Media Server Updates

So I have not updated the site for the last month or so, but that does not mean no work has been going on.

I ordered the cabling needed to successfully get the server up and going so I was able to start the real work.  I found out after getting everything up that my motherboard did not really support RAID, it supported fake RAID – ie software RAID that only works with Microsoft operating systems.  Since I was not planning on installing Windows on the box that did not do me much good.  Luckily, Ubuntu which IS on the box supports their own software based RAID so after I got the software installed I only had to wait about 20 hours until the drive was built.  Since then I have been ripping and rolling.

I found a couple of students who also have ongoing Media server projects so they have been great sources of information.  They are both apparently running Kodi which is an open source package while I have stuck with Plex.  Not a huge concern since we were never going to be sharing access, but it is good to have people who have seen the same problems and might have an answer.

Anyway, I have been ripping movies and we are over 520 movies total on the server.  The size of the movies have been surprising – while most DVD’s are about 4-8 GB each, BluRays are anywhere from 18G to 50G depending on the quality of the movie on the disk.

Paula and Xander are both really happy to see all of the movies we are finally able to watch and so we have spent the majority of February watching movies we have not seen in several years.  The only downside of this has been Paula’s “told you so” attitude about disk size.  As I originally mentioned, I was just looking at about 8TB of total space, Paula fought for more and thought 12TB would work out better.  Well we passed the 8TB limit about a week ago and still have several movies and other items to add to the server.

So yes, the money spent was more than I wanted, and the money could probably have gone to more useful items, but I think we are all pretty happy with the way things have turned out and look forward to being able to watch anything from my library anytime I want.


Project 001 -Ripping and Building

So I spent some time Friday and Saturday building my media server with only a couple of hiccups

  1. Had a couple of students over and they wanted to have the fun of building it so I did not get as much time in my server as I would have liked
  2. Turns out my biggest fear came true – I did not have enough of the right kinds of cabling on hand.  Turns out I only had two SATA cables so I have had to order some extras which will be delivered on Monday.

Without the cables, I can’t build the RAID storage area to actually hold my data.  I went ahead and installed the OS onto the SSD I bought and then installed Plex server on top of that so we are all ready to go once I get the RAID set up.

A couple of side notes came up during the build, though. First, one of the students helping out ended up having his own server already set up.  He has loaned it to me for a little bit and I can start pulling any movies he has that I want directly into my box.  Saves me having to rip my own copies.  Second, he recommended I do not compress the images as much as I have been.  I had been working towards 3-4 GB file sizes, but with 12 TB of storage that is not really a necessity.  I can get back to having 10GB type sizes and still store 1200 movies – well more than I am interested in storing.

To get to the larger size (since handbrake wants to limit me to as compressed as possible) I have had to switch to a program called RipBot 264. That software will take a long time to actually compress the files – about 3 hours a piece, even after the MakeMKV program has ripped the original off the disc.

The server is ready, just need some wiring.  Once that is in place I am ready to go – I have 10 or so movies ready to go and more will get ready during this week.  Can’t wait to try this out and see if it is as much fun as I hope it is.

Project 001 – Media Server Ripping

What’s this?  Two postings on the same day?  Is the world coming to an end?  Am I insane?  Nope.  I just thought that discussions on how I am getting my data together deserved its own post. So what am I doing?

Well, the whole purpose of the media server is that I can put all of my movies on a server I control, then use the server to stream all of the movies directly to my devices – including my iPad’s.  That is where Plex comes in.  Plex can handle the streaming as long as I put the data in the right place.

Now Plex can handle multiple file formats and so the first thing I have to figure out is which one to use.  There are really only two options – MP4 and MKV.  Both are lossy formats and are set for different setups.  MP4’s are mainly used for small devices – iPads, iPhones and the like.  MKV’s are still a compression but they are more of an open-source format.  Not sure why but I have decided to go MKV.

Now, how do I do that?  Well for most of my DVD’s I am able to use Handbrake.  Using an extra library dll file, Handbrake can read most commercially available DVD’s and compress using H.264 MKV compression.  It takes about 30-35 per disk but you end up with about a file about 1GB in size.  So is that all there is to it?  Unfortunately no.

In addition to being much nicer quality video, Blu-Ray’s are also much more secure.  DRM, and other anti-pirating software, makes ripping Blu-Ray discs much more difficult.  However, there is another piece of software you can use, namely MakeMKV.  MakeMKV will pull the video directly off of the disk and put it in an MKV wrapper, but the problem is, it will not reduce the size.  So you end up with a 30+GB MKV file.  Remember how I said MKV’s were open-source?  Well depending on which group of settings you use, you end up with a wildly different sized file. But in a funny turn of events you can actually turn around and use Handbrake on the large MKV files and it will compress them down to a much smaller size.  We end up with a 5 GB or so file which is about what you would expect for something that is much better than DVD imagery.  Of course, the downside of all of this is it takes about 3-4 hours per disk.

So that is it.  I am working on getting as many of the disks ripped as I can before the server is built but honestly it will probably take a couple of weeks to get it all done.  Of course that does not even begin to address the terrible thoughts of converting all of my iTunes movies.

Project 001 – Media Server Day 1

Issue 1.  I am going to go ahead and get this out – Yes, I am renumbering projects.  I need to be honest with myself, my woodworking projects are probably 2-3 years away at this point.  Loving wife needs to finish her degree, I need to get a faculty job somewhere and actually get some free time.  So keeping numbers “reserved” for jobs I have thought of over the last year or so makes no sense whatsoever.  So I am going to just renumber them, starting with jobs I might actually get to accomplish.`

Now for the purpose of this post.  Loving wife and son decided to take pity on me this past week and ordered me a bunch of computer equipment as a sort of “early birthday  / now stop moping around” gift.  I had to spend most of yesterday at work writing a grant proposal with a couple of colleagues, but when I came home there were a couple of really big boxes with my name on them.  It was like Christmas all over again.


The first box contained this bad boy.  It is a Fractal Design Node 804 case and yes it is that massive.  It has the capacity for 10 internal 3.5″ inch drives and 2 more 2.5″ inch drives.  That is a LOT of space for me to play around in.  I do not really care about the glass side to look in and see my equipment – especially since this is going to be used as a server, but I can see the appeal.  The case is exactly as I hoped it would be.  It is probably the same size as two “normal” mid tower cases and has lots of space for me to move around it, plus it is beefy enough that I will not be afraid of damaging it accidentally.  I have not tried putting in everything yet (this is just day one after all) but I am happy with the case so far.


I went ahead and opened this box as well.  Yes, that is the motherboard, RAM, processor, WiFi card and FOUR 4-TB hard drives.  The motherboard has support for RAID 5 built in so I will have 12 TB of disc space with some redundancy in case one fails.  Can’t ask for better than that.  The drives are also 7200 RPM NAS drives so they are a little beefier, and a little faster than normal drives which can’t hurt.  The processor is only an i3-6100 and it is only 8GB of RAM, but I checked the website for the media server I am installing and both of those are well over the recommended settings so I think I will be ok.  I also received a CoolerMaster CPU fan but I am not sure I will need it.  If I don’t, I will probably mount it in Xander’s computer.  The fan on that machine is a bit ancient and could probably do with a replacement.

The only two things I do not have are an SSD which would house the base operating system on the server and, probably much more importantly, a power supply.  Both of those items are due to arrive this week so I can actually start assembly.  In the meantime I have started ripping my DVD’s and BluRay’s so I can copy them over to the server as soon as possible.  But that is another post.


A Look Back

Well, today is the first day of 2017 and while it will probably take me at least a month to remember to use the correct year when putting in a date – mainly because I write so few dates out – I thought I should at least look back on 2016 and reflect on things that have happened or that I have learned since the last time the earth went around the sun.

In entertainment, this was really the year that cultural icons of MY youth started dying of natural causes.  I mean honestly we have had actors/actresses/singers etc from my youth die before, but usually from drinking, drugs or accidental causes.  This is the first year that a heart attack or cancer has been the cause of death.  Because of this, it feels like more famous people died this year than in the past.  Turns out that is not really the case but it still feels that way.

In politics, we have elected a president that half the country refers to as “Tang Hitler”.  A showman that the Republicans have grudgingly gotten into bed with because he is the only candidate that could win.  This was the first time in my life when presented with the candidates I actually looked and said: “These are the 2 best people to lead our country”?  I voted on the losing side simply because as loathsome as the candidate was, at least I felt she was not pandering to the lowest common denominator of our society.  Well the LCD won and now the country has to figure a way through the next four years.

In my economy, the family seems to spend exactly the amount of money that we have.  It does not matter how much we bring in, that is the amount we spend…and yet we never seem to get ahead.  It is almost scary, every time we get a couple of hundred dollars saved up something comes up that we have to do and it costs that same couple of hundred dollars.  At this point, I am convinced that if we did not have the money the need would have never arisen.  The problem that we solved came about entirely because we had the money to handle it.  So while I am thankful that we are healthy and happy, we are well fed and have all we need, I can not help but feel upset that we can never get to the point where splurging on something seems safe.

So that ends 2016.  We are safe, we are healthy.  Paula has passed the halfway point on her degree (I think).  Xander has made friends and will be starting high school in the fall.  I exist.  That is really all I can think of to say about me.  I exist.

Hoping that 2017 is a better year, but for the first time in my life I am worried that it just might not be so.

Media Server

Just as in the past,  the real world will sometimes look at my plans and thoughts and begin to laugh.  I have grown accustomed to this, even if it is a bit disheartening. Paula has decided that she really wants a new laptop, rather than a desktop PC so building one piecemeal is not going to work.  I understand her desire – most of my work is done on my laptop as well so something she can carry around is important.  All it really means is I have to get the money together all at once as opposed to buying what I can when I can.

But this HAS led to discussions about yet another project.  A media server.  Paula and I have always enjoyed movies.  We used to have about 300 or so but got rid of ones we had not watched in a long time before we moved due to space concerns.  Once we moved, we pretty much stopped watching them anyway because we did not like having to get up and find the movie, then hope we could get it working with the Playstation so we could watch it etc.  We moved to getting most of our movies on iTunes, and while that is a wonderful solution, I do not want to have to repurchase all of these movies again – especially considering some of them are not even available anymore.  Now, in talking with friends we have happened upon the idea of a media server in our house to hold all of our movies.

I decided to include Paula in as much of the planning as possible, and have probably driven her crazy over the past week or so with my thoughts on the matter but such is life.  The current thought is a built from scratch server using a cube case I found on PC Part Picker.  The case will hold about 10 drives – I will not be using more than 5 of them, but always good to have room for growth.

The good news is with the server, we do not need the BEST stuff out there, we just need “good” things with lots and lots of storage space.  The drive setup I am looking at is a 250GB solid state drive that will run the OS (probably Debian or Ubuntu Linux) and control all the other pieces.  Then I can put 3 or 4 4TB hard drives in a RAID 5 enclosure.  This gives 8-12TB of storage depending on the number of drives.  The real overkill on storage is Paula’s doing.  I was looking at 3-4TB total and she doubled it, and then some.  The best news for this is that the motherboard I had already picked out has a RAID Controller already built in.

Other than the hard drives it is a pretty basic setup.  Since I do not have to have the best of the rest of the equipment, I can get by with an i3-6100 processor, 8GB of RAM and a decent network card.  Add it all together and it will be a very good NAS.

The other side of the equation is the software that will allow me to rip my DVD’s to the NAS and the software to display the media.  I can’t say these are inconsequential things, but they are actually the easier side of things to worry about.  The DVD ripping will be done with a program called HandBrake. It is the top rated software application for handling this and the best thing is it is free.  The other side is display – and that will be handled by another free application called Plex TV.  Plex is a pretty awesome (and once again free) software package that has players available for AppleTV, Sony Playstation 4, Amazon FireTV and XBox One – also known as every piece of hardware I plug into a television.  It also handles music so I will probably upload all the music we have as well – I figure why not, the NAS will already have enough space.

I hope to get started on this after my birthday – I am going to use all the money I get to start building the NAS.  I figure even when it is built I will still be moving the library of DVD’s onto the system for the next 6 months. It will be a long time to get it working, even once the build is finished, but it should be fun and better yet, should keep me distracted for the foreseeable future.

Can’t wait to get the DVD’s burned onto the NAS so we can start watching them again.

A Stay of Execution

So while the woodworking sections of my experimental lab are still non functional – I just can’t seem to find the funding to get started – I decided to try some more affordable experiments.  I have always been tempted to learn to brew my own beverages, and even to do things like homemade root beer.  In addition, a couple years ago I heard about an affordable homemade smelter to do aluminum casting.  So those were my thoughts until Paula mentioned a new computer.

She has a decent MacBook Air but with her coursework she is going to need a Windows machine.  No problem, we have one…but Xander is going to be using it more often both for school and for gaming.  So we need a new computer.  A couple of my students turned me onto a website called PC Parts Picker.  It allows you to build out a custom PC, and as you select different items it filters out parts that are incompatible.  Even doing it myself, building a PC will still take a while – the total cost is about $1200 but 3 of the parts are over $250 a piece so while some can be done piecemeal, it will still take a while.  Hopefully this site can help me.

So that is the idea.  Forget the start up costs on woodworking until Paula is out of school.  Build some smaller projects and not give up hope.