger drives.

Very intriguing, I am beginning to favor this route because of the parity, and future expandability. Thank You


Next on my research list is to find out what I need to build such system, then figure out how to rip the BDs in a way that I can have lossless sound thru a front-end like a Boxee or Popbox, but also have 2.0 sound for connecting straight to a monitor.


I'm in absolutely no rush to build this server as I want to see all of CESs front-end extensions come to market and see how they all handle.


One more question though, the WHS machine that I build, can it also double as a HTPC? Since the server will be located in the room next to my media room, I figure maybe the server can pull a little double duty?
 

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For expandable storage - you should look into a product called UNRAID. It's a linux based product that boots off of a USB key. It has a web based interface for managing the system; so you don't have to know linux to use it.


UNRAID has several versions, they differ in the maximum number of drives supported. The free version supports up to 3 drives, and the Pro version up to 20. Note: One of the drives is restricted to a 'parity' drive, so the 3 drive system actually has 2 drives available for storage, etc...


UNRAID supports SMB (regular windows shares), as well as a concept called "user shares"; - this allows different users different rights to different shares - I use it to give everyone read access to DVD rips, but restrict write access to the 'dvd' share to me personally. Also use the user shares so each kid has there own writable directory on the server, so one kid can't munge the others homework, etc...


I'm currently running a 14 drive UNRAID system in a Norco 4020 case. Originally had unraid running in a tower case with a bunch of 4x3 adapters, but outgrew them. After picking up the Norco, now I just slide a new drive in and unraid adds it to the storage pool. In retrospect I should have bought the norco 4020 first, as the final cost of the tower and all the 4x3 adapters came close to the cost of the norco.


If you are still in the planning/playing stage - you might want to download the free unraid version onto a spare 1GB usb key and give it a try. Unraid does have some restrictions on the motherboard (must be able to boot from usb.etc); but all in all I've not had problems.


Alas, I'm a long time lurker, have not posted enough to be able to insert a link to the unraid site - google UNRAID and see lime-technology, etc... The "Sysem Builders" link had the download links...


I've no relation to UNRAID other than a very satisfied customer...
 

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WHS is easy choice. You only have to back up what you choose, not entire contents of all of your drives. If no one has mentioned this yet, (I have not read through every reply entirely) you will want wired network connections to the front ends for each TV. I currently do just what you are planning. I have a Windows Home Server which I use to stream Blu Rays and DVDs to 3 TVs. I have Windows 7 HTPCs as the front end for all of my TVs. I only use one of these front ends to PVR, but recordings are also stored on WHS. I rip DVDs directly to DVD folder on server, and RIP Blu Rays to MKVs to a Blu Ray folder on WHS. I add dvdids to each movies respective folder, then hace media center monitor the DVD and Blu Ray folder on WHS. When you select movies in media center, in my case, just over 200 movies are displayed with the appropriate cover art. When you select a movie, it shows the description/synopsis, as well as your playing options.


I have also toyed with the idea of using an WD TV HD media player as a front end. It is supposed to support playback of MKVs.


Anyway, just my thoughts.
 
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