Best Media Streamer for Playing Back Ripped DVDs?
February 14, 2011 2:15 PM   Subscribe

What is the best choice currently for a media streamer to play back ripped DVDs and other content on your network?

I know this question comes up here a lot, but it seems like things are changing pretty quickly with new firmware updates, and it's hard to sort out the recommendations that are no longer relevant.

Here's what I want to do:

Priority 1 - Rip my hundreds of DVDs (and maybe Blue-ray one day) to a hard drive, and play them back form that hard drive on my home theater with full menuing and commentary tracks/other features.

Priority 2 - Automatically download or stream video podcasts

Priority 3 - Play Hulu free content (not the paid version)

Priority 4 - Other services like Netflix/Amazon/Pandora that I don't really use now, but may use one day.

Priority 5 - Play back music stored on my computer through the stereo.

I know everybody loves Roku, but they seem to love it for my priority 4, and it seems to suck at my priority 1. Is that still true or is that likely to remain true in the immediate future?

I've heard that WD Live Plus can now play back DVDs with full menuing, but I read some comments to suggest that the implementation is kind of sucky. I wasn't sure if that was the state of the art on their firmware or if things are actually working pretty well there. I'm also not sure if the WD Live Hub has the same capabilities. It seemed like maybe they'd just updated Live Plus, but that seems strange to me.

I know the Boxee box got panned when it came out, but I'd heard some of their later updates had improved it. How is it working currently, and can it do what I want?

Then there are other things like the Popcorn Hour. I was excited for that a few months ago, but it seems like the early reviews moved me off of that one too for some reason. Anybody have recent experience with that one that could speak to whether it meets my needs?

I don't have any game consoles and wouldn't be likely to play games, so I'm not sure about getting them only for media streamers. I've heard that recommended, but friends have not had great luck with that.

I don't really want to deal with a full HTPC. I'm mostly a Mac house. I will at times plug my Macbook Pro into my TV and stereo, but that makes it harder for me to surf and watch at the same time, so that's not entirely desirable for me.
posted by willnot to Technology (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It is, like, my job, to report this in these threads, but for your "Priority 3" you pretty much have no choice but an HTPC, or the PlayOn software which runs on a Windows box and also costs money anyway.

For Priority 1, I would still lean towards some sort of HTPC (doesn't have to be high-powered) running VLC or some other software that can play a DVD ISO, if you really need to play the image "as a disc".
But personally I'd recommend ripping "just the main movie" from your DVDs and getting out the disc for those times when you need the commentary, and then you could bypass the HTPC requirement for this part.
posted by jozxyqk at 2:28 PM on February 14, 2011

I don't really want to deal with a full HTPC.
Unfortunately, that is your only real option if you want a single device that does it all. Get a mac mini and a bluetooth keyboard and mouse.

Me, I have a Windows 7 c2d mini-itx system. I use EventGhost and IR signals from a remote to open Hulu Desktop, VLC, and Firefox. Eventghost and a universal remote lets me control Hulu Desktop reasonably. I control VLC with VLC Remote. And for netflix and other random websites, I use Air Mouse. For music I use a the standalone hardware Squeezebox players.

If you are determined to not go with a full computer, you will be making compromises. You will be giving up Hulu and other random website streaming (TNT, Comedy Central, and the like). PlayOn can work, but I would call it a kludge and the quality is at best ok. It's also temperamental and requires regular tweaking to keep it working.
posted by fief at 3:26 PM on February 14, 2011

I understand you don't want an HTPC, but as someone with a mac mini hooked up to a 32" LG HDTV, Plex covers all the bases.
  • Rip your DVDs to either an external FW drive or a NAS buried somewhere -- Plex will access these by naming them a certain way and using the Plex Media Library
  • Subscribe to your podcasts in iTunes on the mac mini, Plex automatically gets all local (and network) iTunes content, iTunes will autodownload
  • It does Hulu
  • It does Netflix (and hundreds of others, I haven't even scratched the surface)
  • See above, install Plex on your MacBook and whenever it's on the Network, the Plex Media Library will have access to your MacBook's iTunes library
  • Control all of this with a standard apple remote (seriously, 6 buttons does it all!), with remote desktop (annoying) or with their iPhone app (eh, it's OK, but the physical remote is better)
  • It does other neat things like keep track of where you stopped each movie/TV show to resume later, marks shows as watched when done so you always know where you are in the series, is completely user friendly so non-geeks can use it without needing to learn anything, having an instantly available and easily browseable media library is super nifty

posted by Brian Puccio at 5:41 PM on February 14, 2011

I used to have roku, but now I use TVversity, but I run Win7. It's a DLNA media server, and I access it on my TV using my PS3, but I also can view the streams with my iTouch using an app called 8player. It does handle hulu, but I don't think it handles netflix, which is fine because the netflix app for the wii and the PS3 is so awesome.
posted by crunchland at 7:40 PM on February 14, 2011

So, I was just about to ask this very same question. I noticed that the Roku XD|S has a USB 2.0 port and can handle a multitude of audio and video formats. Does anyone have experience with this particular model?

I too would like to stay away from an HTPC and am willing to just rip the main movie as jozxyqk suggested.
posted by bluejayway at 10:27 AM on February 15, 2011

According to the specs on the Roku XD|S it supports the following formats via USB:

MP4 (H.264), MOV (H.264), MKV (H.264) ASF/WMV (WMV9/VC-1) ,MP3, AAC, Dolby Digital (MP4, MOV and MKV pass through only), DTS (MKV pass through only), JPG, PNG.

So, I think that means you can rip the main movie to a file type that can play back, but I don't think you'd have extras or menus or the like. That may not be an issue for you, but it's not ideal for me.
posted by willnot at 7:25 PM on February 15, 2011

How many TVs / displays do you have? If you have more than one, then I really suggest looking at SageTV. You set up the software on one of your computers and then get one of their HD Theater media extenders for each of your displays. Beyond doing videos, photos, and music, it also has a great DVR. The software is updated regularly. There are plugins for Netflix, Amazon VOD, Hulu, etc that use Playon. It supports VOBs, but I think not ISOs.

If you don't use it as a DVR, there's no need for your computer to be on all of the time and you could just boot it as needed. There's a great forum where you can ask questions and get helpful answers. There's also a great ecosystem of user-created plugins.

A HTPC by itself brings some hassles with things like codecs and such. Using SageTV as a server with the extenders removes those headaches.

If you want to move into things gradually, you can get just the HD Theater, which supports DVD menus and connecting a USB device directly. And it supports ISOs directly.
posted by reddot at 6:42 AM on February 16, 2011

Ok, this is an incredibly old topic (not sure how it's still open) but just FYI, there is a Plex channel for the Roku now, so you can run Plex somewhere else on the network and access all your video on the Roku if you don't want an HTPC in the living room.

The Roku is not a great option for priority 3, though, since Hulu categorizes it as a "device" and you need Plus for that.
posted by selfnoise at 4:17 AM on November 7, 2011

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