Archive for Media Server

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).

Automating your torrents

We have a plethora of Media Players (now almost pointless as new TVs are shipping with web browsing and media playing capabilities built-in) arrayed with our home televisions. The players are fed (either through SMB shares or a DLNA server).

Keeping the content current on the media server, however, has always been a bit of a laborious (internet wise anyway) process (keeping track of others shows) and moving the files around. I’m not a big fan of the administrivia involved in home network maintenance.

Thankfully the internet comes to the rescue, ShowRSS allows you (with the use of an appropriate torrent client) to “subscribe” to your favorite shows, and to automate the process of downloading the newest episodes.

I’m a big fan already.

Media Server – An update.

About 8 months ago I switched to the Buffalo Linkstation ls-wvl Network Attached Storage (replacing my occasionally successful three year effort with generic NAS devices combined with USB HDDs).

I can safely say at this point that I am singularly impressed with the Linkstation, which while not quite as customizable as I’d become accustomed to is much easier to configure, and much much more reliable than the generic NAS running Snake OS.

My one complaint is that the version of Utorrent that the device has does NOT include support for RSS downloading (I use ShowRSS), which automates the downloading of shows you have “subscribed” to.

(I do currently have a “cludge” where my laptops Transmission client downloads the new shows to my NAS, but it would be nice if this was housed under one roof, so to speak, instead.)

On the other end of the cat5 cable we are still running an assortment of media players including Boxee Box, WD TV Live Plus, Egreat (with the Slingboxes) and the PS3s without issue.

Buffalo Linkstation Duo LS-WVL – Media Server/NAS

I have been using small NAS devices running Snake OS. We haven’t had any problems with our device, but the one that I set up over at Moms place died a week ago with no clues as to what went wrong.

Our system has been largely reliable, serving triple duty as an SMB (network file share), UPnP server (via a Mediatomb installation) and as a Bittorrent client (Snake OS comes with Transmission BT client). This has meant that I have been able to leave this unit happily churning away at downloads and feeding the assorted media players in our house without issue, while all the PCs sleep soundly each night.

It’s a handy little device but there are several issues;

  • All storage is USB external drives (two ports on the NAS unit). Does NOT recognize anything larger than a 2TB drive, obvious storage cap of 4TB as a result.
  • There appears to be a chronic (multi-release) memory leak, so after a week of running the services will eventually slow to useless and a hard reboot required. (newer releases of Snake OS are better at compartmentalizing this issue, but it remains. I have never made it past 14 days without having to reboot the NAS.)

I wanted more capacity, and less clutter. It seemed clear that despite the expense I was going to have to buy myself a proper NAS with internal storage. Some shopping around brought me to the Buffalo Linkstation Duo LS-WVL, dual 2tb internal drives along with a USB port for external storage, built in UPnP/DLNA media server, SMB sharing and a BT client make it the perfect replacement, on paper…

Abuse testing is in progress, we’ll see….

Network cabinet planning…

Now that the basement is no longer a complete disaster area I have to give more thought to a REAL location for the infrastructure do-dads that hang on the wall by the main electrical panel.

As at Lancaster I am thinking that under the basement stairs is likely the best option.

Sufficient space for the devices, wiring and attendant ups’, power bars along with a monitor, keyboard and mouse.

No other location seems so well suited to the purpose and so poorly suited for any other.

Networked Media Player Comparison

Our networked media system is regularly becoming more diverse, as I keep experimenting with different media players. We presently have six different media players scattered throughout the house.

For the benefit of my two loyal readers I thought I’d summarize my experiences with these devices. So here, then, is a quick comparison of each player, their cost and any pros or cons that spring to mind.

Egreat R1 Media Player$90 CDN +/-
Egreat R1 Media PlayerThe Egreat R1 was the first dedicated media player we acquired. It deals with almost every media format, allows you to view local and remote network shares or UPnP/DLNA media servers.

The interface is rather utilitarian, but allows previews of video files, 32x speed fast forward and “time seek” options. This player will also automatically move on to the next file in the directory when finished viewing the current one (nice if you’re watching a series).

Newer versions have attempted to add internet functionality to these units (youtube and other online services) but these features on the unit I tested just plain didn’t work.

Includes both HDMI and composite outputs and so will work on new and old TVs alike.

This media player is inexpensive, tough as nails and readily available.

Western Digital HD TV Live – $110 CDN +/-
Western Digital HD Live Media PlayerA Recent acquisition the selling point of the WD HD TV Live Media Player (aside for the catchy multi-letter name) is that in addition to streaming video from network shares of UPnP/DLNA sources is that it allows netflix access.

We did encounter some problems with this unit when we began using it, but after rolling back the firmware one version those problems disappeared.

The interface is a little prettier than the Egreat unit, but essentially the same. The unit DOES NOT allow time search or skipping ahead in videos, and has a 16x fast forward.

Netflix is a nice touch, and at the cost made this the preferred media player for a short time. The firmware issue is of some concern, but is resolved by rolling it back (or may even have been resolved by Western Digital as I write this).

HDMI only, if your TV requires composite or coaxial inputs you are SOL.

A good balance of cost and functionality.

Patriot Box Office Media Player – $120 CDN +/-
Patriot Box Office Media PlayerThe Patriot Box Office Media Player looks like a clone of the Egreat Unit both in physical appearance and user interface. The only down side is that the supplied remote died one month after I acquired the unit, and a replacement turned out to be nearly impossible.

This Unit remains in use in our network, but only for online viewing (in conjunction with my Slingbox as it provides its own “remote”).

HDMI and composite outputs.

Not recommended. The Egreat unit is identical and less expensive, and the WD HD TV Live has more features and still costs less.

Boxee Box$210 CDN +/-
Dlink Boxee Box Media PlayerThe most recent acquisition, the first unit bricked itself immediately after automatically downloading an up to date firmware. The replacement unit functioned as advertised, and took approximately 6 hours to index and then “associate” our media collection.

Once this process is completed it presents your collection as a series of thumbnails along with IMDB cast and synopsis information.

The Boxee Box includes Netflix, and a collection of online media (tv episodes available free online, usually “ad sponsored” – a commercial every 6-10 minutes).

I’m both pleased and impressed with the second boxee box, but this unit has the distinction of being the ONLY media player to Brick following a routine firmware upgrade, and this has me questioning the dependability of the Boxee Box.

Remote control includes a qwerty keyboard, but can be a little hard to use in the dark.

HDMI output only, composite audio out.

I’d recommend this with a little reluctance, at least until it’s proven itself. Also, at this price it might be more economical to spend a few extra dollars and buy a PS3.

Playstation 3 – $250 CDN +/-
Playstation 3This is where it all started for us. Watching movies on the PS3. The PS3 is a UPnP/DLNA media player, and while it will not recognize network shares, it will stream movies from a DLNA server (how this is organized is entirely dependant on the server, rather than the PS3).

Netflix is also available for the PS3 along with internet browsing etc, which makes it the most expensive option on this list.

If you already have a PS3 however, don’t spend the money on a media player, you’ve already got one (and if you have an Xbox 360 don’t ask me how to stream movies, I still haven’t figured that out – must be a windows thing).

Recommended, but obviously expensive.