With the advent of digital media over the past decade, the dream of having a high-end home theatre of one’s own has become much more attractive, particularly for well-heeled, voracious media consumers. At the same time, however, the luxury home theatre market has come to be dominated by names like Kaleidescape and Mozaex. The products they offer are fantastic, especially for the less tech-savvy among us, but they also come with some frustrating limitations and a definite lack of flexibility.
First and foremost among those restrictions is the fact that the existing solutions don’t make any provisions for streaming owned content outside the home, largely due to their desire to sidestep the vast thicket of distribution and licensing agreements that attend to most media these days. Anyone willing to spend the kind of money the above systems cost, however, shouldn’t have to compromise on having a home theatre system that travels with them wherever they go – especially if they have the skills required to manage things themselves.
For high-end technophiles, the answer to the home theatre conundrum is easy: a custom-built, extensible media server system based on the latest hardware and server software courtesy of Plex. It does everything the walled-garden competition won’t – including out-of-home streaming, easy customisation, and simple integration with other closed media ecosystems (like Netflix, Amazon, and iTunes). Here’s what you’ll need to get started.
Capable Server Hardware
Since the goal here is to create a home theatre system that can handle any type of media you throw at it, the server that handles all of the behind-the-scenes work has to be robust and up to the task. When it comes to streaming media, maximum flexibility means computing power and that’s the primary concern when choosing your hardware.To make sure that your server will have the requisite horsepower for the job, you should first consider your planned usage scenario. If you’re going to use the system most often with your home theatre projection system, the server won’t have to convert the movies (transcoding) on-the-fly for output. If you’re planning to use your system from outside your home, you’ll need a server CPU with a PassMark score of 17,000 for each 4K HDR video you want to play at once. You’ll also want plenty of RAM to spare and gigabit or better networking capabilities.
A Media Storage System
Once you have server hardware that meets your needs, the next thing to look at is a network attached storage (NAS) system that has enough space to accommodate all of the media you’d like to use with the system. In an ultra-high-quality home theatre system (like equivalents from Kaleidescape and Mozaex), you’ll want to plan for about 100gb of space per 4K film. If you’re willing to introduce a little compression into the mix, cut that number approximately in half. Either way, to build a system that won’t fill up too quickly, that means you’re looking for a NAS system that can handle at least 50TB of storage, with some room to grow. A Synology DiskStation DS3617xs fills the role quite nicely and has plenty of room for expansion in the future if you need it.
High-End Android Set-Top Boxes
To connect all of your home projectors and televisions to your new media system, you’re going to want to use the best Android-based set-top boxes available. Right now, that title goes to the Nvidia Shield TV, and there’s no close second. It will let you make use of your new Plex server with native playback of all of your 4K content, as well as integrating every major internet streaming option you can think of, including Netflix, Amazon, and others. On top of all of that, it can even stream video games from the extensive Nvidia game library, turning every one of your screens into a high-end gaming platform.
Putting it all Together
Once you have all of your hardware in place, installing the Plex backend software is as simple as following the provided instructions or downloading a pre-configured virtual machine image to run on your server. The only thing you’ll need after that is some ethernet runs between the server and your set-top boxes, and a WiFi router that can handle the massive bandwidth the system can generate. Beyond that, you may want to take some online IT training courses so you can get further into customising your Plex features, including building your own plugins and designing custom skins to make the apps suit your home’s decor. That’s where the real fun begins – with the right skills, you can make the system do almost anything you want, and you’ll end up with a home theatre that will leave even your wealthiest friends jealous and asking you how you managed to create it.