A number of friends and colleagues have asked me whatI would recommend for a home multimedia setup. There are absolutely loads of options available, but personally I believe you don’t need to spend a fortune to get going. Therefore I’m going to go through what I think is a reasonable setup that is available to most people who want to set up this kind of system.
Here is a diagram of a suggested setup:-
The Plex Media Server in the diagram is an old MacMini I had lying around. I’ve wiped it and put a version of Ubuntu Linux on it. Plex is a great piece of software. You install a Plex server on a computer of some description (some NAS system have installation options as well).
The server can then be accessed by various clients, web, TVs, tablets etc, allowing you to watch any of the content on these devices. The server is configured to point to your external USB hard drive, NAS or any other source where you have your media files stored. It will automatically scan these and create these and download all of the information you might be interested in, including movie posters and backgrounds. Here is an example of the webpage offered up by the web client:-
If you have a dedicated NAS server such as a QNAP or Synology, then they will probably come with Plex apps that can be installed on the NAS server.
If you don’t have or can’t afford a NAS server, then maybe you can use your existing desktop computer. You could also use a laptop, but for the Plex clients to be able to access the Plex server, then your desktop/laptop will generally have to be switched on and available. By nature, laptops are more portable and therefore may not always be available, but if it’s pretty much always plugged in and switched on, then it is a possibility.
Best of all, Plex is free!
Consider taking out a subscription to a service such as UnoTelly. They provides access to VPN and DNS servers that allow you to access websites that are not available in your geographical region. For example, this means if you are based in Australia (as I am) you can still get access to things like the BBC iPlayer, or US Netflix from your computer or internet connected device. See more on this further down.
If you have a smart TV then great, to be honest Samsung and LG are my current recommendations. They provide a decent quality device, but also provide a significant number of applications that can be used on the TV itself. Think of these like apps on your phone or tablet. They work in a similar way, they provide access to multimedia services directly on your TV. For example Plex provides clients (apps) for both Samsung and LG TVs. This means all the content you have stored on your computer (and made available by your Plex server) can be watched directly on your TV. Awesome!
There are lots of apps out there, for example here in Australia, there are apps for many of the main stream freeview channels, there is also a Foxtel Play app available for some TV brands, meaning you can watch Foxtel (subscription service) channels directly on your TV via a broadband connection rather than getting a cable/satellite installation put into your house. And the service, is much more of a on demand (choose what to watch when you want to watch it) service than the normal Foxtel service via satellite and cable (although these are getting better when connected to the internet)
Smart Bluray Player
If you don’t have a Smart TV, then a cheaper approach to getting these types of services is via an external box. There are lots of options available
- Smart Bluray Player
- Apple TV
Personally I would choose something like a Samsung H6500 Bluray player. I generally don’t use iTunes, but if you are closely tied into iTunes, then you may want to consider the Apple TV, but I don’t believe there is currently a Plex app available for this for example.
The reason I like the Samsung Bluray player, is that you can pick them up for a AUD$ 130-150 dollars and get access to nearly all of the apps that are available on the Smart TV. So you can have access to:-
- Local TV catchup channels
- BBC iPlayer
- itv Player
- LOTS more
However, what is available does depend on your geographical location, as not all services are available in all countries.
Smart TV & Smart Bluray Player
One solution I’ve seen is, if you already have a Smart TV, then to still invest in a Smart Bluray player. Use the TV for apps that are available in your local geographical area, then configure the Bluray player for apps in another geographical area. To get this to work however, you will generally need to set the DNS settings on the Bluray player to those provided by UnoTelly (or an alternative) to make the apps in that country available for installation.
There are plenty of ways to do this, and you can spend a lot of money and get a really super setup, but in my opinion something like what I have suggested is fairly cheap to set up, but still provides a lot of great and useful multimedia content.