Build a media center

KODI and Other Media software

Posted By Dell

I built a PLEX server about six months back. I went with PLEX as I wanted to install a small antenna and a TV card and be able to stream live video on the server as well as other media.

I learned a lot over that six months. There are several blog entries covering the computer builds and the antenna builds. I finally got everything I wanted working and pretty cheaply.

For computer parts I go to eBay. Do a little homework first, know what you want out of the build and then head over to your favorite buying site and get the machine or parts to build what you need.

The machine I use for a personal machine is an old DELL T7400 server type workstation board. I went with a 490 motherboard on the first build, same basic EATX board (Extended ATX), and then to a T5400 motherboard. That board was much better, but I wanted more SATA and SCSI connections, and the T7400 MB has more. Boring talk? Maybe, but I built the machine for a few hundred bucks total, far less than the three grand I was looking at to build a new machine that was comparable.

By comparable I mean the same features. The DELL P490, T5400 and T7400 all have dual processor sockets and can handle the Intel XEON processors up to 4 cores per socket, so eight cores total. The P490 can handle 16 gig of memory, the two other boards can handle up to 32 gig of memory. Both of the T boards have dual PCIE slots and can handle SLI or run up to six monitors from dual cards.

The machine above is mine, 32 gig of ECC ram, dual 3.4 ghz quad core XEON processors, and dual AMD video cards, 1 gig each, SLI capable, but run separately and running six 24 inch (0.61 m) monitors and the latest Windows 10 and running 3 terabytes of drives, two in a raid array as a backup. I edit books, build video games, write books, record music, edit and build video: No problem.

The one I ended up building as a media server is exactly the same, except it runs a base video card and 10 terabytes of drives, six SATA attached SCSI, 4 SATA and connections for two more drives, and two additional slots on the board, one runs the C drive, a fast SSD (Solid State Drive) I picked up on eBay that makes everything run faster on the software side of the system, and the other a backup. I arrived at all the SCSI drives by adding in a six SATA expansion card. I spent a whole 150.00 or so because I sat down, planned it out and then went to eBay and got the parts.

I use eBay because if the part I ordered is not as advertised, doesn’t work or arrives damaged I will get my money back no questions asked. I have been dealing with sellers in Korea, China, Japan, Great Britain, Australia and here in the US for several years, at one time I shipped and received shipping of a hundred or so packages a week. I had problems, of course, but never once did I have to eat the price of a part, and almost every seller I ever dealt with immediately paid me back or shipped a replacement.

I say all of that to illustrate that you can build a machine for yourself that will last and do everything you need it to do very cheaply, it just takes time and some careful buying.

Okay, so I built the server machine with a DELL T7400 Motherboard. It has a DELL 1000 watt Power Supply, Dual XEON processors, a used P490 case (The DELL P490, T5400 and T7400 all have the same basic case. All three types of cases will fit the EATX motherboard.) You can simply buy a used T7400 or T5400 machine complete for about 150.00 on eBay, or you can get the parts for less and do it yourself. Sometimes you’ll come across machine that has all you want dirt cheap. The machine I used for the server was one of those, 80.00 bucks with dual quad cores and 32 gig. All I had to add were the drives and an old video card I had here.

PLEX is a free media server you can download and install on Win XP and up, or on Linux (I have used it on UBUNTU) or Apple. KODI is from the same root as PLEX with some important differences. I’ll get into those two for now, but there are many others you can choose from.

First PLEX: PLEX is very stable, and it is free or paid. The free version is fine for most people. I went ahead and got a PLEX pass for 5 bucks a month because I share my Media Server with others, and so I want that feature, and I wanted the Live TV streaming feature. I used it for a few months without the upgrade, got used to it and how it worked and even shared it with family. When I bumped it up, I added an old TV card. I didn’t want to spend much money on something I would have to learn and didn’t know whether it would work.

eBay got me a cheap older TV card for 11 bucks, I threw it in along with a small TV antenna that cost all of seven bucks. Yes, cheap, but I kicked it up, set up the card in PLEX and scanned the channels. I live in a village about 10 miles (ca. 16 km) away from the nearest city, but I managed to get 5 channels. I then kicked up my TV and added the PLEX APP (Free in Roku, or Amazon Firestick) It picked up my server, I had to go to the Roku site and activate it with a code so the app would work, and voilà, it worked. Not only did I have my collection of TV shows and Movies, but I had 5 live TV channels.

The next bump was a better TV card, also on eBay, WINTV 950 for about 25 bucks, and a better antenna I built from plans online. Between those upgrades I am up to 14 channels, every major network and PBS and two Canadian stations as well. It works well and I am happy with it. As I said, PLEX is free

You will need an account, but the account is also free. As I said you can get the PLEX pass and then add a TV card or USB TV card to your machine to add Live TV for 5 bucks a month, but if you simply want to stream your media, pictures, movies, TV shows you have recorded, music you can use the free version and watch it on your computer, ROKU or Firestick.

PLEX TV Adds the Live TV, the ability to record your programs, set schedules and allow other users to access your libraries online or on their devices, and record live video, or schedule recordings.

KODI: KODI is not serviced by an app on ROKU or Firestick. However, if you become familiar with KODI it can replace your ROKU/Firestick. KODI has gotten a bad rap because with the software and some illegal add-ons you can watch copyrighted material that others have hacked and then made available on websites. You don’t need to go that route at all, because KODI has surpassed that bad rap, as far as I am concerned and now offers a FREE app that you can install on a used computer, port the video out into your HD TV and you are set. KODI can run hundreds of apps that users have developed that are perfectly legal to use. YouTube, Crackle much more.

KODI will also categorize all of your media, Music, Movies, TV, pictures and in the case of many plugins, allow you to access your accounts through plugins: For instance, YouTube with your own account so that you can have all your subscriptions available, or by signing in with a cable provider you can reach the History channel and many others like that. There really is a great deal of content.

You can also download a Backend (A piece of software that can then interface with a front end plug-in) and use that to watch Live TV with your TV card. I was able to take that same WINTV 950 USB TV card and use it in KODI. It took a little reading, but I downloaded the NEXTPRV backend, set up my card, booted KODI, added the NEXTPVR frontend plugin and loaded my Live TV in Kodi. So, at that point I have Live TV, and stored/playable movies, TV, Music, Music videos, several subscriptions on the web, seriously, more than enough content to keep me busy.

KODI also has a PLEX plugin, so if you have PLEX, already have it set up, simply install the PLEX Plug-in and there you have it. Either way you have a full Media Center, and with the addition of a DLNA server (Software you can set up on the same machine) you can share all your content with ROKU or Firestick, so if you have another TV elsewhere in the house, that TV can access your content through that server, or the Windows Media Server.

I hope you found this helpful, whatever you decide to do there are many choices, and a lot of good software that is FREE or Open Source, so putting together your own Media Center/Server is not that difficult, Dell


Author: Dello

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