How to set up a state-wide network of theater rooms all sharing the same media?
January 31, 2008 9:36 PM   Subscribe

HELP - all you AV buffs. I have a huge AV project to undertake. It involves finding a way to either broadcast, stream, or sync movies located in one location (i.e., a media server) to 10 different theater rooms across the state of Utah. I have an unlimited budget. More info inside...

The company I work for has charged me with finding a way to outfit the large theater rooms at 10 of our satellite locations with the ability to show films throughout the day, but to have all the films we show housed on one central location (our corporate office) and scheduled to play at certain times at each satellite location.

We currently have standard def projectors that are projecting films played from a DVD player. We're tired of manually swapping out the DVD's for 2 reasons: a) there is often a long lag between DVD's where no one realizes the movie has ended (there are people that come in and out of these theater rooms and when there's that long lag it can be quite annoying for them), and b) we want to be able to establish a set schedule days, and even weeks, in advance of films being shown, so to have the whole process automated is a must.

I assumed that there has to be some way to mount images of all the DVD's we show onto a couple 1TB sized HD's in a server and then have HTPC's hooked up to each projector in each off-site theater room. Then somehow find software that could handle the scheduling, uploading/downloading of movies (this can be done in the overnight when the theater room isn't in use), and then playing of the movie files according to the schedule.

Upon further reflection, though, I wasn't sure if mounted disc images would be able to be uploaded to networked PC's like that, so would all the DVD's need to be converted to VOB's and disseminated that way?

The only reason keeping me from just buying 200-disc DVD players for each theater room is so we won't have to buy multiple copies of each DVD. Another reason is that I'm not aware of any software that could interface with a multi-disc DVD player so that you can schedule when certain movies are to be played ( and not to mention automatically getting past the DVD menus in order to get the actual film to play).

Or would the best option be to just screw the whole "hub and spoke" server idea and manually upload a whole library of DVD's to each HTPC in each theater room?

This is a call to you brain-storming AV geniuses. I'd try the AV Forums, but I like you all better.

You can PM me for any pertinent details I might have left out.

Thanks!
posted by Detuned Radio to Technology (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
You need to tell us how much bandwidth you have between the central site and satellites and what sort of latency there is. That will define if its feasible to store it centrally and whether or not live streaming is viable.

There are many networked DVR applications out there like mythtv; I suggest you research them.
posted by polyglot at 10:05 PM on January 31, 2008


Man, what a strange project (no judgment, just sayin').

The MPAA won't like this response, but fuck 'em anyway.

The company I work for does a live internet TV stream across the globe, but we don't normally do shows beyond 9pm at night - so we have a schedule of music videos and what-not that runs once the people go home for the night.

The basics of what you're looking for :

1. Grab the necessary DVDs, use a program that uses the FFMPEG library to rip/de-mux DVDs. If you've got access to an OS X machine - MacTheRipper does a pretty handy job of this. Otherwise, google around for "rip DVDs to AVI/DV/MP4" (whichever format you'll end up choosing).

2. Output the files to high-quality DV, or maybe even highest-quality MP4/AVI/WMV.

3. Contact a company called NewTek. They have pre-built boxes, with software, that will interface with any publishing point you would choose. We used to use one called VT-4, but I believe now we're on a newer system. I don't remember the name of it off-hand, but I could find out tomorrow if you need.

4. Contact Akamai (preferably, since they're the highest-quality provider of these things), or a place like LimeLight and tell them that you'd like to do a closed stream to other machines that you own. Explain your network capabilities (or work w/them to determine them) and I'm pretty sure they can hook you up. Since you're not concerned with broadcasting to 1000's of points at once, I assume you could get a nice quality stream out of it. They'll explain which platform would be the best (Windows Media or QT are the two most common options. I'd suggest QT - but they'll know more than I do).

5. Setup the streaming system however they suggest doing so. Again, this is probably NewTek's department, but that will become pretty clear as time goes on. Maybe look into a company that specializes in NewTek hardware in your area, actually. I remember NT being pretty lame on tech support once you're knee-deep in their hardware.

6. You'll need to build some basic internet-connected machines to pull in the stream. These will be pretty cheap, since all they're doing is playing video in fullscreen mode. Since the server is handling all the timing functions, these machines are basically just being told "Open the media player, connect to this URL and play..". You might want some scripts setup to automatically restart everything in case of power outages, random crashes, etc.

There may be easier and cheaper solutions to this problem. But, you did say "unlimited budget" and this whole setup should come to easily under $8k for the setup and less than $500k/month for upkeep.
posted by revmitcz at 10:14 PM on January 31, 2008


err.. that last line was supposed to say "$500/month" NOT $500k. Oops.
posted by revmitcz at 10:16 PM on January 31, 2008


For a lower-budget option than remvitcz proposes, if you don't really have an unlimited budget (or want to pocket some money as a "consultant" ☺ building boxes with off-the-shelf components) I use VLC for playing media personally but it's very scriptable, with Web, telnet, and several other remote interfaces, and also provides some streaming features I've never played around with. It's open source software but there are a couple of consultants available for hire. Just using it as a player it seems to be well-engineered.

If you were going to distribute VOBs / other ripped formats of the movies (which I would expect would provide higher quality than streaming) BitTorrent seems like it would be an efficient method of doing so since you'd have ten sites downloading the same thing at once. Azureus is a good client / server that uses BitTorrent and there is a web UI for it.

Also, I just took a look and VLC is able to open a podcast channel as a playlist. That could be handy, since a podcast channel would be a simple XML file which you could keep on your central server that's easy to hand-edit, but the trick is that you'd want it to open local files... hmm...
posted by XMLicious at 10:23 PM on January 31, 2008


Multicast with VLC. Set it up on a central server, set up some non-encrypted VPNs and have the remotes pull from there.
posted by rhizome at 10:51 PM on January 31, 2008


These are some great answers! - and so quick! Thank you all!

As far as bandwidth goes, it'll vary. Most of the locales will have fiber (depends on the availability) but we'll more than likely upgrade the connection to the individual theater rooms to the fastest available connection specifically so it can handle this set-up.

Any thoughts on possibly scrapping the whole network idea and just using some sort of individualized, local solution? (i.e. multi-disc players with playlist capabilities)
posted by Detuned Radio at 10:59 PM on January 31, 2008


I'd say your best bet is to manually pull out the movie from the DVD with a program like DVD Shrink, where you can determine what compression level you can live with. Then serve that up on your central computer to be downloaded each night at the remote locations, possibly with a script schedule to download nightly as well.

No system will be good at automagically skipping menus, so your best bet is to take that out at the first opportunity.

I wouldn't bother with a streaming format at all, because you don't need to actually have it played live in any way. I previously used a program called FolderShare by Microsoft, which was free at the time, but I'm not sure of its current state. It allows you to keep certain files and folders in sync between several computers.

Of course, any of these solutions don't avoid the legal issue of not having multiple copies of the movies you want to show.
posted by shinynewnick at 11:04 PM on January 31, 2008


Depending on the number of movies and the quality required, I'd say your upload speed is more likely to be an issue. If you can set up a private peer-to-peer network to distribute files, you'll be much better off balancing loads across the networks.

A local solution would be much more difficult to troubleshoot and maintain, in my mind. A friend of mine worked for a AV company who had to setup the system for a kids arcade style restaurant with numerous locations around the country, and the entire design was made for central control, so that literally they could adjust the music volume in each room of each location from one computer. Unless you have people to rely on in each theater, or if things need to change on the fly regularly, keep the process centrally controlled.

And offhand, the NewTek system is up to the VT5 (VideoToaster for any old-school AV people). The upgrade is still sitting on my desk.
posted by shinynewnick at 11:10 PM on January 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh, local files. Set up a webserver to accept file uploads, or FTP/SCP/RSync, then have VLC play those files as a playlist.
posted by rhizome at 11:11 PM on January 31, 2008


No system will be good at automagically skipping menus,

VLC seems to have no problem skipping menus, btw.
posted by XMLicious at 11:18 PM on January 31, 2008


VLC is computer based, though, not a mulitdisc player with playlist capabilities like the poster mentioned. I just don't think any DVD box would handle it well.
posted by shinynewnick at 11:35 PM on January 31, 2008


I was advising in reference to their HTPC idea, which would be very easily programmable, updatable and schedulable.
posted by rhizome at 11:57 PM on January 31, 2008


You might want to look at something like this:

http://www.mpsbroadband.com/

They do what you want basically.
posted by iamabot at 12:52 AM on February 1, 2008


Put a few computers around running Ubuntu. "scp" the movies to them. Play them remotely, with VLC or MPLAYER.
posted by cmiller at 6:14 AM on February 1, 2008


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