Cutting the Cord: Part 1 – Backend

In the introduction of Cutting the Cord, I described a little of the background and goals of our cord-cutting solution. Each piece of that relies on our local area network and all of our digital media is stored on one computer. This post details some of those solutions. I try not to go into too much detail, but I’d be glad to answer questions in the comments.

Gigabit Ethernet Network (LAN)

We’re lucky enough to live in a fairly new house (it’s less than 10 years old) that has Cat-5e cabling to many rooms in the house. Most of this cabling was originally used for telephone jacks, but it was easy to change those to RJ45 connections that can more easily support data. We lost a few telephone jacks, but there are still plenty around the house, and we only use one of those jacks anyway since we have cordless phones that all run off the same base station. Most of this would work OK with an 802.11n wireless router setup, but it’s much more reliable having it all wired.

Desktop File Server

We have a desktop computer in our upstairs loft that is plenty powerful enough to stream videos across the network. On that computer, we ripped most of our DVD collection with MakeMKV, which takes the disc and puts each disc title (each movie or TV episode is one title, so there can be multiple titles per disc). Those files (both movies and TV episodes) are then organized for use with XBMC or Plex. We don’t keep the bonus content from the DVDs on the file server, but that’s just a personal preference. If we wanted an exact copy of the disc, that could work with XBMC, too. This takes a fair amount of storage, but we haven’t come very close to filling our two 2 TB hard drives on this computer.

Plex Media Server

Plex Media Server is piece of software that runs on our desktop computer. It’s available for Mac, Windows, and Linux, and it makes it so that we can watch movies from our file server easily from our Roku box. If we had a Mac, an iOS device (iPhone, iPod Touch, Apple TV 2) or an Android device, Plex would let us watch from there, too. Plex can help you watch online sources, too, but we haven’t used it for that yet.

Network TV Tuner

Since we have a bunch of computers that might want to watch TV, we use a network TV tuner. Basically, this means that we can connect it to a source (our antenna) and watch TV from any of the computers on our network. We use the HDHomeRun, which has two tuners built-in, meaning that two channels can be watched (and/or recorded) anywhere in our home at once. If we wanted to increase that to four, it would be just as easy as buying a new HDHomeRun.

Future Plans

If something were to happen to a hard drive on our computer, we would have to re-rip those DVDs again. Since that takes quite a while, I’d like to set something up that has some redundancy. Right now it’s looking like that will be an unRAID server. I have quite a few old computer parts that I can use to build a new computer, and the unRAID server has protection against one drive failure, which should be plenty of redundancy for home use. There are a few pros and cons about unRAID vs. other backup systems, but for my use I think unRAID fits best at a small cost.

Other Parts of Cutting the Cord:

Cutting the Cord: Introduction
Backend: Desktop Computer (acting as file server) and TV Tuner
Master Bedroom: Roku streaming
Living Room: HTPC and TV w/ built-in Netflix
Basement: Original Xbox with XBMC