Posts for Tag: drobo

Media storage options

A friend of mine recently was shopping for a media storage system to manage his library of movies, music, pictures, etc.  I directed him to a previous post I did re: my home media server.  Seeing as how it's almost a year old, I decided to do an update with new equipment and specs.

The first component I updated was with the media player itself, the recently released Mac Mini.  Great elegantly designed device.  Easier to upgrade the RAM on though I went from 4GB down to 2GB on this new model and haven't seen any drop off in performance.  When RAM prices are a little more affordable, I'll probably spring for the 4GB.  I'm running MakeMKV to do the video conversion/ripping and Plex to manage my media.  MakeMKV is one of the simplest bluray/dvd ripping software I've used to date and Plex handles all video files like a champ.  Boxee is a good alternative to Plex but I just don't like the interface.  I still use the same external USB bluray drive I've had before.  Saw no reason to upgrade it but may do so when faster drives become a little cheaper.

The other major component is the Drobo storage system.  Since the Mac Mini currently has a 320GB drive, you won't be able to store much there.  I have the original Drobo 4-Bay system but they've since released a very nice upgrade in the Drobo FS.  The new FS has 5 bays and integrated gigabit ethernet.  This is perfect for if you want to stash your Drobo somewhere hidden and then just pipe the media to multiple locations via a gigabit router.

Other components are the Logitech diNovo Mini (essential if you don't want to deal with a big keyboard and mouse) and the Apple Remote.  Not super essential but extremely useful for an uncluttered coffee table.

It's definitely not a plug and play type of solution but with a little bit of do-it-yourself elbow grease, you'll have a home media manager that will grow with you for the foreseeable future.  If you have any questions, please feel free to hit me up for advice.

Hard drive failures and the importance of a good warranty

Recently, I experienced a hard drive failure on my home media server. Luckily, it was in my Drobo and my data is redundantly stored to protect against a single hard drive failure (I have four drives in the Drobo). I was dreading having to buy another 1TB hard drive to replace this one - prices range from $80-$100 now. On a lark, I went to the Seagate website and punched in my drive's serial number and lo and behold, it has a warranty through 2013. A few minutes later, I'm printing out an RMA form and shipping the drive off to Seagate. Two days later, I get an email that a fresh replacement drive is on its way back to me. Total time from sending my dead drive to receiving a new one... six business days! Not bad at all. Much kudos to Seagate for their excellent warranty and exchange process. I know what brand I'll be buying when I upgrade to 2TB hard drives.

It's a cautionary tale but one most people never really heed. You never realize how important your data is until you lose it. I think most people have an unhealthy sense of security as it relates to their hard drives. People - these things crash more often than you think. Even people who back-up to an external hard drive need to realize that these are still hard drives. They can fail just like the ones in your desktop or laptop. If you can afford it, get a RAID type setup like the Drobo. If you can't, consider paying for Mozy's unlimited backup service. It's only $5 a month or even cheaper if you buy a whole year or two years up front. For the price of one latte every month, you could have complete peace of mind as it relates to your precious data.

Part 3 of the Mac Mini home theatre - Blu-ray Ripping

So the next step of my Mac Mini home theatre project had to do with ripping my Blu-ray library to computer files to play back on the Mac Mini. Since Plex, my media center software of choice, handles .mkv files very well and the playback quality is excellent, I chose to rip into that format. Since the Mac does not officially support Blu-ray (you can't watch Blu-ray discs and no official drives are supported), it was not going to be an easy off the shelf solution. The first problem was getting a drive. I heard some good things about the Panasonic UJ-120, a notebook drive that was fitted with a USB external enclosure. Below are pics of the drive and how it sizes up next to my Drobo and Mac Mini.

Next, I had to figure out the software side of the equation. Luckily, an early beta software exists to extract Blu-ray streams and encode them into a .mkv file. It's still not perfect but the only one-step solution for the Mac, I could find. So here are some screen shots of my process. First, I chose two movies, one foreign and one in English, to figure out the subtitling.

Below is a screenshot of the DVD on my desktop, the disc contents, and the file structure showing the .m2ts Blu-ray files.

Next, I fire up MakeMKV which is pretty sparse. Only one big button at the bottom to examine the contents of the Blu-ray disc. After scanning the disc, all the available video streams are presented. I chose the biggest file, which I assumed was the actual movie itself. Then I click the "Make MKV" button and the process begins. Average read speed is about 1.6x so a 2 hour movie should be done in about 90 minutes or so.

So a few hours later, voila! Both movies have been encoded and playback in Plex is perfect. As far as quality goes, I can't tell a real difference from the other movies I downloaded (for testing purposes only!). However, I haven't watched both movies in full yet to see if there was any pixelation or sound pops. What I did notice was the downloaded videos came in about 8gb-12gb whereas these movies are pretty hefty at 22gb+. Not sure if that means my direct rips are better quality but so far so good. MakeMKV is not without flaws though. There's a list of movies that it cannot rip properly. Plus subtitling is a problem. House of Flying Daggers, which is in Mandarin, has no accompanying subtitles. I'll have to figure something out for that. Otherwise, I'm pretty happy. Now, I've got a bunch of discs to back up...

The great Mac Mini home theatre experiment

Over the past couple of weeks, the components for my ultimate Mac Mini home theatre have slowly arrived. The main component - the Mac Mini - came first. It's the latest model (released March 2009) with the following specs:
2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
4GB of RAM
120GB Hard Drive
NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics processor
Got a great deal on eBay. About $600 for a barely used one plus the guy threw in a Western Digital 320GB external hard drive he used for Time Machine back ups. This exact same configuration through the Apple Store would have been $749 plus tax and that's without the external hard drive.
Since storage was going to be an issue, I also picked up a brand new Drobo for $335 (retails for $429). I had a spare 1TB hard drive lying around so I popped that in. I'll be adding more drives over the next few months - probably the eco-friendly Western Digital Caviar Green SATA drives. They come in 2TB, 1.5TB, and 1TB models and I'll pick whichever one I can get the best deal on. Great thing about the Drobo is that the drives don't have to all be the same size or model.
I first hooked up the Mac Mini to my 42" Panasonic Plasma (TH-C42FD18) via a Mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapter. Then connected the audio via a 3.5mm to RCA cable (will do TOSLink when I have a better sound system). Flipped over to the second HDMI input on my TV and BAM! Got the Mac OS desktop. I'll do another post later on video quality, codecs, and the pros/cons of Front Row.