Streaming dreams – Part 2

This is a continuation of Streaming dreams – Part 1. I highly recommend visiting the earlier article. In case you are as lazy as me, read on. This post has lots of time jumps and refers few points from earlier post.

We’ve just accomplished a time-jump of 2009. I’ve a laptop, I’ve external hard drive, I’ve internet – life’s good. The problem – I’ve huge collection of music and I can’t always carry it with me & plugging in the external hard drive defeats the purpose & convenience of a laptop. The laptop became a replacement desktop.

I could solve one problem at a time. Thanks to a friend’s recommendation, I got 16GB Cowon D2+. The MP3 player or rather Personal Media Player was awesome. It had expandable storage of 16 GB, a small touch screen. 32GB of songs on the go, with radio was pretty slick. In meantime, I also had a decent mobile phone as well but somehow I never liked the idea of having songs on mobile – it drains the battery. Chennai pricing helped the movie buff in me as the theatres were still within my grasp.

Rekindling the fire

Time-jump. Back to base – Delhi. Prices of theatres here were *oh my god* expensive. Can’t afford to go to theatre all the time unless I find alternative employment sources. It was time to dust my old collection. I can easily hook the laptop, TV, external hard drive and enjoy movies. There were 2 major problems:

  • UI – I don’t want everyone to access any other location on computer or access any other folder. I could create another user but UI was definitely not the convenient one.
  • TV – This is the challenging part. I couldn’t convince for another TV or rather no one wanted the TV to be hijacked for just one purpose.

Wait continues…

In some of my previous experiments, I had used XBox Media Center (XBMC) which is now renamed to Kodi. This was just enough to solve only one problem but presented with another. Maybe I was naive then (or still), I had to keep the external drive connected. This meant a dedicated system & I wasn’t ready to part from my device.

I worked out, I could use my old desktop for the purpose but needed a second screen. It was time to work on the server part. I made the system work like a static file server & used my laptop as second screen but that was not the point, it had to be a media server. Most importantly I needed a wi-fi – LAN too restricting.

Making headway

The help came from unsuspecting sources, iTunes. The same iTunes that wasted my countless nights in college, forced me to redo ID3 tags so that songs align properly in folder. Apple came up with surprise called iTunes Match. This would match the music in my library & provide me on cloud. Those songs that were not matched were uploaded for streaming. Apple being Apple, it was restrictive. I never carried music in my phone & after this never did. I’ve been using streaming for music since then, services have improved over time but this was a good start for me.

Before I could put good use, the trusty old desktop was retired. As it seems, I identified the perfect router. The router would be connected to ADSL modem for internet & present wi-fi but also would connect external drive to it though USB which could be used as a network drive. This was my first Network Attached Storage (NAS). Probably limited bandwidth or old USB 2.0 standards, the read write speed was slow at least when compared to directly connected. Copying to & from the drive was painfully slow. Launching songs/movies took a tad bit longer. It was never a perfect solution & now the USB in the router is helpful in remote printing.

Failed ideas

I explored options of a Home Theatre PC – a full fledged system. All solution come with their own set of problems. I wasn’t sure if I should dedicate an average system to it or build a powerhouse which I can use it differently, if I want. Whatever option I chose was neither portable not practical. The closest came Apple Mac Mini – and you probably know I didn’t go for it because of one reason.

Raspberry Pi. Powerhouse in pocket. It was small, powerful & gave me what I wanted. It was a full fledged system & all I needed was to run a server. The server of choice was Plex. I don’t think Plex Media Server was directly usable on it & needed separate build. It started as media server study but went into direction of security & dashcam. Both of which took considerable time & were not useful for me at that point of time. Eventually, the idea was dropped.

This is it

I satisfied myself with the services available online like Flickr, Google Photos (for photos), Apple Music, Spotify & Google Music (for music), Apple Store & Google Play Store (for movies). My old drive with all my collection was sitting somewhere gathering dust. The data has been moved over from powered drive to non-powered, from USB 2.0 to newer USB 3.0. I needed a personal private cloud.

Then came Google Chromecast & Amazon Firestick. Plex was one of the softwares I installed on it. Fired up my laptop, connected my external drive, launched the Plex Media Server & this is it. I watch my movies, photos & home videos on big screen. My personal cloud is up & running (when I want to 🙂 ). The only thing that changed since the idea began was wireless internet. I always looked for a readymade solution & probably the reason it took me a long time to get here.

What kept you waiting? Go out there & just do it (not referring to Nike – not even pointing to competing brands either).

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