The forth and final planned Media Server post is not about the server itself but rather about the actual viewing of content stored on the server. With the server protecting my data, it was time to start enjoying the time and money spent thus far.
Anyone reading this far into a series of posts regarding a custom built media server should need no introduction to XBMC. That being said, XBMC is not the only method of viewing content. Plex is a relatively new media solution that is responsible for any viewing not taking place at my main entertainment center. Google will tell you anything you want to know about both pieces of software but what follows is a little insight into their use in this setup.
Quite possibly the best media center experience for digital content is XBMC. With more options, skins, plugins, and features than I know what to do with, XBMC has allowed me to stream all of the server content with full HD video/audio without breaking a sweat. Though things have since changed, XBMC was originally installed on a Lenovo Q190 via OpenELEC and mounted behind my TV cabinet. Purchasing and connecting an MCE remote means watching movies is easier than ever.
The biggest playback problem I experience is actually related to my AV receiver and the fact that it sometimes changes listening modes which must be manually switched back before starting a movie. Otherwise, XBMC is a powerhouse and is made even more enjoyable when coupled with a beautiful skin like Aeon Nox.
Though XBMC on my main media entertainment center works great, viewing the same content away from home, on my phone, or even in my bedroom proved challenging. This is where Plex saves the day. Plex is built on a server/client architecture that separates the heavy lifting from the actual media playback. The server component of Plex reads digital content, downloads metadata about movies and TV shows, and most importantly, transcodes content for viewing on other devices. The client component of Plex displays the downloaded metadata and actually plays the transcoded video. The beauty of Plex is that it is available as an Android and Apple app so content can be viewed anywhere you have Internet access. Furthermore, Plex is available on the Raspberry Pi via RasPlex so the little credit card sized computer sitting behind my bedroom TV has access to all of my content.
Though Plex is only a few years old, it has all the features one would expect from a media center. Movies and TV shows can be viewed and filtered by genre, duration, rating, year, and plenty more. One great feature is that Plex remembers were you are so you can continue where you left off. Starting a movie on my computer and picking up where I left off on my phone is as easy as opening the Plex app on my phone and clicking "play." Furthering that idea, Plex remembers when I finish a specific TV show episode and adds the next episode to my "On Deck" list so I don't need to hunt through episodes to pick up where I left off. Overall, Plex is a great server/client setup that allows viewing of content when not sitting in front of my main entertainment center. Though I only use a subset of features at the moment, I am planning a future post to cover all of the various capabilities of Plex.
Of course, actual media playback alone isn't the whole story. There are a few little extras that make playback of movies and TV shows more enjoyable.
Trakt.tv is a scrobbling service that keeps the "watched" status of movies and TV shows in sync between XBMC and Plex. Though I only use the scrobbling feature, there are many other settings and features for tweaking. Sure, you can view lists of content (not content itself) on the trakt website, but for me the most important feature is the ability to watch a movie in XBMC and have Plex be aware that the movie has been watched and to update its status as such.
What's a movie experience without movie memorabilia? Enjoying movies is not just something I do on a Saturday night, it's a hobby. Like most hobbies, interest tends to grow beyond original intent. In typical fashion, what started with a single V for Vendetta movie poster and a cheap frame has grown to nearly a dozen movie studio original posters in professional frames. One thing I quickly learned was that although original posters can be purchased all over the Internet, I needed a better way to display them. Make no mistake about it, you get what you pay for and the cheap plastic frames from big-box stores were ruining my posters and they deserved better.
Tons of research revealed Spotlight Displays. Though I was originally hesitant to spend nearly $90 on a frame, I was tired of wasting money on inexpensive garbage. Almost ready to order, I exchanged a few emails with Spotlight Displays founder Robert Perry. His responsiveness, courteousness, and knowledge about his product (and competitors' products) assured me I was picking the right frames. I quickly received my 4 front-loading, wide-bordered frames and was absolutely blown away by the quality of not only the frames but also the packaging they came in. The frames went together easily and after seeing them on display it was clear why Spotlight Displays' frames are used by enthusiasts and movie studios alike.
In addition to the frames I purchased, Spotlight Displays can custom cut a frame in any size in a thin or wide border in a number of possible colors. They all include matte and glossy acid-free overlays and come with free shipping on orders above $100. Also, Facebook and Pinterest have a ton of pictures showing off these great frames. Robert even setup a discount for JustinVoelker.com readers to save 10%. Simply enter coupon code "justinvoelker" during checkout to receive the discount. Please note that I was not compensated to write this review of Spotlight Displays. I really am just that excited about how well my posters and their frames complete the entire movie viewing experience that all started with building a media server.
Though this forth post concludes the originally planned media server posts, technology projects tend to change over time and this media server is no different. Though these four posts are just now being published, the media server has been in use for 9 months. While most of the information is still pertinent, an upcoming post will detail a few of the changes made that have elevated the media server and movie viewing experience to its highest level yet.