Turn your old PC into your Home Media Server with Plex Media Server

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It’s a new year and I spent a couple of days sorting my olf stuff and I found this, Compaq PResario B1900 series laptop. 4 years ago it was the main machine I use everyday. It has Intel® Core 2 Duo 1.66GHz with 2GB of RAM and 160GB of HDD. But I hardly use it now as several of its components worn off over time. Wireless Card is not functioning anymore (as you can see that I have to use SMC USB wireless dongle). LCD broke and instead of paying $3000 to fix it at HP service center, I paid $250 at a repair shop in my neighbourhood. It’s fixed but the backlight can no longer be turned off. Well, that’s fine with me. Battery life is out of question. It’s 4 year-old. Now, it can’t live without AC power.

Now I have to decice whether to trash it or try to find a way to use it for something. Then, I come up with the idea. Why don’t I try to use it as a media server at my home? Lately, almost everyone in my family has got personal tablet (both iPad and Android). It would be nice to have the media server that can stream movies or TV shows on demand to any tablets or smartphones in my home. More importantly, the setup must not be complicated.

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To have a media server at your home, you have many choices. The popular one will be to have NAS (Network-attached Storage) just like in the picture on the left-hand side. This is just like another computer for your house that will cost you $300 up. Why bother pay the extra money when you already have old machine? Why don’t we try to revive it as the home media server?

Let’s see what and how we can do about it. I researched for a software that can turn PC into a media server and Plex Media Server is the choice. It’s easy-to-use. It can run on all 3 major OSes (Windows/Mac OSX/Linux) and can stream videos/musics/photos to mobile devices running iOS or Android. Plex Media Server itself is free, but you need to pay $4.99 for the client. But I can tell you that it worth the bucks. (For personal use, you can pay once and install the client on every one of your mobile devices.)

imagePlex Media Server’s killing feature is transcode streaming (i.e. decode and encode the video for your mobile device on-the-fly). So, you don’t need to worry about what encoding is your source video (although you can’t stream DVD at the moment).

 

System Requirements

First, you need to know the system requirements. As you can see, you need some juice if you want to transcode 720p or 1080p videos. I will focus on Windows for now (as it’s my laptop’s OS). For more information, please visit Plex’s system requirements page.

 

Minimum Requirements

  • CPU: Intel Core Duo 1.6GHz or better
  • RAM: At least 512MB
  • Operating System: Windows XP Service Pack 3/Windows Vista/Windows 7
  • Internet Browser: Google Chrome/Firefox/Safari or IE9 with Google Chrome Frame plug-in

Recommended for 720p and 1080p transcode

  • CPU: Intel Core Duo 2.4GHz or better
  • RAM: At least 2GB
  • Operating System: Windows XP Service Pack 3/Windows Vista/Windows 7
  • Internet Browser: Google Chrome/Firefox/Safari or IE9 with Google Chrome Frame plug-in

Phew! My old Compaq Presario B1900 series just qualified for the minimum requirements ha ha ha…

 

Download and Install

You can grab Windows version here. The file size is 50MB. Not that large for high-speed Internet nowadays. The installation process is pretty straightforward.

1. Double click the file you just download.

2. You will get to installation wizard. Just click “Next” to proceed.

 

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3. Read “End-User License Agreement (EULA)”. Then, tick the checkbox and click “Next”.

4. If you want, choose the folder you want to install the software by clicking “Change” and browse to the folder. But I suggest you to use default folder. Just click “Next” and continue.

 

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5. Now, you are ready to install. Click “Install”.

6. Now wait for the software to install. If you are using Windows Vista or Windows 7, you may encounter a warning by User Access Control. Don’t worry. You do nothing wrong. Just say OK and continue.

7. When the installation is finished, tick the checkbox “Run Plex Media Server on exit” to start using Plex Media Server and click “Finish”.

 

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8. You will see this popup in your system tray. Now, you are ready.

 

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Basic settings and you are ready to go

There are somethings you need to configure before you can really use Plex Media Server. Just make a right click at the Plex Media Server icon on your system tray and choose “Media Manager”. The Media Manager is web-based and easy to use.

 

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First, start with “Preferences” on the top-right. Click there and go to “General” tab. Name your server whatever you want. If you don’t want to send any information to Plex, uncheck “Send anonymous usage data to Plex”.

 

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Next is “Library” tab. I suggest you check “Update my library when changes to my folders are detected”  and “Update my library” and set it to “daily”. This is to make sure that the library is up-to-date. You can also enable other choices if you find it appropriate.

 

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The “Agents” tab is where you can set the database for the server to search data from media’s metadata. This is very helpful in finding artworks for movies and songs. In fact, you don’t need to touch anything here.

 

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Other options are too advanced to be mentioned here. So, I will skip them.

Plex Media Server categorized media files into 5 categories: Movies, TV Shows, Photos, Home Movies, and Music.

 

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All you have to do is to click at the icon and add media folders. You can browse to the path by “Select a path for this section” or manually enter the path by clicking at “Manual Entry”. Multiple folders are supported.

 

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Here is naming scheme guide.

The easiest way is to name the file by the movie/song name just like this.

/Movies
Avatar (2009).mkv

Or, you can create subfolders and put the files inside those folders. Just name the folders and files the same way. This is good in case your file is split into many files. (e.g. Movies in VCD format usually have 2-4CDs. So you may end up having 2-4 files per movie.)

/Movies
     /Avatar (2009)
     Avatar (2009).mkv
     /Batman Begins (2005)
     Batman Begins (2005).mp4

Plex Media Server can play the file back to back if your naming scheme is right. Put -pt1, -pt2,… and so on (up to 8) right before the file extension. Plex Media Server will think of these files as one big chunk of media and play them like one file.

/Movies
     /The Dark Knight (2008)
     The Dark Knight (2008)-pt1.avi
     The Dark Knight (2008)-pt2.avi

Now the client on iOS and Android

Look for “Plex”  in Apple Store or Android Market. It’s $4.99. Not so expensive. Once install, just tap the icon to run the app. IT will automatically detect the nearby Plex Media Server. So, no setting is required.

MY LIBRARY shows the available libraries. For the purpose of writing this blog, I added Home Movies (with Thor) and TV Shows (with The Walking Dead) into the library.

 

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If your media files have good metadata information (like my The Walking Dead), Plex Media Server will automatically download all the detail, including artworks and sypnosis.

 

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image_thumb42Unfortunately, not every file has sufficient informaiton in metadata. We need to match the information manually. Plex Media Server is capable for matching movies/songs using available agents. Just try one after another. You will eventually find the data you want. In my case, Thor doesn’t have any data, but when I match it using Freebase, I get everything.

 

Plex Media Server is Easy-to-Use

 

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The playback? Piece of cake. Just fire up the app and tap the show that you want to see. You can even watch a movie on iPhone. Pause it. And continue the show on iPad or even Android. Cool!

The app supports both vertical and horizontal view. And if your server is powerful enough it can stream the video to several device at once, especially if it doesn’t have to do the transcode.

See the video review below.

 

Enter video caption here

 

Sorry this one is in Thai, but all you need to see is how easy and smooth it is to play back. I also tested 720p transcode streaming using Warehouse 13. As you can see in the video, it’s too much for my old Compaq (4 year-old). Well, for devices with small screen, video playback at lower resolution is not too bad. In fact, I can now make use of my old machine.

@kafaak

ในอดีตเมื่อครั้งยังไม่ต๊อกต๋อย เคยเป็นผู้บริหารฝ่ายผลิตของโรงงานอุตสาหกรรม แต่ภายหลังเลือกงานที่ให้เวลากับชีวิต เพื่อมาอัพเดตเทรนด์เทคโนโลยีมากกว่า ปัจจุบันเป็นทั้งไอทีต๊อกต๋อยในสถานศึกษา เป็นบล็อกเกอร์ต๊อกต๋อยที่เขียนไปเรื่อยทั้งเรื่องเทคโนโลยี โซเชียลมีเดีย การตลาดดิจิตอล และจิตวิทยา เป็นที่ปรึกษาด้านการตลาดดิจิตอลให้กับธุรกิจ SMEs หลายแห่ง และเป็นวิทยากรรับเชิญด้านเทคโนโลยี การตลาดดิจิตอล และโซเชียลมีเดีย เป็นบางครา

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1 Response

  1. น้องเมย์ says:

    “(although you can’t stream DVD at the moment).”

    You should rename the VTS_01_0.VOB, VTS_01_1.VOB, VTS_01_2.VOB to the VTS_01_0-pt1.mpg, VTS_01_1-pt2.mpg, VTS_01_2-pt3.mpg because the *.VOB file is actually *.mpg (mpeg2) file. This solution might work. (or might not work, Ha ha!) ^^

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