How to build a Linux media server
If you've ever fancied the idea of building
a server to store your ever-growing collection of media files, be they movies, photos or
music, but have been put off doing so because it seems far too complicated to
build one yourself, or you've simply no idea how to go about doing it, then read on. I've put together a step-by-step guide
showing you how to
build and configure a media server that
is far more powerful and far more flexible than any of the "pre-built" systems
on the market today. Not only that but it's cheaper too!
What's the point of a central media server?
I’ve had a few people ask me this so before we
go too far let me explain
the setup I have in my house. Hopefully then you’ll see why you
might want one too.
I have a TV and Media Streamer in most rooms in
my house. In each of these rooms I have the ability to watch any Freeview channel.
I can also pause, rewind and record any Freeview channel as well as
watch anything I've previously recorded. I can
watch a single
Sky channel or any of the videos, DVDs or Blu-ray
disks I own. I can also listen to music, either owned music or
internet radio, along with being able to browse the family photo
album. Not only that but
each room can do all of this independently of any other room. Sound
exciting? Well, there's more! If I'm watching something, say, in the
sitting room and decide to go to bed I can continue watching it in
the bedroom, at the exact same point I left it in the sitting room!
Whilst you can achieve the same without going
for a central server you’d need a PVR, a DVD player, Blu-ray player,
VCR and radio in each room.
Furthermore you’d have to record the same TV programme on every PVR to allow you to watch
a particular recorded programme in any room.
Now, going that route is not only very impractical but it can also get rather
expensive too since each room would have to have all that equipment
in it. You’d also need
multiple copies of every DVD, Blu-ray, video and music CD you own along with
duplicates of the family album to have the same level of flexibility as I
have with my setup. Not only that but you'd struggle to be able to
pause, say, a blu-ray in one room and continue watching it in
another at the exact same point.
Instead of duplicating your media collection you could of course
keep the physical disks in one room, on the understanding that anyone
in the house can
“borrow” one when needed. But in my house the disks would never get put back
when they'd finished with them and so you'd be forever on a treasure
hunt trying to find your favourite disk.
So, what must this media server be able to
Once you've concluded that you need, or at least
want, a media server you have two basic choices: 1) build your own
or 2) buy a pre-built device.
Over the past few years I've owned quite a few of the pre-built
devices out there but none have been the perfect one for me. They've
all started off just fine but I've simply outgrown them. Hence my
decision to build my own one.
So, having decided to build my own media server what exactly were my requirements for
it? Well, in no particular
order they were:
It must be quiet.
It must use relatively little power when
streaming media. This device will be running 24/7 and so running costs
cannot be ignored. My view on power consumption is that when
this server is running full steam
it can dim the lights in the whole street for
all I care but when it’s idle I want it to throttle down and use
less than a light bulb.
If must not generate a lot of heat. This
going to live in a, relatively, air-tight cupboard and I don’t
want to install extra cooling in the cupboard. Doing so would use
power and add noise. Oh, the cupboard by the way is in the main
bedroom of the house, hence my desire for it to be quiet.
It must be flexible enough to do
pretty much what I want with it. I don’t want to hit the same
brick walls I've hit with all the other pre-built “servers” I’ve bought in
I want to be able to record TV programmes
with it. I then want to be able to stream these programmes around the house. I have
a few media streamers and a PS3 too so it must be able
to support these.
In the rooms without a TV I'm using Squeezeboxes
so this server must be able to support them too.
It must be able to run torrent downloads. I
want this server to automatically download my favourite TV shows and make these
shows available to all my Media Streamers and PS3. Previously I had to
dump TV shows from my Sky+ box onto DVD and then rip the DVDs onto my
NAS before I could stream them around the house.
It must be powerful enough to support
multiple, simultaneous, High-Definition video streams. Not only that, but it
must be able to do this whilst doing other things
too, such as backing up my desktop computers or re-encoding
It must be headless. BUT I don't want to
learn hundreds of commands to be able to configure it so I need a GUI
interface too. Hmm, headless AND a GUI interface?
It must be stable. I don't want to be
tinkering with it every 5 minutes. Nor do I want to be rebooting
it every couple of days.
I don't want to have to buy an operating
system for it. Nor do I want to be worried about the latest and
greatest virus infecting it. This means going for a Linux-based
such as Ubuntu or ClarkConnect or similar.
Since this server will live in a cupboard
and be running 24/7 I want it to be able to monitor
its own temperatures and to shutdown automatically if things get a
bit too "toasty". I want it to send me an email if
it's going to shutdown so I know it's not happy and is in need
of my attention.
As mentioned above, it must be able
to throttle down when idle. By this I mean the drives must spin
down when they're not being used. This will save power and
It mustn’t cost the earth to buy.
If I ever get bored with it, or change my
mind about this whole central media server idea, then I want to be able to
put it to good use elsewhere. e.g. use it as a desktop computer.
Now, whilst there are a few pre-built devices
out there that can do one or more of the above, NONE of them can do
all of the above so I had little choice but to build my own.
Wait, you need to be a guru to be able to run a
Linux media server, don't you?
Erm, no you don't.
If you'd have asked me 10 years ago what
operating system I would recommend using for a media server then I
doubt very much I would have said Linux. However, many Linux
"flavours" have moved on in leaps and bounds over the last few years
and today I would whole heartedly recommend using Linux if you're
thinking of building your own media server, even if you've never
used Linux before.
It is true that some "flavours" of
Linux still retain
their guru status but if you take Ubuntu as an example, you can now
buy "home computers" from major retailers that are running Ubuntu.
This was totally unheard of a few years ago!
So, how do I build this Ubuntu media server then?
Talking about what this media server must be able
to do is one thing but you want to know how to actually build it, right? Of
course you do. So then, without further ado, here are my 5 steps to
Assemble the components
Configure the server
Install software applications
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