Streaming video around the house
July 22, 2014 8:12 AM   Subscribe

I ripped a bunch of my DVDs to my Mac so that I could put the cases in storage. Currently, the files sit on my hard drive on my Mac Pro, and when I want to watch something, I copy the relevant file to a USB stick and walk it upstairs to the TV, where the Blu Ray player has a USB input. Is there an easier way to get these files onto my TV (and ideally, iPads/iPhones) than walking the file around the house? We're an all-Mac household.


I have a Mac Pro that's wired into a Verizon-supplied router; my wife has a MacBook Pro that's connected wirelessly to the router. We each have iPads and iPhones on the home network. Our TV is an older Sharp LCD from around 2004; Blu Ray player is a 2009-ish LG (which can connect to the network, but is not currently). We also have an XBox 360 (also not currently connected), and I expect to get a PS4 in the next year or so. We also have some Airport base stations that are not currently in use, if that's relevant.

We don't currently have an Apple TV or a Roku, or anything like that.

What's the easiest way for us to get the videos from the computer to the TV and the iOS devices without moving the file (i.e., copying to the USB drive or moving to the iOS device via iTunes)? Ideally, I'd like to have the ability on the TV and the iOS devices to browse the directory from the device and start streaming, rather than "pushing" the file from the Mac Pro (like I might do with Spotify and Airfoil). And it would be great to have different streams going to different devices simultaneously.

Possible complicating factor: I think the videos are all in m4v format. When I watch on my TV, I have to copy to the USB and then change the suffix to mp4 for the Blu Ray player to recognize them.

I am solely interested in getting the videos around the house, not having them be accessible via the internet or to anyone other than my wife and me. I guess I need some sort of home media server (maybe?) but I'm not sure how that works. I'm ok with spending some money to make this happen. I'd strongly prefer a Mac-based solution (or, at least, a non-PC solution). Thanks!
posted by Admiral Haddock to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I should maybe add that the Macs are all running flavors of OS 10.6. If this would be any easier with Mavericks, we can upgrade (we're overdue!).
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:19 AM on July 22, 2014

Best answer: I don't know if Plex can stream to the XBox360, but I'd be surprised if it can't. If not, you could get a Chromecast for $35 and stream to that.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:22 AM on July 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I do this using my Roku + Plex.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 8:24 AM on July 22, 2014

Anything that creates a DLNA media server can be accessed on DLNA-compatible software/hardware (like an iOS device or a 360). I use UMS which streams to my PS3 (for the TV) and to the AirPlayer client on my iOS devices. UMS should be able to transcode the stream to whichever codec is necessary, although some fiddling is required.

I think they took DLNA functionality out of the PS4, so keep that in mind.
posted by griphus at 8:43 AM on July 22, 2014

(Plex and UMS do the same thing, basically, but I like the bare-bones UI and deep configurability of UMS a lot better.)
posted by griphus at 8:44 AM on July 22, 2014

If not, you could get a Chromecast for $35 and stream to that.

In this "use case", how would you do that? The only way I can see doing it is opening the file on the computer in the Chrome browser, and then streaming the browser tab to the TV with Chromecast (via the household wireless network).

It's not a great user experience, since Chromecast is really designed for handhelds (stock Android being the best).
posted by KokuRyu at 8:45 AM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Given you're an Apple household, I'd personally pick up a Roku and use that with Plex; the Roku streaming sticks are only slightly more expensive than the Chromecast. The AppleTV will not work with Plex, so don't bother with that route. Plex is dead easy to use to stream media - install on your Mac Pro, point it to the directory where your media lives, let it index it and you're good to go; you'll be able to get your media on any device with a Plex app.

You can also stream Plex to XBox360. At least I could a year ago. I have no idea about the Xbox One or PS4, however.

My personal setup is an older iMac (Mavericks) as my Plex server, with 3 Rokus (one per TV) and a plethora of iOS devices consuming the content. Works great.
posted by cgg at 8:46 AM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is exactly what Apple's "Home Sharing" is for; the preferred device to connect to your TV to take advantage of it would therefore be an Apple TV. To "pull" video with Home Sharing you have to log the Apple TV into an iTunes account, so it would be a bit fiddly to switch back and forth if you and your wife use separate accounts. You can "push" the video from any Apple device on the same network without the logout/login thing, though.

All of this works fine in Snow Leopard as long as you have a fairly recent version of iTunes.
posted by bcwinters at 8:46 AM on July 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

In this "use case", how would you do that?

Plex creates a media server on the computer which Chromecast connects to and streams from.
posted by griphus at 8:53 AM on July 22, 2014

Best answer: I use a Plex server (actually a Linux box, but you can do it with Macs too) that streams all media to 2x iPads, 1x iMac, 1x MacBook Pro and 1x Amazon Fire TV (hooked up to a 32" TV in our living room). I previously used a Mac Mini with a Plex client installed, but recently sold that for more than the cost of a Fire TV (plus it uses less electricity).

Plex is awesome. Whether you use a Roku, Fire TV or a TV with Plex built in, it is fantastic.
posted by Brian Puccio at 8:58 AM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Assuming you're adding these videos into iTunes on your Mac, an AppleTV is the simplest, easiest solution. If not (I have a bunch of media in filetypes iTunes doesn't like), then a Plex+Roku solution works really well for me. Install Plex on the computer, add your media, dial up the Plex channel on your Roku=boom.
posted by General Malaise at 8:58 AM on July 22, 2014

I run Serviio on my Mac Mini and it serves video files to my network compatible Blue-ray player.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:33 AM on July 22, 2014

So the LG Blu-Ray player can connect to the network but is not currently; why not?

Friend of mine has an LG Blu-Ray player that can connect to a wireless network, and when it does, anything that supports Windows file sharing becomes browseable using the player's remote control and any filetype it supports can be played over the network. No dedicated streaming servers are necessary, just plain old Windows SMB/CIFS file sharing.

Pretty sure Macs can do that kind of file sharing too. Why not just connect the Blu-Ray player to the network and see what it can see?
posted by flabdablet at 9:39 AM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Nthing the free Plex server on your Mac.

Your Xbox should see/read the Plex server (my kid's Xbox 360 can see mine), so you can do what you want with the gadgets you already have. That said, running the Plex client on a Roku is, in my experience, the simplest. It's friendly enough that my gadget-averse spouse can navigate it (mostly).
posted by easement1 at 9:59 AM on July 22, 2014

Best answer: I'll N'th plex; I rather like it, despite wanting to not like it. I've got an existing setup, for when video was previously watched either on one tv (for which I had mythvideo working (and all the files were local), and some custom scripts working with my directory and naming structure, and all other systems would access via the lan). Then we tried putting a TV in the basement and went with a WDTV-live. Which is slow (menu/etc) and stupid (remote controls for live playing) but worked with the existing setup.

I was fortunate that plex mostly worked well with my setup - I did have to make three new directories and setup a script to populate and periodically update symlinks from the plex directories to the "real" directories, but that's because I want to keep a large existing setup (3TB, initally setup in 2005 or 2006). (having a new-tv directory structure within a tv structure with a movie structure confuses plex and make browsing horrible if you don't separate it)

Because I use my tablet (or my wife uses her phone, or a tablet) as the remote, plex has the "next" versions of TV shows primed on the main screen, and one can search or scroll much faster than I could with myth video (and it was usually a 5-10 minute process to be ready to watch on the cursed wdtv-live). So instead of one chromecast, we got two, and the mythtv box has mostly become just the file server, and might move down to the basement soon. Seriously, the ability to search quickly from a large library is great.

The only real annoyance I have left with plex is the user hacked versions of parental control don't work with my ~9k files categorized by groups. With some modifications to my linking scripts that I setup for my wife and I the plan will be to setup a VM of another plex server which will only see teen movies, and another that only sees the "kids" movies. Combined with firewalls, and my dhcp server giving out dedicated IP's for known hosts allows the plex client to talk to the right server. That's a bit overkill, for what is a long overdue feature.

TLDR: make your life simple and go with Plex, unless you need parental controls. I like the chromecast client as it's cheap and we're a household full of tablets and phones.
posted by nobeagle at 1:09 PM on July 22, 2014

I HATE plex's stupid interface. Hate hate hate.

If you prefer browsing through folders like a normal human, just install PS3 media server on your Mac and use the normal video player app on the xbox to browse through your stuff.

I've used this setup for several years with a ps3 and a 360. The best part is that it's totally platform agnostic, and can handle multiple devices at a time. So if you get a smart tv later, or an ipad(with the vlc app) they'll all play nice with it. And vlc is free, unlike the plex app.

Plex just gets really stupid when you have more than like 20 movies. Sooo much scrolling through the "cover flow" of titles, which was already a terrible thing in iTunes/finder on a Mac.

Maybe I'm just put off by how extra awful the samsung version of the plex app is, which is the only one I've played around with much... But UGH.

I will note that on the plus side for plex, it's a lot less fiddly. PS3 media server and a DLNA enabled decide/the VLC app are all free... But it took me lots of settings flipping to get it all going smoothly, and it still shits up sometimes necessitating a reboot of the server or more tweaking or whatever. Plex does "just work". I just couldn't abide by the stupid interface, and it also seemed to have issues with external drives being my main file storage.(woo iMac with a tiny drive that's a pain to upgrade). I'd try both, it's a give and take.
posted by emptythought at 1:46 PM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just a note: UMS is a fork of PS3 Media Server made in mind for serving to non-PS3 devices. They're nearly identical but I've had better luck with UMS when serving to iOS devices.
posted by griphus at 2:57 PM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Roku Plex client can browse by folders just fine. My server is running Windows 8.1 though.
posted by rfs at 7:53 PM on July 22, 2014

Response by poster: Plex for the win! I set it up a couple of weeks ago, and it's been great. Thanks all!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:39 AM on August 28, 2014

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