Best practices for digital media and home theater?
January 30, 2016 3:13 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to improve the way we handle our digital media storage and viewing at home. Currently we have a PC running FreeNAS as the storage server, and another PC hooked up to the TV (the TV PC) that we play media with using Kodi. We use an iPhone as a remote. I'd like to replace this with something easier to use, so that for instance, a guest at our house could watch TV just using a remote.

We have about a terabyte of movies, TV shows, and music on the server. We also use the TV PC to watch Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. We don't use it for much else. We occassionally use it to play music, but doing so is a bit cumbersome. The TV PC is hooked up to a amplifier that has it's own speakers, in addition to the TV, so we don't need the TV on to play music. We also have a squeezebox in the kitchen we use for playing music from the server and to listen to internet radio.

I'm thinking of replacing the TV PC with a Roku or Amazon Fire TV or similar. Any suggestions? Will all of these work well to read mp4 encoded TV shows and movies off our server? Do they have apps similar to Kodi (or can you load Kodi) to browse and play the shows? Do they have better apps for navigating our music collection? Ideally, I'd like a way to play music that didn't involve turning on the TV to see menus.

I'd also like to replace the FreeNAS box with a machine running Windows 7 or 10, because getting the squeezebox to work with FreeNAS is cumbersome. I also use the server to store digital photos and I'd like to be able to back them up to the cloud more easily than I can with FreeNAS. Any downsides to doing this?

Finally, if anyone has a good solution to digitizing classical music, that would be very helpful. I've avoided doing this because the mp3 tags don't seem to be well suited to classical. I'd also love a way to merge all the tracks on a CD from, say Act I of an opera, into a single file so that keeping track of the files is simpler.
posted by pombe to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If your goal is for guests to be able to watch *something* then yes, a Roku or something is going to make things significantly easier. One plus of the Roku, if you have android devices, is that you can stream from the android to the roku with some ease. But I don't know if it is going to be worth it to find a user-friendly front end for what you have going on now but I look forward to hearing what others have to say.
posted by k8t at 3:28 PM on January 30, 2016

If you really want Kodi, I think you'd want to go for the Android TV. And get a Logitech Harmony remote. The newer ones can be programmed from an app on your phone. If you're not tied to Kodi, Plex is great, and you can get the new Apple TV.

As an aside, if you're looking for a new music solution, Sonos is amazing... :) and it works perfectly with a NAS.
posted by reddot at 5:10 PM on January 30, 2016

I use Plex on my server and watch with the Roku app, and I haven't had any issues at all. I use the free version and don't have an account, and I haven't had a problem or even any real troubleshooting issues with it. I've also got my music collection on there, which I rarely use it for because I'm not quite done with the sound quality portion of my setup, and you can use it for photos, too, but I haven't tried that.

And of course, the Roku works for Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and most other streaming services. I'm pretty happy with it, and I'm pretty sure it's easy enough for guests to figure out.
posted by ernielundquist at 5:11 PM on January 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Maybe this addressing too small a portion of your question, but if you're aiming to have a 'remote' that can control the pc besides your iPhone, how about a wireless keyboard?
posted by Tandem Affinity at 5:39 PM on January 30, 2016

I'm not sure I truly understand the issue here - Kodi is perfectly controllable with an actual, physical remote, and quite cheaply too - this one is plug and play with Kodi (it's the one I use). Worked straight out of the box with no additional configuration needed.
posted by namewithoutwords at 11:32 PM on January 30, 2016

I'm a longtime fan of Kodi/XBMC, but have learned that the rest of the family finds front-end apps like Emby or Plex easier to use. So I have a PC running Emby server, and have the Emby app running on a Roku and Amazon Fire TV. It's been a pretty stable and low maintenance setup. If you do some port forwarding, you can also use Emby remotely, which is handy on trips etc. There's an Android app as well.
posted by Otis at 8:30 AM on February 1, 2016

For Kodi, you want a chromebox. It just works. Search the Kodi forums for more.

For a remote, you want the Logitech Harmony. Once programmed, anyone can use it.

For music, replace the squeezebox (which is fiddle and is no longer made or supported by Logitech) with a Sonos when you can.

Replace the FreeNAS with a synology or QNAP when you can. One of the four drive models so you can always expand easily.

Put this all together and you have the "it just works" solution that you'll never have to think about again.
posted by gd779 at 9:23 AM on February 13, 2016

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