Best/Cheapest way to stream video/audio media from PC that also acts as HD backup?
September 14, 2009 5:38 PM   Subscribe

Best/Cheapest way to stream video/audio from PC that also acts as HD backup? (wants: Codec support, cheap, netflix support)

My 1TB external HD crashed and since I'll need a replacement, I figured why not finally add the ability to stream content to my TV in the next room. There are so many confusing options out there. Here are my wants & what I know. Any opinions?

1. 1TB or more storage space. I will use this as a backup drive for my Vista PC
2. Ability to play many codecs. I get videos from many places H264, Divx, WMV, Mp4 etc and I'd love to avoid having to convert them.
3. Play Mp3s from a library or folder structure
4. Wi-Fi support. I don't have ethernet by my TV

1. Netflix/YouTube support.
2. Ability to handle large music collections I have 100GB of music so poor interfaces that scroll slowly will suck.
3. Variety of outputs so even though my TV is standard DEF component video now, I'll likely go HD in next year or two. (HDMI?)
4. No dependency on iTunes or Windows Media Player running on my PC. I hate those apps. I use Media Monkey.

NOT NEEDED (if adds to cost):
1. BitTorrent
2. Blu-Ray support
3. DVR functions (I have a TiVo series 2)

1) Popcorn Hour A-110: Could put a 1TB drive in it. It would appear on network so I could use it as backup drive and media player. Cons: confusing, poor UI, netflix support is unofficial via $40 3rd party program

2) XBox 360: Plays games as a bonus. Means I have to run Windows Media Player on PC, yuck. Has Netflix. Also, limited codec support? Doesn't solve drive backup issue. Would need to buy separate USB drive for PC

3) XBOX w/ XBMC: I don't know how up to date this software is. Does it support netflix? Wifi? Needs seperate drive for PC backup

4) Mvix Ultio Media Player ( Seems like Popcorn hour. Don't know which is better/easier.

5) Ps3 Slim: I've heard codec support's better than Xbox360. NO dependency on Windows Media Player? Netflix Support? Still needs an external drive for main backup

SO, any recommendations? Thanks!
posted by bmilner to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
A mac mini or apple tv running and / or plex are worth checking out- boxee plays netflix on demand, youtube, and tons of other stuff. Boxee and plex are ports of XBMC, but have tons of extra channels.
posted by jenkinsEar at 5:57 PM on September 14, 2009

I love my Popcorn Hour a-110, but it's music interface leaves a bit to be desired. Personally I love the interface for everything except that. It's simple and easy to understand without a whole lot of useless extras. If you don't use playlists much, the interface works well. Navigation is easy and straightforward, I'm not sure who finds it confusing. My roommate figured it out on her own with no issues and no instructions.

Scrolling through a huge number of files/folders takes a while though. Unfortunately you have to go page by page instead of having a steady scroll like on XBMC, Winamp, Songbird, iTunes, etc.

If you were in Massachusetts I'd offer to let you play around with mine to see what you like and dislike. You should hop on their forum and see if someone in your area would let you check theirs out.

Popcorn Hour just released the C-200 which you might consider. I don't know all the details, but it has more ram than the a-110 and you can install a BluRay/DVD player.

An Xbox w/ XBMC is a great solution if you don't need HD. You can go wireless with it and I think if you set it up right you could back stuff up to a hard disk if you installed one. I'm not sure what size hard drive it takes either, so I don't know what capacities are currently available.
posted by thekiltedwonder at 6:13 PM on September 14, 2009

TVersity or PS3mediaserver will stream/transcode just about any format to a PS3 or Xbox 360 from your media storage. I would not do this over a wireless connection though, because transcoding can take up a huge amount of bandwidth.

Personally I think the PS3 is the best solution, nice GUI, and it paired with PS3 media server, I have yet to find a format it won't play.

I've tried the Popcorn Hour but had problems playing 1080p MKV.

FWIW, you don't need Windows Media player to stream to a Xbox 360, there are a gazillion apps that will stream to it.
posted by wongcorgi at 9:00 PM on September 14, 2009

Response by poster: Turns out I was able to pay $20 and get my 1TB Seagate USB drive fixed under warranty so now I'll have that for backups. So all that's left is the way to get that content onto my TV in the next room.

All posts seem to indicate that either an xbox360 or Ps3 (possibly adding PlayOn or Tversity) is the way to go here. $200-250 will get me everything I need to stream all my content to my TV. A popcornhour would be $215 so why not pay about the same and get a gaming system? Is that the general viewpoint here?
posted by bmilner at 1:37 PM on September 15, 2009

I recently went the mac mini / Plex route. It takes a bit of tweaking at set up, but once you get it up and running its really a pleasurable experience. Movies and TV shows are handled absolutely amazingly, and although its not the core of the program, I've found the music component pretty solid as well. It's also played everything I've thrown at it, and I have a pretty extensive range of file types, both audio and video, in my library. As an added bonus, Plex gives you access to a huge amount of online content (, Pandora, Hulu, Netflix, and many many more)

I was able to find the mini used on ebay for ~$400. I'm currently keeping my files on a NAS as the mini isn't loaded with storage, but last time I checked a 1TB external drive doesn't set you back too much these days.

I've also used an Xbox 360 previously using TVersity. It was able to handle most codecs, but I still ran into a pretty good number of difficulties. Netflix support was good, and music was also pretty solid. Overall though I couldn't help but feel like it wasn't what the system was designed for, whereas Plex is an absolute pleasure to use and look at.
posted by KilgoreTrout at 11:41 AM on September 16, 2009

Response by poster: I really love the idea of the Mac Mini + Plex solution. But that would be $500 which is not a trivial difference in cost between the other $200 options we discussed above. When you get into that range, you could consider simply getting a second computer/HTPC/Laptop and using that in the other room. That's what I'm trying to avoid. I just want:

1. Simple UI to access Music and Videos from a remote drive (not a NAS, it's USB connected to my PC in the next room).
- ALTERNATE: ABility to plug the USB drive into the device by the TV and have it appear as a networked drive to other PC on the network.

2. Support for wide range of video codecs
3. YouTube and Netflix support are strong plusses.

Seems like all that shouldn't warrant a $500 investment in a Mac (or hackintosh) + Plex?
posted by bmilner at 12:55 PM on October 1, 2009

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