Fun Stuff Hardware

Setting up a Digital Media System

For many years I’ve had my own home file server tucked away in my basement serving all my home file needs. It is a Linux box with 2 Terabytes of storage that acts as:

  • a NFS file server for other UNIX systems
  • a Samba file server for Windows systems
  • a LDAP server for keeping a single location of contacts
  • an Apache web server for an internal website of links and other information (photos, etc)
  • a Slimserver daemon that provides support to my Squeezebox
  • a MediaTomb server that provides support to my DLINK DSM-520
  • an internal Domain Name Server (DNS)

and more!

I use this setup to hold all my digital photos, audio (mp3) files, and I’m now in the process of scanning in my DVD library. So let me take a moment to say “Just say NO to piracy!”

I personally have found it to be cost effective to buy used CDs or DVDs and scan them in to get good quality recordings, and all my media stays only on my local server that is inaccessible from the Internet. Aside from the legal issues, who wants to clog up their Internet connection with unnecessary traffic for others?

I’ll pass along some things I found while building my setup. I never went the iTunes route because I’ve always used mp3 players that were smaller and cheaper than the iPod. Plus, I want to use a generic format like mp3 and not be limited by what I can play it on. With mp3 I can play all my music on my computer, laptop, stereo (through Slimdevices Squeezebox)  or even my DSM-520. It is simple enough to get your CDs into mp3 files so I won’t go into that.

Inexpensive and niceNext, the video portion. I chose the DSM-520 because I wanted a cheap box that had no moving parts (i.e., no hard drive) that would talk nicely to my fileserver. Well, it turns out that it doesn’t just look for a fileserver using something like Samba — it requires a UPnP type server to be running. DLINK gives you one, but it is for Windows, and you can’t really have a Windows box on all the time to that purpose. At least, not reliably 🙂 Seriously, I have linux boxes that have been up for 450 days with no problems. I can’t let a Windows box go for 3 weeks before all hell breaks loose.

So, I looked around for some UPnP server software I could use and chose MediaTomb which I could easily add using Yum. It is simple enough to run, and lets me add video/photos/music that puts references of those files into a MediaTomb database.

Now you need to scan your DVDs into your library! There are various free packages (like handbrake) which I looked at, but in the end I settled on CloneDVDMobile which is by SlySoft, a great little company that I’ve used for their AnyDVD software which allows me to watch my DVDs on my PC (believe it or not, some DVDs refuse to play nice on a PC).

When you use this software, you are given a whole slew of formats to choose from. I used the generic DivX one that produces AVI files. Most DVDs will offer me the 852×480 resolution, and I max out the quality which goes to 25-29 usually. I use 2-pass deinterlacing and prefer saving it as one big file.

The AVI files it produces look great on my win media player, and I had some trouble figuring out how to make it look nice on my DSM-520, and after much hair pulling it turned out that I just had to alter the aspect ratio in the DSM-520’s settings screen to 16:9 and then it was perfect!

So now I can kick back on my couch and flip through all my DVD titles and watch anything I want with a touch of a button!

Of course now my wife says, “There’s nothing here to watch! It’s all The Matrix and James Bond!”

So now I need to scan in a bunch of Julia Roberts movies.