The Arrival of Personal Media Servers

 Xenio Gubbels, CEO of XLvision explains that a lot is changing.

4Y3A4828Do you have a great personal collection of CD’s, DVD’s and Blu-Ray Disks? Perhaps you subscribe to services like Netflix, LoveFilm, or other on-demand video services services?

Wouldn’t it be useful to put all this content into one simple “active catalogue” that you can access whenever you wanted? On any device?

This idea isn’t new of course.

But bespoke solutions used to be very, very expensive (think upwards US$25,000). They were slow and clunky – and often difficult to upgrade. However, prices are now plummeting.


The idea of being able to store all your favourite music and films in one electronic library has been around for a while. Microsoft made special versions of its operating system Windows 7 to handle its media centres (basically a PC with a large hard-drive that you controlled with your remote rather than a keyboard). The monitor was usually the TV rather than a desktop screen.

More recently, complete control systems are now emerging which control not only the home media systems, but also the lighting systems like Philips Hue.

And there have been many proprietary systems from companies like the Austrian firm of Ruwido who build what I think is the “Ferrari” of remote control interfaces. They design and build intelligent remote controls. Mind you, this luxury design comes at a hefty price.

Some manufacturers Like Control4 have put together software systems that link standard consumer devices like iPads, iPhone and Android tablets.

For the last decade, we have seen and tested most of what is out there. And we have built several systems from scratch.

That’s why we tend to avoid the highly specialised hardware solutions.

What can go wrong?

We have had cases where remote controllers suddenly don’t work because the manufacturer upgraded the set-top box software without thinking about the handset to control it. They tend to assume that everyone is using their latest operating system or firmware. They also tend to forget that some systems can be switched off for weeks when the user is travelling abroad or working from another location.

After playing around with both Windows and Android, we’ve settled on the Plex-TV software package in combination with Apple hardware. Yes, the Plex-TV software will operate on Windows and Linux based systems as well. We just like the simplicity and reliability of the Mac mini platform. Their Plex home theatre app celebrates your personal videos, music and photos and gives them the stage they deserve.

So what does the team from XLVision do?

Downloading a home server just takes a couple of seconds. But linking up your equipment to your content takes a bit more thought and preparation. If done wrong, devices will never communicate with each other.

That’s especially true if you want to convert your video files from an older (legacy) format into something that will play on your media server. We offer to do an inventory and then design and build a solution to suit your situation. We’re happy to offer a competitive quotation, providing you explain the scale of your collection. Established XLVision customers can ask for an on-site inspection.

Is the cloud safe?

Cloud storage is definitely the trend. That’s mainly because it doesn’t require you to configure local storage devices. And local storage always has to be continually backed up. But we have also seen that cloud storage companies like Dropbox have had security issues in the past. If you live in countries like China you may find that you can’t access the Dropbox server because the authorities have decided to block it. We believe the cloud is only safe if the files stored there are properly encrypted.

We also have clients who have personal photo collections who say categorically that they don’t want these private photos to be accessible by others. So offline storage is the only option. Remember the high-publicized Sony hack in November 2014? This was the largest corporate hack in history.

Only interested in music?

We have had some clients with a massive CD collection who want the content ripped and catalogued so as to build their own music channel. They wanted to keep the rich sound that you get from a CD as opposed to MP3 files. And although a cloud solution is possible, one client said he wanted three copies of the same music database installed in three different countries. The databases should also synchronise so that the collections are identical. There are various storage solutions out there including Drobo and QNAP. The choice can be so bewildering that there are even Geek channels devoted to a comparison of the features (rather good by the way).

In the end we build a system using QNAP drives. These are excellent when combined with the right software.

Summary: Lessons Learned for 2015

We’ve reached a point where home media servers are now getting very clever indeed. The best systems are the ones that are simple to operate, yet have the flexibility to fit your requirements. Careful planning is important. Design the system first based on your requirement first, before selecting the hardware. Sounds interesting? Then we’re happy to explain in more detail. Please get in touch.