General PLEX setup and strategy discussion

The PLEX alternative thread generated a lot of discussion that is off topic from the OP’s question. It appears there is interest in discussing our PLEX setups and strategies so I thought I would start a thread.

I use PLEX mainly for movies. I do have some TV shows that are not available on Netflix or Amazon. I have about 15TB of content on several 4TB drives in a Mediasonic 8 drive enclosure. I target my encodes for between 7.5 and 10 GB and watch them in 1080p mode on a Roku 3. I run PLEX on a dedicated stripped desktop with a Intel i7 chip running Windows 8.1 and nothing else but PLEX Media Server.

My Roku has a wired connection on 50 mbps download service line from Time Warner.

I use CloneBD and Handbrake nightly build to encode by Blurays to a media file.

We officially cut the cord about 3 months ago after purchasing the Tablo. We had DirecTV and almost never used it so we were cord cutters with a crutch for about 3 years. We will probably get SlingTV when it launches because we do miss CNN. I know, “talking heads” but it is missed noise when we are working around the house and when significant world event happen. My wife also likes a couple HGTV shows and I OCCASIONALLY watched ESPN. We have been a Amazon Prime users for years mainly for the free 2 day shipping but we have been making good use of Amazon Instant lately and we use Netflix as well.

What is your setup like?

@roraniel Good call.  I’ve been running Plex a couple of years.

I run a Microcenter special (Powerspec N108 with WHS 2011 OS, Hard Drive, and a ram upgrades beyond original specs).  The server has an OS drive, a Plex drive, a Home Security Drive and a Home Automation drive (I like to keep things clean).  I also backup everything to WD NAS drives, and a crashplan cloud backup, because who wants to lose all that time you spent ripping your DVDs to a lost hard drive.

I Handbrake everything to Apple TV 2 standards which reduces movies to somewhere around a gig.  Obviously not HD anymore, but a good compromise in my opinion.  I rip with the ancient but reliable DVD Ripper.  Can’t remember what I use for Blu Rays as it has been a while since I have bothered with one since I am reducing so far anyway, but it’s whatever the one that is in perpetual free beta (Have to find a new free key every month or so).  

The only thing I ever run into with Plex is the occasional subtitle problem, but when I do, I go out on the internet and find the correct .srt file and drop it in the folder, and it’s all good.

I set up our PLEX server on an old P4 (yes its underpowered for a PLEX system) Gateway computer I got at a computer show for $50 … I have a 2TB usb drive (NTFS formatted) and a 1TB USB (NTFS) on it … The computer runs a Linux NAS distribution called OMV (OpenMediaVault – based off of DEBIAN LINUX – I had to use omv as it was the only NAS linux distro that actually worked on my old system) … Once I built the OMV NAS I then manually installed PLEX on top of that (Now PLEX is a plugin for OMV so its easier to install) … I wanted an easy way to copy new content to the PLEX server without having to unplug the USB drives … so building it on top of a pre-rolled linux NAS foundation made the most sense … (the PLEX machine also does double duty as my home NAS and personal Cloud server too via Barracuda Drive on a Raspberry Pi and OMV)… The content for my PLEX server was done over the course of 2 1/2 - 3 years of ripping my very large DVD/BR collection with Slysoft AnyDVD (when I use windows) (then MDRP when i moved to Mac/OSX) …Like jbanks25 I then encoded the rips to an AppleTV2 format … I also took the painstaking time to also make sure all the mp4 movie files had proper tags internally with either Subler or MetaZ/MetaX for meta data tags – iTunes requires mp4 movies to have tags if you want it to show up correctly on the AppleTV - which we used for a while before moving to Plex/Roku) (Plex on the other hand does more of a filename match so now I make sure I use FileBot to keep all the names clean and standardized).  I will probably upgrade the PLEX machine to something more capable and convert the USB drives to internal linux formatted drives (not sure if I want to use zfs (and the added bother/expense) or just keep them ext and do manual backups)

I forgot to add , We also have a cheap $35 HD OTA tuner I got off amazon that we connect a USB drive to and that just records the raw MTS hd feed off the air … I mostly use this to capture PBS kids shows … I later (once a week) take that … run it thru handbrake and put it on the plex server in its own category … its a lot cheaper than buying Thomas The Tank DVDs … Ocasionally I use content from the TABLO if I had a problem with the cheap OTA recorder … I eventually plan on just using TABLO and decommission the cheap OTA recorder for the kids PBS shows.

Lenovo Q190 USD $200 now,
2 x USB 3
2 x USB 2
Celeron Ivy Bridge (more than capable of transcoding)

That’s my base 24x7 PMS, plus we added 3 x 1TB drives via USB.

My master workstation/server (true 16 cores with 32G) houses over 8TB of RAID protected storage which is where I do the transcode/rips and then that pushes to the Q190.   It’s only on when I need to rip new media to the Plex.  I also do my Tablo pulls there and push those to the Q190 as well.  The master workstation/server is only up when I need to do work.

Roku is our primary frontend, they have all been upgraded to Roku 3, but I do keep an old WiFI only XD around for testing.

I am a PlexPass lifetime member (back when it was cheap, sorry folks!).  I use Plex from Roku, desktop and Android app.

Occasionally I receive devices for testing … I have a CuBox, and some more popular items as well.

My DVD rips are either to single file mpeg2 (essentially a decrypted exact representation of the main DVD content)  or direct transcodes to mp4.  My transcodes are mostly done using Handbrake (all done with Linux… any testing I do with Windows comes off that large 16 core monster with Windows running as a VM under KVM.

Occasionally I’ll have full encrypted saves of DVDs (in cases where there was a bad “pressing” of the DVD).  Those aren’t use for Plex, but for burning to writable DVD for DVD devices… which if course isn’t as interesting as it once was.

I’m heavily into plex, as well. I originally started with it running on my Synology DS412+, but was having a hard time getting a reliable experience because of the lack of transcoding capabilities. I then purchased an HP business desktop with an I5-3570S processor. Now the synology is storage-only (for plex, anyways)…with the I5 actually being the Plex server. Works like a champ. I’ve stress-tested it to 3x simultaneous 1080p streams being transcoded. 

95% of my viewing is on my Roku 3’s. The wife sometimes utilizes her Kindle HDX 8.9, and the daughter watches some of her shows on her HDX7. 

I use Handbrake, as well. I use exclusively MP4 w/AAC & AC3. I’ve had some issues when trying to preserve the DTS soundtracks and playing via Roku. I can’t tell the difference between DTS and the transcoded AC3…so no worry there. I would like to maintain the HD-audio tracks for future-proofing purposes…but oh well.

We’ve got an iPad as well …forgot to mention that.   But like @DaFury, we mostly use the Roku frontends.

I’m too cheap (OK, my wife won’t let me . . . .) to replace my 13 year old HDTV (1080i, rear CRT projection, about 400 pounds) with component input.    Tried every box known to man to convert HDMI to component, and none worked.  So I had to get an old Roku N 1101, which works fine, but the Roku firmware is old and likely will never update.  It will not run the Roku channel, so I have to use Plex (which works just fine) to the Plex Tablo channel.  It works OK, but some recorded show thumbnails will not delete, navigation is a bit odd, etc, but it is workable.  But to get this old Roku to fill the 16:9 screen I had to downgrade to 480 resolution, so I might be better off with a Roku 2 with an S-video output.  Probably same resolution, but at least run native Tablo channel.

Yea most of our viewing as well is on the ROKU boxes on HDTV’s but when those are occupied by … oh I don’t know… endless kids shows I use my iPad and I know my wife will sometimes use hers with headphones while our son naps… 

@oldmike, an old Roku XS (has wired) or XD (just WiFi) have component out.  Before I had an HDMI framegrabber, it’s how I used to make demo vids from the Roku (using a component frame grabber that is).  Now… don’t expect any updates for those Rokus either, but at least they will run the Tablo channel.  Just an option and since you can get those for USD $20 or less… maybe a reasonable option (?).

PMS running on a Quad core 2.4 GHz with 4 GB of RAM, 60 GB SSD for OS, and then one 3 TB and five 500 GB HDDs for storage drives (all internal). It also doubles as my personal desktop. Front-end devices are Roku 3 and Fire TV Stick, occasionally iPad Air and iPhone 6. Almost all videos are DirectPlay’d so no transcoding of video. Any audio transcoding say from 5.1 to Stereo uses minimal CPU usage, less than 1%.

I forgot to mention in my setup that the server is a true server in a sense that all the rips get pushed there like cjcox.  It runs headless and I remote in/rip everything with an old AMD Phenom 9850BE gaming machine I custom built years ago.  Runs well enough though (Just a ridiculous power hog, so it’s not on very often).  If I happen to be using the itunes store I also have Noteburner on my Macbook Pro if the need arises.  

As far as clients I have everything.  I most often push to Roku 3, Kindle Fire HD, TCL Roku TV, and Xbox One, but really, I have Plex on like 20 clients.  :)  I’m also a lifetime member, and got in before the price hike.

I forgot to mention my TV. I have a 2011 Samsung PN64D8000. We don’t use the 3D much although I have to say it surprised me how well it works. The grandkids love it.

We also have a LG BD670 3D BluRay player that pretty much gets used for the grandkids 3D BluRays. We have a few 3D Blurays for my wife and I as well. I have not tried encoding 3D BluRays but I do feel justified in downloading encodes of the 3D movies I own, however we usually pop in the Bluray because the 3D seams to look better on Bluray than the encodes.

Looking forward to SlingTV. It was supposed to launch in January and it is the 23rd. Anyone have any info on actual timing? I signed up for an invite the first of the year and have not heard from them.

I dont have things automatically push stuff over to the PLEX server … that part I still do by hand … on purpose… I just don’t want it automatically shovel “everything” over … just selective stuff …

Plex Lifetime Member (another back-in-the-day-when-it-was-cheap guy)

Run PMS on a 4Gb, AMD Athalon X4 840 based headless box running WHS2011 (although probably going to move to Win 8.1 this weekend). Running DriveBender for disk pools, providing roughly 12Tb of storage for movies, TV Shows and so on. I also have about 2Tb of duplicated storage that all the home-movies, photos, important documents, emails and so on get saved to by all the family. I run Tonido as a cloud-provider to enable auto-photo upload into those folders, which are then indexable and viewable via Plex.

I also back all my home desktops, some remote family and friends PCs desktops, and my wifes work desktop to my server onto the duplicated space, which then is backed up to the cloud using Crashplan.

@sjp Sounds like we have some of the same things going on.  Curious why are you going from WHS11 to 8.1?

@sjp I looked at DriveBender and it looks like something I would like to try. It says you can pool your drives without loosing data. What happens to the folder structure on each drive when you pool them? For instance I have folders for “Movies” “3D Movies” and “TV Shows” on each of 8 drives. What folder structure will the pooled drive have in Windows Explorer?

Also, does the “Smooth Stream” acceleration really work or is that just a marketing ploy? 

@roraniel - Essentially it’s transparent. Lets say you have that folder structure on the drive, and add it and another drive to a pool. The two drives will get a new folder installed, and the content from the original drive is moved under that ‘volume’ folder. Duplicated content will then be copied to the second drive under the same Volume folder, using the same folder structure. DB then presents that Volume folder as a Mount Point, with a drive letter - looks to Windows just like a normal drive. The nice thing is you can set it to balance across all the drives in the pool, or favor a specific drive (say one is a 7200RPM, so quicker to write) and then balance when things are quiet and so on.

Windows Storage Spaces is very similar I am told.

You can set DB to hide the ‘real’ drives, and just present the pool - but the original volumes never go away, they are still standard format, you can access them via Windows if you have to, so no proprietary Raid controller or anything like that.

I run plex on a Dell R815 Server w/ 4x16 Core Opteron and 128GB RAM, connected to a 74TB external array (I was able to get an amazing deal on Ebay) running Plex (lifetime member as well) under Linux.  Drives are pooled together via aufs, and protected with 4 levels of parity with snapraid.  Plex database is located on the machine’s internal drives (6x raided SSD).  I would happily recommend the aufs/snapraid solution to other Linux users - snapraid has saved my data on multiple occasions. 

For movies, I use MakeMKV to extract the files, and x264 to re-encode the video, then remux the original audio into the result (the savings on the audio compression wasn’t worth it to me) - this is a relatively easy process that is automated.  I was able to convert my entire DVD and BluRay collection this way, although I don’t bother to re-encode DVD’s.

For TV is where the fun comes in, everything is completely automated.

I have multiple TiVo’s, and their videos are automatically extracted (via kmttg), compressed (via kmttg/handbrake), renamed (via TiVoRenamer), and moved to the plex array on an hourly basis.

I also have 2 tablos (which will replace the OTA TiVos as soon as we have multichannel audio, because this will make the compression stage that I have to do with the TiVos obsolete), and use Tablo2go to extract the videos and add to the array (I have it set so it will not download videos from the tablo’s if the they have already been downloaded from the TiVo)

Plex is an amazing system, I never watch live TV, I just watch everything via the plex apps.

Roku is by far the best option, it works seamlessly.  Amazon Fire TV is ok, but newer videos don’t readily appear on it’s App (probably something to do with their android version).  iOS version is flawless, and amazingly enough so is their WindowsRT version.  

Plex is great if you travel and want to catch up on videos, the remote streaming capability has always worked flawlessly for me.

Thanks @jskenney ill check out aufs … right now since I just have a single 2TB drive I just periodically dupe it to a second drive I keep in the closet (its not connected except when I do backups). I know I need to improve on this.

@ericgus , aufs is a great way of pooling drives in linux (built into the kernel), and snapraid allows for up to 6 parity drives depending on how large you grow your system (1 parity drive for every 4-6 data drives).  I have had multiple drives fail at the same time, and with a snapshot parity system like this, you do not loose the entire array if you loose a certain number of drives.  I can recover up to 4 drives (because of the 4 parity drives), any more than that and I will just lose the data on those drives - to me that is a significant advantage over traditional raid.  - I have 24 3TB drives in my array now.