building a media server/network system from scratch

Discussion in 'Apple TV and Home Theater' started by koksalizmir, Jan 20, 2014.

  1. koksalizmir macrumors newbie

    Jan 20, 2014
    Hi Guys,

    I am trying to build a media server that will also help to back up my other devices
    (total of 3 MacBooks, 3 iPhones, 2 iPads,).

    Right now, all my music and photos are stored in my macbook pro which is my primary computer at home.

    My plan is to be able to:

    - share my pics/music from all devices at home.
    - play/stream/listen/watch my files thru my TV.
    - back up devices
    - watch movies thru my home theater system

    My budget is flexible but my goal is to keep it under $2000 which i think should be enough to build the network and media server. I like the idea of having everything Apple products, probably will make things more simple and hassle free. Most likely i will need to purchase apple tvs, time capsule, airport express etc...

    I have the TV, surround sound system, PS4.

    i read so many threads here but since i don't have much knowledge about the network and media systems, i am completely lost and confused. so i will really appreciate your inputs. Thanks in advance.
  2. DaPhatty macrumors member

    Jul 12, 2008
    This is quite the endeavor you have chosen to embark on, one that will probably make your head spin once you start digging in to it. Fortunately, you've made one very important decision - to stay close to the Apple ecosystem. While not everyone will agree that choosing Apple is the right choice, doing so reduces the number of options that you'll need to research before taking the leap.

    My home network has evolved over many years and I've finally settled on a mostly Apple environment myself. Here's my setup.


    ASUS NT-R66U Wifi Router with 4-port Gigabit Switch
    Apple Mac Mini
    Synology 412+ NAS w/ four 4TB Hard Drives in RAID 5
    Various Apple laptops and iOS devices
    Two Apple TV 3​


    MP4Tools for converting video files into Apple TV compatible format (You need this if you have any media not purchased from Apple)
    Identify 2 for adding Metadata to video files (again, for media not purchased from Apple)
    iTunes running on the Mac Mini​

    These are the main pieces to my home network and entertainment setup. I use the Mac Mini to host iTunes content to all of my devices, primarily because it is the easiest way to make sure both my OS X and iOS devices can view my content. The bulk of my iTunes library resides on the MacMini, while some of the older movies reside on the Synology. Since iTunes manages the collection, I never have to worry about my content not playing on any of my devices.

    As for backups, Time Machine handles all of that for my OS X devices and I use the Synology as my backup target. The great thing about the Synology is you can configure a dedicated amount of storage for all of your Time Machine backups. Typically, Time Machine will consume ALL of the available space on a drive for backups. This can get quite out of hand when you are dealing with multiple OS X devices. With the Synology, you can carve out a space of whatever size, and Time Machine will work within those constraints, even if you are creating multiple backups for multiple OS X devices.

    Time Capsule and the Airport Express, IMO, are a waste of money as they do not offer much flexibility, not to mention they aren't great performers. The Airport Express, in particular, has well documented Wifi issues that could affect your streaming performance. I don't have a PS4 so I can't really comment on its feasibility as a media playback device.

    If you keep to the Apple ecosystem, and work within its limitations, you'll find that everything just works and you'll be quite happy with the results. Good luck in your endeavor!
  3. Pyromonkey83 macrumors 6502

    May 24, 2009
    I would like to +1 everything said in this post.

    Synology makes a great home server and the best part is that they are very inexpensive, yet work phenominally with pretty great support for a relatively small company.

    I have mine set up as such:

    Airport Extreme (previous generation with 802.11n)
    Synology DS413j w/ four 3TB 7200RPM Hard Drives in the Synology Hybrid Raid (essentially RAID 5)
    Late 2011 27" iMac (iTunes server)
    Various iOS devices, 15" Retina MBP, 13" MacBook Air
    Two Apple TV 3s

    The only difference from the above poster is that I keep ALL of my movies on my Synology DiskStation (since I have such a large amount, coming up on 4TB of TV Shows and Movies). I have my iMac mount the drive from my Synology for all videos (both are hardwired, however I orignially used WiFi on the iMac with no issues) and add them to my iTunes library which then takes care of all of the Home Sharing and iOS backups.

    The iMac and all OSX devices backup to the Synology as well and self manage themselves once Time Machine is set up. I should also mention that I only use an iMac over a Mac Mini because I already had the unit prior to setting all of this up. The mini should more than cover what you are looking to do and will get better power usage at the same time while saving $500+ (even more if you just use the TV as the monitor or something rather than buying a standalone).

    I will make one reccommendation, however, that I would do differently (and probably will do quite soon). If you plan on buying a Synology DiskStation, DEFINITELY buy the 412+ model instead of a "j" model. The extra oomph from the x86 Atom platform is far worth the savings of the ARM unit. My ARM struggles with basic tasks often such as web server, photo rendering, and even copy/paste functions sometimes which drives me absolutely mad. On top of this, ARM units cannot do real time video transcoding if you want to watch movies via PLEX or something outside of your network. I will absolutely be upgrading to the 412+ very shortly so I can continue working on my Drupal web server content and not have to wait 15-20 seconds for a single page to render.

    Good luck! You will not be disappointed!
  4. nebo1ss macrumors 68030

    Jun 2, 2010
    I use a Mac Mini as the Media server and Synology NAS for storage of Media.
    The NAS is also used as a destination for all the Timemachine backups.

    I also use the Cloud software provided on the NAS to keep files that I want to be able to travel with on the Macbook pro synced.
  5. koksalizmir thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jan 20, 2014
    Great write up guys, thanks for your time, all appreciated. :)

    Do you think Synology is a must? Is there a way to avoid it without effecting the efficiency of the server.?

    Reason I am asking is because I don't have much media to store right now.
    To give you numbers;

    80 gigs of music
    25 gigs of photos
    No videos since I usually rent or watch thru netflix.
  6. keeper macrumors 6502

    Apr 23, 2008
    I had a mini setup with a QNAP NAS, i always found a NAS was an extra thing to look after and keep on the network, but does offer file storage flexibility.

    After a while I got a 3tb Thunderbolt drive with partitions for media and back ups.
    Raid is not a replacement for back ups.
    I backup to another USB drive kept at home, plus a second that I offsite to work.
    3 drives for full solution with backups using Chronosync.

    Its all very fast, external drives mount on re-boots, and if your buying a mini you may as well make full use of it.

    So to throw into the mix, its not just media access that's important you need to also ensure you have a robust backup routine in place.
  7. blueroom macrumors 603


    Feb 15, 2009
    Toronto, Canada
    Just got a DS214play today, it's supposed to be able to do real time 1080p transcoding to tablets. I'll post a more detailed review soon.
  8. Alrescha macrumors 68020

    Jan 1, 2008
    I just use the mini with external drives. I backup to another mini in a different room with an external drive.

  9. koksalizmir thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jan 20, 2014
    Awaiting your news then, thanks.

    In this case, as far as i understand, synology replaces time capsule.
    Is Time Capsule that waste of money? Wouldn't it be more efficient to have all hardware same brand?
  10. DaPhatty macrumors member

    Jul 12, 2008
    Prior to my investment in the Synology NAS, I used (and still use) a Mini Stack from NewerTechnology. It's basically an external hard drive enclosure that leverages the design of the MacMini. They look quite nice stacked under/over a MacMini and even allow you to install your own drive if you'd like.

    My only issues with the Mini Stack, and these are EXTREMELY subjective and minor, are the size of the power supply and the size of the power LED. Both are larger than I'd prefer. Other than that, the Mini Stack is a very suitable choice for an external drive enclosure if you are interested in maintaining aesthetic synergy between your Apple devices and the supplemental hardware.

    IMO, yes. The Time Capsule is expensive and has a fundamental flaw - it uses a single hard drive for your backups. If it dies, you are out $300, your router, and your data. If this doesn't concern you then I'd suggest simply getting an external hard drive and point Time Machine at that. You'll have more than enough money left over to purchase a decent router, assuming you don't already have one.
  11. alainking macrumors newbie

    Aug 2, 2012
    Cape Town, South Africa
    From my experience of having a couple of these setups, the most important part is to have a really good router running that has very stable wifi - if you going to run cables everywhere then not too important. I run an Apple TV, PS3, iPhones, iPads, MacBook Air all wirelessly and simultaneously and until I bought a decent router (Airport Extreme in my case), I had all sorts of issues with disconnects etc. I am not saying that Apple is the way to go, but you need to be spending around $200 on the router to handle lots of devices simultaneously and have good stability. The Asus one mentioned early on is another good example.

    My setup is currently running on a second hand Mac Pro with 2 x 3TB drives for media. I have iTunes setup to manage the library and use TuneSpan to move items from one drive to another. If you go for a Synology device, the drives can appear as 1 and the problem goes away. The reason mine is split is I added the second and did not have space to create the raid setup.

    Previously I ran it all from my 2011 iMac with the media on a USB external 3TB drive. This could handle up to 3 devices streaming as it was only USB 2.

    I have considered a NAS but have not yet been able to justify it as the libraries I backup (just photos at 50gb) can easily be backed up to drives. I generally have a time machine backup running to an external and then have a separate copy on another drive. I am looking at uploading it to a cloud backup solution - it will be big at first but then easy to maintain each month.
  12. Pyromonkey83 macrumors 6502

    May 24, 2009
    I do not think Synology is a "must", but I highly endorse it. I will also say that my personal favorite thing about the Synology system is that it is very user friendly, and can be expanded at your will!

    If you think you will only ever need 4TB of space, you can get away with a Synology 212+ unit (same as 412+ but with only 2 drive slots instead of 4) and get yourself two 4TB drives to put in RAID 1.

    Personally, however, I would REALLY reccommend getting a 4-Bay unit. Synology offers a feature called "Synology Hybrid RAID" which will modify your RAID settings each time you get a new hard drive. Therefore, you can start off with 2 drives and keep expanding as you need it without having to wipe your system every time. This also means you can mix and match hard drive sizes without having to worry about redundancy, as the Synology unit will mix and match between RAID 5 and RAID 1 in a per-partition basis to always maximize your storage space.

    When I bought the unit roughly a year ago I started with two 2TB drives and eventually made my way up to my current four 3TB drives (the 2TB's ended up going in my iMac and in my father's new PC). Each time you put in a new hard drive you can initialize the drive in real time and it will rebuild your RAID Array to expand the space as necessary. It's truly a wonderful system and will allow you to expand just in case things get out of control in the future. =]

    In terms of Time Capsule, I would just like to echo the statements of others and say that I do not think it is worth having. The 1 drive system is NOT a good backup system, if your drive fails in the Time Capsule you lose all of your backups and all of your internal data. Having at least 2 drives gives you a good amount of redundancy, but 3 or more will really help your chances of keeping your all-important data!

    Just food for thought!
  13. koksalizmir thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jan 20, 2014
    good point, time capsule has a lot of risks coming with it.

    i have a router right now but might need to upgrade since it will handle more stuff.

    so you are happy with airport extreme. i was also thinking of getting one but heard a few negative reviews and couldn't still decide yet.

    in that case whether i use time capsule or synology, first i will need to have a mac mini as a media server .
    then i will decide on the router and back up..

    how good of a mini i need? i read in a few threads that i can get a used one from ebay that would work...
    or should i get a brand new one?
  14. coops macrumors regular

    Sep 10, 2009
    Why do you need a mac mini?
    One benefit of a Synology diskstation is that it can be your itunes server.

    Which model of Synology is best for you depends on your video collection and whether you will always have itunes /ATv compatible formats - the '+' synology versions can transcode on the fly, not sure about the newer 'j' models.
  15. koksalizmir thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jan 20, 2014
    i didn't know that.!

    But still it needs to be connected to a computer 24/7 right?
  16. coops, Jan 22, 2014
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2014

    coops macrumors regular

    Sep 10, 2009
    No - not at all.
    This is a benefit of using a good NAS drive - Synology in particular has a lot of available applications that can run on it all day/night without any other computer. Different models have varying processors built in - so do some research and decide how much power you need.

    this may help for a start

    I have a DS413+, so 4 drive bays, 2013 version, and the '+' level of processing which allows for instance running Plex and transcoding media on the fly.

    I don't use iTunes myself, but it is one of several media server options on the Synology. You can also use the Synology media server which can airplay to an ATV just fine and gets all the movie or TV series metadata for your media, and there is also Plex server available.

    Personally, due to needing better subtitle support and since life is too short to faff around converting everything to Apple's restricted format compatibility, I've ended up using a Western Digital Live box, which connects to my Synology as a Network drive - all media tagging is done by the applications on the Synology.

    The Synologies can also run as a Torrent client 24/7, or as your own web server, email server and on and on... Newsnet client.

    My Synology downloads TV shows of my choice at the quality I specify whenever the latest show is available.. it then gets the metadata for the show and puts it in the appropriate show's folder on the NAS drive in my chosen naming style... and also gets the matching subtitle in the language I want and places it in the same folder, named correctly...all this with no other input from me except to choose what shows I want to follow.

    You control all this in your web browser which displays the Synology control screen - works just fine also on my iPads using Atomic browser (set to be Safari desktop, so no mobile websites), or on Safari - although iPad safari will give you the 'mobile' Synology DSM page which is a little more basic.

    As already mentioned, the + versions do mean you can run more apps and transcode etc - and the 4 bay is a good choice if you think your library may grow (and for all the Time Machine data). I've started with 3x 3Tb drives, which is more than enough for now... and later can add a fourth, no doubt the current 4Tb maximum will already have grown to 5 or 6 by then, and the older 3Tb can be 'hot' swapped out one at a time for larger drives if I ever need even more space... (never mind the option to daisy chain another entire diskstation.... or USB3 hard drives)
  17. idunn macrumors 6502

    Jan 12, 2008

    I second the notion of having one's head spinning about all this. When in doubt, keep it simple.

    As you have little media there is no reason to get this very complicated. It will prove enough so in any event. While NAS systems are elegant, overkill for your needs, and in my understanding not as simple as other solutions to figure out and implement. If one consideration now in future-proofing your effort is what one's eventual uses will be, and how many gigs of storage required.

    If possible to have other drives serve for Time Machine backups, and for less money (as most often the case with any Apple product), Apple's Time Capsule is nevertheless designed specifically for Time Machine backups and works quite well in this regard. You'll save a lot of headaches in using one in such capacity for all your Apple devices. Keep in mind, though, that its best function is ONLY for this purpose and not for storage of overly large video libraries, etc. For that you will need a dedicated external drive. In effect a Time Capsule is backed up as the drive of each device using it serves as the second backup. If and when it comes to the point that an internal drive cannot hold all one might wish then that media belongs on an external drive (with that backed up).

    As far as serving up photos (and maybe in time videos) to all your devices, the simplest solution may lie in forking out for a Mac Mini. Unfortunately an Apple TV will not presently entirely answer in this regard, with Apple requiring some type of computer running OSX and iTunes to work. If you happen to have an old laptop laying around that could be pressed into such service as well. Although keep in mind that whether the Mini or something else that they must be of fairly recent vintage in order to run HD video (in the event).

    To the extent possible it would be preferable to keep everything hardwired, not relying on wi-fi. That is fine from an iPad, say, to a Mac Mini, but the Mini itself preferably hardwired to the router, and as well to an external drive if using one. One will experience less latency and lag this way. This suggests the Mac Mini should be near the HDTV, as using HDMI to connect to it.

    For now, and perhaps some time, you could use nothing more than a Mac Mini's internal hard drive for storage of photos and anything else one wishes to share. However that needs to be backed up (as perhaps its media not backed up elsewhere), so the necessity of some type of external drive. This could be left connected to the Mini indefinitely, but as security against fire and theft and so forth preferably kept offsite. Synology makes great NAS systems, but you may be happier checking out what OWC has to offer in reliable and fairly inexpensive external hard drives.

    Speaking of hard drives, they are evolving. One can purchase 1TB, 2TB, and even 4TB external hard drives relatively inexpensively. Good thing, as likely all soon obsolete. Before long SSD will be the standard versus spinning drives, and the only reason not to go this route now is because large capacity SSD's are still rare and expensive things. But whatever one buys now, figure on SSD external drives being the standard of tomorrow.

    There are more elegant solutions, if a problem that the more automated the harder to setup and potentially keep running. Time Machine backups could well prove to, and should be the least of your problems. Effectively setting up a server that is properly backed up will take more effort.

    But when all works well, pleasant and satisfying.
  18. DaPhatty macrumors member

    Jul 12, 2008
    Couple of things I'd like to add-

    I use a Mid-2010 Mac Mini as my iTunes "server". I didn't have much success using the Synology's iTunes Server software, nor did I have any interest in transcoding from the Synology. Since Home Sharing works so well within the Apple ecosystem, it made sense to stick with iTunes on a Mac. Despite the age of the hardware and lack of USB 3.0, this box works wonderfully for my purposes. I've converted my entire MKV video library into iTunes compatible files using this Mac Mini with no issues whatsoever. (It also helps that my MKV files didn't need to be reencoded.)

    As you can see from all of the feedback, this is indeed a massive rabbit hole that only gets bigger as one discovers all of the possibilities. While my advice has been specifically tailored to answer the OPs specific questions, it is perfectly reasonable to start small and modify your setup as you re-evaluate your needs. In fact, you may find it easier to take the plunge after dipping your toes in the shallow end of the pool. :)
  19. Pyromonkey83 macrumors 6502

    May 24, 2009
    Having your Synology be your iTunes server WILL NOT WORK with Home Sharing. Therefore, your Apple TV WILL NOT RECOGNIZE IT. The iTunes server function of the Synology is only, and I repeat ONLY for people who want to share their music and videos between Macs and PCs. iOS devices, and by extension, Apple TV 2's and 3's will not be able to do anything whatsoever with the iTunes Server on a Synology.

    In my opinion this severely limits the functionality of an Apple TV. It causes you to rely entirely on push content from the server using your iPhone as the bridge. You cannot pull content from anywhere without a full iTunes client on either a Mac or PC running home sharing.

    And for future reference, the "j" models run ARM units and cannot transcode on the fly.


    Theres absolutely no reason to get a brand new one. All it needs to do is stay on, have iTunes installed, and have a working network port. If I were you I would try to get one with a Core 2 Duo at a bare minimum, but if you can find one better for a not-too-large price difference, it could be worth it for future proof reasons! Also, read above for info on why you actually want a Mac Mini.
  20. littlepooch21 macrumors regular

    Sep 26, 2010
    i use iFlicks to "convert" my movies/videos for iTunes to use for my Apple TV. It's pretty simple to use. Converts things for you and also adds metadata.
  21. koksalizmir thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jan 20, 2014
    thanks for all the answers and time u spend on typing them...
    all appreciated a lot.
    Now I understand what to expect and how to make it happen.


    as you mentioned and suggested, i will keep it clean and simple...
    since i don't have much media to store at this point, i will use apple products for all.
  22. ElectronGuru, Jan 26, 2014
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2014

    ElectronGuru macrumors 65816

    Sep 5, 2013
    Oregon, USA
    I took a different route. I wanted a mac hooked to the tv directly, so I got a mini instead of an ATV. With that in place for playing all video content, I..

    Made it a local file server (mavericks server)
    Made it a DNS server (mavericks server)
    Made it a caching server (mavericks server)
    Made it a video server (mavericks server + nPlayer)
    Made it a music server (iTunes + Remote)
    Made it a time machine server (mavericks server)
    Made it a iOS backup server (iTunes)
    Made it an airplay node (airserver)

    The key one is the video. Since the mini can play all formats natively to the tv and nPlayer does the same for iOS, you just need Server to 'feed' the content. No conversion, no encoding, no transcoding. NPlayer will stream or store+play, on the fly with the same files.

    There is a USB drive connected to the mini. The mini backs itself up to it, and Mavericks Server includes a virtual time capsule capability that pulls in the other macs - including a configurable per client limiter to keep one from hogging all the space.
  23. koksalizmir thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jan 20, 2014
    this set up saves at least an apple tv...
    however i like the use of apple tv more than mini.
    personally, interface of apple tv is much more easy and tidy.
  24. alainking macrumors newbie

    Aug 2, 2012
    Cape Town, South Africa
    I have had great experience with my extreme, totally stable. I did pick it up second hand and just made sure it supported the full N protocol.

    I can't comment on the newer ac ones.

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