When your favourite movies and TV shows aren’t on your favourite streaming services, it’s easy to build your own in-house Netflix to fling your video library around your home. Here’s everything you need.
Shiny optical discs might be yesterday’s tech, but my home certainly isn’t the only one where you’ll still find shelves full of CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays. My music CDs are admittedly gathering dust, as you’ll generally find all that music on a streaming service like Spotify, but it’s a very different story when it comes to video.
There’s no guarantee that you’ll find your favourite movies and TV shows on any of Australia’s subscription video services, or in the online rental services such as the iTunes store. Even if your favourites are streaming online in Australia today, there’s no guarantee they’ll still be there tomorrow; content disappears every month.
My local Blockbuster gave up the fight long ago so, when I get the urge to re-watch an ’80s classic like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, it pays to own a physical copy; even if it is tucked away on a shelf in my garage. Of course that doesn’t mean I can be bothered getting off the couch to hunt for the disc, which is why it’s handy to build your own in-house streaming video library.
You can do this with any video files, although the methods of creating these can be legally murky. For example it’s easy and legal to rip your music CDs to audio files, but under Australia’s archaic copyright laws it’s not legal (though almost as easy) to rip DVDs. Even though they’re both just ones and zeros on a disc.
However you get the files, the trick is not to leave them locked away on your computer; buy a network attached storage (NAS) drive, which plugs into your broadband modem via Ethernet cable. Think of it like a big USB stick which can be accessed from any device on your home network.
Most NAS drives support the DLNA format for streaming video, but compatibility with home entertainment gear can be very hit and miss. The better option is to look for a NAS which supports Plex Media Server.
Now you can copy your video library onto your NAS and watch any of your movies or TV shows through the Netflix-like Plex app, which is available for computers, smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, streaming sticks, set-top boxes and games consoles. It can even stream video to you across the internet when you’re away from home.
Like Netflix, Plex supports multiple streams so you can run an ’80s film festival; watching Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in the lounge while your partner watches The Princess Bride in the bedroom.
It’s pretty easy to get Plex up and running, but you might notice that videos play more smoothly on some devices than others. It’s tempting to blame your Wi-Fi network, but the problem might be with the end device.
The old Sony television in my bedroom is a smart TV with the Plex app, but it stutters when playing some HD videos over Plex. Unfortunately Sony skimped in terms of supporting video formats, forcing my old Synology NAS to convert or “transcode” some video files on the fly. If the NAS struggles under the load, your video stutters.
Rather than buy a new smart TV for the bedroom, or upgrade to a more powerful NAS in the study, the easiest option was to plug a cheap Google Chromecast streaming dongle into the old bedroom TV. The Chromecast can handle practically any video format, ensuring the NAS doesn’t need to work too hard, so high-def video plays silky smooth.