Archive for Media Server

Basic Cable vs. Home Media Server – False Economy?

It’s easy to say we’re saving money by “cord cutting”, but are we?

We moved into this house in July 2010, and if we had gone with a basic cable option at that time (let’s say $40/mo – although I suspect that’s a little light) we would have spent $2640.00 on Television since then. At present our system is comprised of a Media Server with 6TB of storage and 5 media players scattered around the house – this hardware represents approximately $1100 in expense.

On its face it looks like we’re spending the equivalent of $16.60 a month for our current setup versus the $40 the cable company would have charged us.


…..of course that doesn’t take into account the experimentation and ‘failed’ devices that have passed through our system OR the cost of the original iteration of our media system. My spreadsheet (Yeah, I know….geeky) tells me that I’ve spent $2210 on our arrangement once the ‘experimental’ (and now discarded) stuff is added in – this pushes the cost to approximately $33.48 a month (that gap is closing).

On the plus side we’ve still come in cheaper than basic cable, and it’s basically subsidized my experimenting with technology for the past five years. So I’m going to go ahead and say that YES we are saving money AND I get to monkey with technology.

Successor Media Player – Amazon Firestick

It’s official. We’ve selected the Amazon Firestick for our replacement platform for our aging (but still running) Boxee Boxes.

Really what we’ve decided to go with is XBMC running on an Amazon Firestick, but I’ve found that the firestick is a much more reliable platform than the majority of the “Android Media Boxes” I’ve experimented with (see previous posts). With a series of customizations the Firestick delivers (through XMBC Kodi) seamless access to our local media AND Netflix AND local/regional/national/international Live Television streaming sources.

You can buy Firesticks already configured for this stuff, but it’s really not that complicated to set it up yourself.

I’ll document the mundane process below the cut for my own edification and for those that might be interested in replicating the process.
» Read more..

Media Players – A successor finally found?

As has been discussed previously, our preferred Media Player (the Boxee Box) has long since been discontinued. We presently have three of them in service with a single spare malfunctioning unit. Sourcing replacements will likely not get any easier and so I’ve continued to experiment with other network media players looking for a suitable replacement.

MyGica 520E
Mygica 520E – $100CDN

An android box running XBMC (Kodi) along with the usual variety of android apps and so forth.

I found this box to be a good idea that was poorly executed. I found that with XBMC loaded and our local library indexed the unit has pretty much maxed out its available storage, and it generally runs a little “clunky” as a result. I was impressed with XBMC/Kodi and it’s flexibility but a media player constantly churning to process your last two requests is annoying.

Netgear NTV300
Netgear NTV300 – $50CDN

This is, simply put, a chunk of shit. The publish specs suggest that this has some sort of DLNA player and can stream local content – but that appears to have come from an accidental firmware update and any such functionality has been entirely removed. I can’t find any aftermarket firmware (or a means of installing it even if I did), and so this is basically a Netflix box.

A total waste of money.

Roku Streaming Stick
Roku Streaming Stick – $50CDN

As the Amazon Fire Stick is unavailable in Canada this seemed like the next best thing. With built in Netflix and the ability to stream local content (albeit through a rather ugly interface) and all combined into a compact package this appears to offer everything one needs.

I’ve not experimented with customization, as I got distracted by the next item on the list, but it’s basic functionality appears solid.

Amazon Fire Stick – $100CDN

Technically not available in Canada the Amazon firesticks utility North of the border is automatically limited by geographical restrictions on the content offered by Amazon. That content aside (and I’ve not really tested whether or not our VPN is adequate to circumvent these geographical barriers) XMBC/Kodi can be sideloaded.

I spent a few hours customizing Kodi with the Mimic theme and got a number of online streaming sources set up (including Netflix) and managed to index our local content seamlessly. I’m extremely pleased with the results, and have never been more impressed with XMBC.

I’m cautiously optimistic that this will be the replacement arrangement for our aging Boxee Boxes, but more experimentation is called for.

Media Player – MyGica (XBMC)

I have still not found a media player that is more reliable or robust than our Boxee Box(s), but I’ll admit that obsolete technology doesn’t exactly inspire confidence and I’ve started looking around for the next media player we’ll adopt.

Recommended to me was the MyGica ATV520E media player. This is an android based box running XBMC, which seems to offer all the bells and whistles we’ve come to expect from Boxee – initial impressions were positive.

MyGica ATV520E Media Player

The Box: This is an android system set up to run XBMC Frodo. The usual bells and whistles are present, and with a google account the play store awaits.

I had zero interest in this except for installing some VPN and autostart apps so XBMC would start immediately.

Media stuffs: XBMC is pretty robust, and this system seems to offer all sorts of options for customizing the way your media is presented. There were some false starts here, and I had to restore everything to factory defaults once or twice before I got things right.

The interface still lags a bit when scrolling through options, and this may be the box itself or just that I’ve selected a skin with too much overhead.

It works, but I still prefer Boxee.

Home Automation Integration: XBMC allows the display of network messages (like the Boxee) from our Home Automation system, so I just have to configure the HA system to send the messages formatted correctly.


Works just fine. the end: MyGica still doesn’t seem to run as smoothly as the Boxee, but allows us much of the same functionality. Maybe I just need to buy an android media player with a faster processor and more memory.

I’ll continue to monkey around with this system, and see if it doesn’t grow on me.

Boxee Box – Network stuff for posterity

I’m happy with our Boxee Boxes, and expect to be using them as our primary media players for some time to come. I’ve experimented with XBMC on them, but in the end have stuck with Boxee Hacks+

Their versatility and dependability, combined with their useful interoperability with our home automation system (remote shutdown, displaying network messages originating from Vera, etc etc etc) has been astounding.

Boxee is dead however, and each time I have to go out on the interwebs and find reference materials for obscure commands they seem to be harder and harder to find. I’ve decided to save my notes on these under the cut, more for my ease of reference rather than yours.

I’ll add to it as we go along.

» Read more..

Boxee Box – Discontinued, but not forgotten

Out of all the media players we experimented with (and there were a few) the Boxee Box was always my favorite (we’ve had one sitting in our bedroom for a few years now). Sadly Dlink discontinued the Boxee Box in 2013 moving to a TV/DLNA media player that I thoroughly disliked instead (more about that later).

Of course to a fella like me that just means there are more surplused units out there at a substantial discount from the Boxees original $200 pricetag.

Dlink DSM-380 Boxee Box

User support remains strong, with custom hacks available for installation that make the menus and functionality accessible for customization.

Also available, although difficult to find at this point, is an html based remote for Boxee units allowing some interesting (although not immediately useful potential). This is particularly important as most of the dlink developers documentation has evaporated.

Lets see what kinda of trouble I can get into with these devices.

Network Attached Storage – Media Server

We’ve been using the Buffalo Linkstation WVL NAS for just over two years now and it’s been rock solid despite running 23 1/2 hours a day (I have it set up to effectively reboot around 3am every day). Recently however we’ve had a few disk errors (from disk 2), which seem to be repaired when the diagnostics are run, but then reappear later and which interupt the backups that I run monthly.

Buffalo linkstation

We’ve also got a looming capacity crisis with the system cresting 85% capacity. It seems clear it is time to either upgrade to a new system, or to upgrade the drives inside to increase our capacity.

I’m going to have to do some reading to make sure I can slot 4tb drives in the Linkstation, as I am not prepared to spend $1K on a new NAS arrangement right now.

Media Server Capacity Issues

Our most recent Home Media Server upgrade saw us transition from a cludged arrangement involving a pacific rim NAS and external USB drives to a Buffalo Linkstation Duo (4TB). Content is backed up to two USB HDDs every month (a manual process), and we are now hovering at about 75% capacity (3TB).

Buffalo Linkstation Duo

The Linkstation Duo can handle twin 3TB HDDs instead of the 2TB HDDs presently installed, and you can hang a USB HDD (up to 2TB) capacity off the NAS.

That said I can’t help but find myself browsing through 4 and 5 bay NAS devices with up to 12TB of capacity (and a $700-1100 pricetag). I think I’ll spend some money on the 3TB HDDs, which can always be moved to a larger NAS down the road.

Nice rack!

Ok, ok, ok. We have a lot of techno-gadgets in this house, and the heart of it all is the quasi-network hub in the basement. We have (as with the last house) gone through a few versions of this. At first it was simply a shelf hung by the main electrical panel, and then it expanded and grew and now it has ballooned to fill a small shelving unit tucked away in the basement.

makeshift network rack

It is about to be upgraded to a proper network rack, but for now this is our home network. Consisting of a dedicated CF-29 Toughbook, router, NAS, VoIP ATA(s), DSL modem, Slingbox and accompanying network media player, UPS and power bars for backup and non-backup devices along with a few External USB HDDs for backing up the NAS on a sporadic basis.

The new rack will also house the telco, cable and CCTV distribution (in fact those looking carefully will see the new rack in the background).