HTPC Upgrade/Rebuild!

28. July 2018 22:55 by Cameron in Home Theater  //  Tags: , , , , , ,   //   Comments

I've upgraded and nearly completely rebuilt my HTPC for better long term usability and more moderate gaming. I swapped out the motherboard with an HP Elite 8300 motherboard, upgraded the RAM to 16GB, upgraded the CPU to an i7 3770, upgraded the SSD to 240GB, upgraded the hard drive to 4TB, and upgraded the GPU to a GTX 1050 Ti.

Originally, the upgrades were inspired by high CPU usage when playing H.265 content from Plex. I noticed this when playing back 4K H.265 content from Plex on my i5 2500. With the i7 3770, I am able to play back 4K H.265 movies with roughly 30-40% CPU usage. Adding a GTX 1050 Ti also helped with the decoding via its CUDA cores. The GT 1030 simply didn't have the power to help with H.265 so everything was CPU bound. I needed to swap motherboards because the HP 6200 Pro doesn't supply the needed 75W for the GTX 1050 Ti. Since I was swapping motherboards, I went for the HP Elite 8300 so I could get Ivy Bridge CPU support. Naturally, I needed to get the best i7 available. The larger SSD was just so I could install a couple of higher demanding games such as Rise of the Tomb Raider and Just Cause 3. I outfitted the rig with a 4TB drive to accommodate installing more Steam games and support recording TV shows/movies from Plex DVR.

As a result of these upgrades, the only thing original to the PC I first bought is the chassis. Now, I am happily using this machine as a more moderate gaming machine and my home theater workhorse. I will likely upgrade the low profile GPU as needed in the future, but the GTX 1050 Ti should suit me for a while.

Plex with Synology DS918+ NAS for home media

28. July 2018 22:19 by Cameron in NAS  //  Tags: , , ,   //   Comments

I realized that I was going to quickly outgrow my desktop PC's storage for use with Plex once I started ripping my 4K UHD Blu-ray disks. To remedy this, I recently purchased a Synology DS918+ NAS for handling storage of my files and TV/movie collection. I purchased the DS918+ because of it supporting four drives, expandability options (expand up to 5 more drives), and its processor for Plex transcoding.

To start, I installed three 4TB Seagate IronWolf NAS hard drives and configured to use Synology's hybrid RAID. I will be adding a fourth 4TB hard drive later this summer. With the hybrid RAID option, I can have mixed hard drive sizes in my array and upgrade the disks gradually. The main requirement is that I have two of the largest disks in the array. I will probably upgrade all of these drives to 8TB at some point, but it shouldn't be right away.

I have been thoroughly enjoying Plex and having my TV shows, movies, and music available anywhere in the world. I ripped all of my audio CDs with iTunes and copied over all of the albums I bought on iTunes too. I also bought an HDHomerun Prime to record cable TV and save to the NAS. I record with my home theater PC and strip out commercials with MCEBuddy and Comskip. After recording, MCEBuddy copies the files to my NAS for archiving.

I am strongly considering cancelling Hulu and Spotify in favor of my own libraries. I think Hulu is less necessary when you can record your own TV shows and watch them at your own leisure. In regards to Spotify, I hardly listen to much of the new stuff out there and it would be cheaper to buy an album on occasion to support individual artists. Spotify doesn't pay artists very much for music played.

It takes a bit of patience to rip a large movie collection. However, all you need is a PC with a Blu-ray drive and MakeMKV to save the rips directly to your NAS. You can rip everything from DVD to UHD Blu-ray with MakeMKV. Ripping UHD Blu-ray is more challenging as it requires specific drives with specific firmware. However, the process isn't too bad after you've patched your drive's firmware (assuming you have a newer drive). Ripping audio CDs is very quick since they contain at most 700MB of data.

With Plex for Windows, I am able to play UHD mkvs on my 4K SDR TV with HDR to SDR tone mapping. As far as I know, the Windows application is the only client capable of tone mapping. Most UHD releases also come with 1080p releases, but I must say that the tone mapped colors are much more vivid than their 1080p SDR equivalents. I jumped on the 4K TV bandwagon before HDR was readily available, but I will be getting an HDR10/Dolby Vision TV at some point in the near future. At that point,tone mapping will not be needed.

Since getting all of this setup, I have been extremely happy with my purchases. There is a bit of an upfront cost with all of the equipment, but the features in Plex make this worth every penny. Whether you're just beginning to build a movie library or you've been collecting a while, Plex is a good way to get your collection preserved and make it available anywhere in the world.

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