Setting up a media server, advice needed

Discussion in 'Apple TV and Home Theater' started by mgipe, Nov 22, 2015.

  1. mgipe macrumors demi-god


    Oct 6, 2009
    I've spent a lot of time searching this and other forums, but the effort has done more to confuse me than help. I would like to explain what I want to accomplish and hope to get some wise advice from the mavens on this forum.

    I have a home theatre setup that works well, and I recently replaced the ATV 3 with the new Apple TV 4 so I could run the Plex app. I also picked up a Mac Mini to use as a media server and am about to set that up. Here's what I want to accomplish:

    I would like to rip my DVDs and BluRay disks and store them on the Mini, then use Plex to serve them to the Plex app on the ATV4. I would also like to be able to move my iTunes library off my MacBook Pro and onto the Mini's disk (2TB fusion), but still access it from the MBP. It would also be handy to have the Mini as a file server (NAS) for occasional use, not for time machine backups or anything like that. The file server function would be icing on the cake however, and if it would be difficult to set up or manage, I would skip it.

    Do I need to run OS-X server on the Mini? How does this work with El-Capitan? I assume that Server is now part of OX-S instead of a separate OS as it used to be. How do I enable it and can I get away from using it at all?

    Although I could connect the Mini up to the TV, it would make more sense to run it headless.

    I think the video server part would be fairly straightforward. Install Plex server on the mini according to the directions on the Plex site. The Plex client on the ATV should be able to see it and control it. I'm not sure the best way to set up the video files for Plex, as it is still a bit unclear to me how Plex finds and organizes the files. Does it create a library file that points to the actual media files? Can it refer to the files in an iTunes library or does it need them separate? Does it convert or change them in any way?

    The iTunes library relocation is a bit less straightforward, I think. I am assuming that I can essentially move my existing library media files intact to the mini and point iTunes on the MBP to use them. Should the iTunes library file be on the MBP or the Mini? At one time in the past, I attempted to move the library and media files to a NAS but this was disastrous. Almost every time I tried to run iTunes, it said that the library was corrupt and had to be rebuilt. Of course, this never quite fixed things either. I ended up with tons of "corrupt" library files. Of course, this was quite a while ago, and things may work differently nowadays. What is the best way to make the move? What happens if I open iTunes on the MBP when I'm not on the local network and it can't find the library or media files? Can Plex grab the movies out of iTunes or does it need separate copies. If separate copies are needed, what is the best way to move them. (I wouldn't need them on iTunes anymore) How do I handle the occasional movie that I purchase from the Apple store? I can download a copy to iTunes, but can it then be moved or made available to Plex?

    Would moving the iTunes stuff to the Mini work for music, movies, and things like iPhone backups? Where are the backups stored, and are they treated as part of the iTunes media library? I would like to offload all the music, home videos, BR and DVD rips, iTunes U, iPhone/iPad backups, and other junk to the mini.

    If the mini were set up as a file server, can it use the internal hard disk or do I need to attach an external drive? Apple support docs seem to indicate that it needs an external drive, but I can't imagine why.

    What is the best way to control the headless mini? My hope is that it would run pretty much without attention, but occasionally would need some management. Can I use my MBP or iPad as a remote screen/keyboard? What software is needed to do this? I might want to put the BluRay reader on the Mini and move the ripping operating to the Mini to free up my MBP while ripping.

    What do you recommend as a backup strategy? I suppose that I could run Time Machine and back up to a NAS, although the amount of storage for that would be quite high. I don't really need full incremental backups -- a full copy every couple of months would be OK. Losing a few months worth of rips would not be the end of the world.

    I will probably rip the disks to .mkv using MakeMKV. This would seem to be the simplest way to preserve video quality and some of the features such as subtitles. I believe that Plex can recode/transcode/demux/remux or whatever is needed from a plain vanilla .mkv out of MakeMKV. The whole business of containers and codecs is extremely confusing! I expect that .mkv's may not be the most efficient use of storage, but I can live with that in order to simplify life until I understand what I'm doing a bit better.

    Any other advice? Anything that I missed or overlooked?

    It's a lot of questions and clearly I'm quite the video idiot, so I appreciate your patience and indulgence.
  2. nebo1ss macrumors 68030

    Jun 2, 2010
    That was a long post so not sure i will catch all the questions.
    You do not need to run OS X server.
    When organising your library suggest you set up a directory called Movies, one called TV shows and one called Music.
    When you are setting up the PLEX server you will get the chance to select where you media is stored and you just point the appropriate type of media to the right directory.
    TV shows must be named correctly or Plex will not find and sort it correctly. You include series and episode information after the name of the show in the following format S01E03 for series one episode 3.
    You can control the mini from a laptop by just running screen sharing.
  3. phrehdd macrumors 68040


    Oct 25, 2008
    I'll be blunt for the sake of hopefully saving you some headaches. Most people have challenges with the ATV with respect to what you want to do. You would most likely be far better off letting your Mini do it all and yes, I mean all. Skip the Plex and just use Kodi (Plex was spun off of XBMC/Kodi back when). You can attach additional external storage to your Mini and never have to sweat using MKV wrappers. Unless you are really married to the iTunes store, have your mind set on a "player," the ATV provides no real advantage (even with the new app store). For players, the NVidia Shield TV is a better unit that can play your MKV, VOBs, M2TS and other files natively. They also give you access to Google game store, Netflix, Hulu etc. AND is already 4k capable (if that is important to you today or in the near future).

    It always strikes me funny (though sad) that people turn their entire entertainment experience on its ear just to accommodate one piece of hardware (ATV) rather than exploit hardware that really does meet their needs or end result.

    Please just take this as both opinion and experience and not in any way meant to chide your efforts.
  4. maxsix Suspended


    Jun 28, 2015
    Western Hemisphere
    I have a rather vast collection of movies and videos. At the core of my personal network is a Mac Pro / Synology NAS setup.

    I'm currently using all five bays of my Synology DS 1515+ which provides me with 30TB of capacity. Plex has been performing flawlessly, I'm very satisfied.
  5. Agent2015, Nov 22, 2015
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2015

    Agent2015 macrumors 6502


    Oct 17, 2015
    Sonoran Desert
    I am running a setup very similar to what you are wanting and in my case it's working flawlessly. My Mac mini (late 2012 running El Capitan 10.11.1 (standard not server) 8 GB of memory and standard HD with an USB3 external 4 TB HD) is running the Plex server as well as the current version of iTunes. That combination provides about 95% of media needs. The Mac mini is connected via gigabit Ethernet to an Apple AirPort Extreme (802.11ac Wi-Fi version). The ATV4 on other hand is connected via the 802.11ac Wi-Fi network and to a Onkyo A/V receiver via HDMI. I use MakeMKV on a MacBook Pro (late 2011 with a SSD and 16 Gb of memory 802.11n Wi-Fi) for my ripping which has worked perfectly with my sizable collection of DVDs and Blu ray discs with the exception of just one Blu ray disc. I decided on using just the standard settings in MakeMKV being careful to select the correct titles (use IMDb for that) and confirming the selection of best audio option that your your home theatre can handle (the Blu rays typically have better quality audio options whereas as some of my vintage DVDs are lucky to have a stereo option!). As another poster already pointed out it's important to use the naming protocol listed in the Plex help section in particular when dealing with tv shows with multiple seasons and episodes. Of course you can use your Mac mini as a simple file server by setting up shares to folders (or volumes for that matter) but be careful with security settings if you're in a busy household. As far migrating an iTunes library there many docs that detail that operation and even merging libraries if you need to. Just be sure you have your iTunes logins nice and tidy. Hope this helps!
  6. eerola macrumors newbie

    Jan 9, 2009
    I hope you don't mind if I borrow this thread and ask my question here. It is related to Plex and Apple TV 4 too.

    My current home theatre setup looks like this. I would like to make it more future proof and make it so usable that absolutely anyone in the family can use it. What are your recommendations, what would be the best way to develop the architecture?


    The architecture of the current system is a result of evolution. Because of this, it is not perfect.

    As you can see in the illustration, I have a MacMini sitting in the living room next to the TV. The Mini is getting old which makes it a point of failure.

    Another thing which I don't like is that the Mini and the extensively scripted Remote Buddy + Logitech Harmony system are responsible of too many functions. I have noticed that the system's performance is not optimal in all scenarios, and the usability and user experience are not ideal if EyeTV is recording a TV show and someone opens Plex App in his room.

    I could live with this, but we are a family...

    I have thought about moving services from the living room to the basement. I have fast cabling in the house.

    I have been thinking that the design could look something like this. What do you think?


    The new system must be:

    * Easy to maintain.

    * User friendly (my family uses Mac/ iPad/ iPhone).

    * Compatible with other devices (the Macs, and iProducts)

    It would be nice, if:

    * Energy consumption would not be high.

    * Physical size would be reasonable.

    I have planned following systems, but none of them seems to be good. Do you agree?

    Plan A

    Lowering the MacMini's workload by moving Plex Server from the MacMini to the NAS. It would have been interesting to see if this works, but I decided that this is probably not a good idea.

    I started to hesitate because the NAS HW is not very powerful, I have important data on the NAS, and at the moment my NAS is realiable and stable. (The older I get the more I like "realiable and stable".) I don't want to crash it and make it unreliable by installing a "hack" that can be downloaded from a random source in the Internet.

    Plan B

    Building a Raspberry Pi Plex Server. RasPlex looks interesting and I could have moved my the home automation functions to the Pi too. I was also dreaming of replacing the current MacMini with a new Apple TV 4.

    The pros of the Raspberry would have been low energy consumption and compact size.

    I was also thinking that ATV could be more reliable and stable than a MacMini with applications and scripts (current or new).

    But then I noticed that Raspberry Pi has only 100M port. I am not sure how this will work if there are several simultaneous users. Secondly I found myself thinking that there can be compatibility issues between RasPlex releases and official Plex App releases.

    Thirdly, in this "Plan B", I would not have had a Live TV or PVR. EyeTV Netstream could have been an interesting technical solution (a bit expensive in my opinion). I could have placed in the basement and the antenna cables are anyway routed via the room in the the basement. But as far as I see, EyeTV does not support DVB-T in their new products? The Netstream is supports Satellite and Cable, but not T. The only product with DVB-T on the Elgato EyeTV web site is the Diversity, which I am using already in my current Minin.

    Plan C

    Moving the old Mini to the basement. Uninstalling anything else but Plex Server. Buying a new(er) MacMini to the living room and redesigning the RemoteBuddy scripts using all my software development process knowledge.

    When the old Mini does nothing but Plex Server, it will not be a catastrophe when it dies someday.

    But will this be easier to maintain and significantly more user friendly than the current system..?

    All ideas are welcomed!
  7. Ray2 macrumors 6502a

    Jul 8, 2014
  8. Donka macrumors 68030


    May 3, 2011
  9. SpinalTap macrumors regular


    Sep 25, 2003
    Bournville, UK
    One option, of course, is to utilise a Mac Mini to feed your ATV via iTunes.

    A cheaper, and more flexible option, is to buy a quad-core Intel-powered QNAP. It has iTunes Server on board, plus PLEX, and Kodi. Other than Synology, it is the only NAS that can directly feed content to an ATV.

    Also, it has HDMI output, enabling a direct connection to your television if required.

    My suggestion is to buy either the TS-251+ or TS-451+.
  10. nebo1ss macrumors 68030

    Jun 2, 2010
    I am also going to be blunt. Plex is a far superior solution to what you are suggesting if you have more than one device you want to access your media.

    The basic difference is that Plex is a client/server solution which allows you to run a single server that manages and tags all of your media and allows access to it from multiple clients which could be another computer a client running on the Mac mini a phone or iPad etc etc.

    XBMC/Kodi has two types of users that sing its praises. Those with a very basic simple requirement who have a single client and are able to organise the media on the same device. The other type of user is typically someone who wants to pirate media.
  11. Agent2015 macrumors 6502


    Oct 17, 2015
    Sonoran Desert
    Lots of information! Most of us have gone through a similar evolution process as well.

    A couple of questions. How old is your Mac mini and what is it's configuration as far as storage, etc. It's not clear to me but is your network all wired? Do you have WiFi anywhere on the network? What sort of network switch are you using in terms of speed, gigabit?

    My approach with anything network including home theatre is to keep it simple. I've described my setup somewhat in an earlier post. In addition to that I am also using a Onkyo A/V receiver, Sony DVD/Blu ray player, Samsung TV with the kludgy Smart Hub that I use only for Amazon Prime and finally a Logitech Harmony One remote that does a great job of tying it all together.
  12. phrehdd macrumors 68040


    Oct 25, 2008
    Pirate media? Hmm that sure came out of no where. Perhaps you may want to edit that comment out of your post since it really has no place in this discussion. Since Plex other than being a distributed system that got its start from the XBMC/Kodi software, any pirating that you refer to may be with or without Kodi OR Plex. - Truly a shameful comment on your part.

    I am very well aware of Plex and what it can do. In fact, I had early on in their forums recommend something similar to what they are doing now as a "next step" of sorts. As for Kodi, it represents somewhat as you indicated a different audience. I often sing the praises of both offerings but prefer Kodi as it does exactly what I need and no more. I don't need a distributed set up of any sorts that others might find appealing.
  13. Agent2015 macrumors 6502


    Oct 17, 2015
    Sonoran Desert
    There are many of us that in fact do need or want a "distributed set up" simply as a way to tame the beast that is the vast array of media many of us own. Plex is the perfect solution--now an option with the ATV4--for those us having substantially large collections of DVD/Blu ray disc collecting dust on our shelves. The OP appears to be one of those wanting to consolidate his/her digital media library in conjunction with the new ATV4 as well as incorporating other features that would be well served by running the Plex server app on his/her Mac mini. So just allow the possibility that others have different needs from the same time I am glad you have found your ideal solution using Kodi. As far as the piracy topic goes, it falls on each own's conscience. There are many, many tools available for those inclined. Thankfully for those of us wanting to legitimately access their existing digital media that lives on DVD or Blu ray, Plex is great tool. I for one will be buying less and less media on DVD or Blu ray going forward simply because the age of the digital stream is here to stay.
  14. eerola macrumors newbie

    Jan 9, 2009
    It is a mid-2007 Core 2 Duo with 4GB RAM and 500GB local HDD (and external 1TB HDD).

    One of the reasons why I have started to think that it could be a good time to make changes to the system is that I can't (officially) update the mid-2007 to the newest OS X. And because of this, AirPlay (I am using AirServer) does not work anymore with the newest iOS devices.
    I have WiFi access points in my network (in the picture WLAN AP1 and WLAN AP2), but the relevant connections between the Plex Server and NAS (blue lines in the picture) are gigabit-compatible cables and the switch and Ethernet interfaces are gigabit too.
    I see that you have your Mac Mini running the Plex Server and ATV4 running the Plex Client? I like this setup because it looks nice and simple.

    Copying this setup would probably bring me pretty close to my "Plan C". I could move the Mac Mini to the basement and buy an ATV4 and plug it to my Yamaha A/V receiver (in the picture Home Theatre). But I think I would lose the PVR... I would need a PVR that works with DVB-T.

    Do you have any PVR in your system? Or do you have a PVR in your Samsung TV? If you use the TV's recorder, can you move the export the shows that you have recorded from the TV to your Plex Server?
  15. eerola macrumors newbie

    Jan 9, 2009
    I am still trying to figure out, what would be the best design. I am starting to lean towards making the Mini just a Plex Server and getting an Apple TV 4. But this does not give me live TV or the ability to record TV shows.

    I am currently using EyeTV Diversity, but that is DVB-T only (digital TV standard here in Europe, not HD, will end in 2017). I would like the new system to be HD ready.

    Elgato EyeTV Netstream looked interesting but it does not support DVB-T2 (HD digital TV standard here in Europe).

    Hauppauge Broadway has "Triple HD support (DVB-T, DVB-T2, DVB-C TV formats for Europe)", which makes it interesting too.

    But if my primary UI is Apple TV, I guess these live TV streamers/ network recorders will not work with the ATV4? I guess that would require an Apple TV app?

    Any thoughts, what would be the best way to get live TV and PVR functionality?
  16. d21mike macrumors 68040


    Jul 11, 2007
    Torrance, CA
    My setup in the US.
    2x HDHomeRun Prime = 6 network turners
    Channels App on ATV 4 on 8 TV's - Live TV with Pause/REW/FF
    HDHomeRun DVR (beta) running on WD MyCloud NAS
    MrMC App (Amber Skin) to playback DVR recordings on ATV 4
    Hulu with no commercials replaces need for DVR on most things
    CBS ALL Access with limited commercials to reduce DVR requirement
    I use DVR less and less
    Also have Netflix, HBO Now, Showtime, and more
    I returned all of my STB/DVR's to Verizon and only use AppleTV 4
  17. eerola macrumors newbie

    Jan 9, 2009
    HDHomeRun looks interesting. They have a DVB-T2 product too. Based on your experiences, is it easy to use (=family members) and reliable, or does it crash and freeze often? I think the EyeTV freezes too often.
  18. d21mike macrumors 68040


    Jul 11, 2007
    Torrance, CA
    Works very well. My wife uses it all the time. I am on the Beta which has the New PAUSE/FF/REW (2gb buffer) which you could sign up for if interested (you get a separate Channels Beta App so not to mess up others using the distribution Channels App). But I would expect the latest beta to go live in 2-3 weeks (guessing). My son also just added it to his house. Only problem is with channels flagged as DRM, you are not able to watch them. No idea when DRM will be supported. Also, I have ZERO experience of what can be done outside of the USA. Lastly, some people may miss the Channel Guild. You only see what is on now and what is up next. Not what is on tonight. That has not been a problem for my wife and I. There are other Apps (on iPad or iPhone) we could use to lookup what it on later in the week but we do not do that.

    Channels Web Site. You could email them.
  19. eerola macrumors newbie

    Jan 9, 2009
    Thanks! I will need to take a closer look at the HDHomeRun. This EU version could work. Is it true that HDHomeRun has the Pause/FF/Rew but no actual recording? Their web says "DVR and portable device software is not provided by SiliconDust". The HDHomerRun DVR is not commercially available yet and Europe is "with plans to support more of Europe over time". If I would get a HDHomeRun, I guess I would need to set up another box to take care of the recording.:(
  20. d21mike macrumors 68040


    Jul 11, 2007
    Torrance, CA
    Right. The HDHomeRun DVR started as a Kickstarter Program. It is currently months behind schedule. I am using it and works "just ok". Still a beta for sure. Not sure I have a problem with the extra box because I can share between all of my TV's. Like a Whole Home DVR Server. I am using a WD MyCloud NAS Device to run the DVR Server. It "grabs" a tuner from my available turners whenever it needs to record something. So you have to have enough turners to support the number of concurrent records and live tv from other devices. Also, scheduling recordings is limited. I use KODI with the HDHomeRun Plugin on my Mac Mini to manage recordings and use MrMC (port of KODI with different name) on my ATV's for playback. They have been working on the Windows 10 Universal App for DVR Server and for Playback recently. I think they are close. They say they will have an Android and Mac (native) App at the end of this month. The Channels App people tell me they are in Alpha state for playback integration but said waiting on more API's from SiliconDust. They are not happy with the current status because of the limitations. To be honest I think we are still a couple of months away from something nice (at least).

    However, not sure I told you but I do much much less recordings since Hulu (with no commercials) became available. So nice to not have to FF though commercials. I also use CBS All Access but it has limited commercials. Still looking for more options for no commercial playback. I feel the DVR should be made obsolete.

    The wife and I (had to make sure she was ok) are happy with the current setup. She really likes having only 1 UI and 1 Remote. And it works just as solid and fast as our cable boxes (that was key). She was not doing a lot of recording any way and with the new options she is happy. One selling point was the Master Bath. We have a TV that used to use a OTA Antenna to pick a couple channels. Now with the Apple TV (using WiFi) she has everything she has on every other TV in the house. She spends a bit of time in there. Before only some TV's had a STB or DVR now every TV including our guest rooms have the same setup with ATV's (grown children come into town from time to time). My cost for 2 DVR's and 2 STB's was $67 per month + tax. Now I have 2 Cable Cards for $10 a month (already had 1). I also already had ATV's for things like Netflix. I made this change over time but the Channels App setup is what won the Wife over.

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