A few months ago I wrote about downloading TV shows, and the steps I take that allow me to watch them in the living room on the main TV. I was taken back by the feedback I received and surprised how many people were doing something similar, as opposed to taking one of the many simpler routes. Many great tips and techniques were shared, and I’ve done a lot of research and consideration since. While I haven’t come up with the end-all-be-all solution, I’ve eased the process and expanded the reach.
Working With What I Have
I looked at many of the set-top solutions that are out there at the moment. There are many relatively inexpensive devices that will play just about anything you can throw at them, but adding another device to my entertainment setup isn’t something I’m thrilled about. Recently, my wife has been watching a few of her own shows and I thought it would be great if she didn’t rely so much on me and had a bit more flexibility in terms of when and where she could watch them. This is when I started looking into network storage solutions.
My router, an Apple AirPort Extreme supports hard drive sharing via USB. I had an old 200GB drive in a NexStar 3 enclosure kicking around from my PC days, which made for a perfect test candidate. Sure enough, it was as simple as plugging the drive into the router and enabling disk sharing via AirPort Utility. Now, not only can I access the drive from my iMac in the basement office, but Deanna’s MacBook can as well, along with the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in the living room.
Having a network drive eliminates the need to manually move files around via USB thumbdrives, but there’s still the issue of compatible file formats and the hardware used to play them. Obviously, there’s no issue when it comes to our Macs, but the game consoles are limited in the codecs they support. As I mentioned previously, I download videos at 720p which are typically encoded in MKV format, which as you may have assumed, is not supported by the consoles. This is where I haven’t been able to shave any steps off. I still have to re-encode the files to AVI so the consoles can play them, which isn’t a huge deal, really.
Expanding the Reach
From time-to-time, my wife, daughter and I find ourselves all into games at the same time. And usually all of them being Xbox 360 titles. Picking up a second console is something I have thought about many times over the past year, but justifying the hefty purchase wasn’t the easiest task. But now we found ourselves with another reason for an additional Xbox 360 – watching TV shows. Having a second Xbox 360 in the bedroom means we can stream video over the network not only to our Macs and the TV in the living room, but to our bedroom as well. Suddenly, the whole house has access to all of our downloaded shows at any given time, and we’re no longer restricted by the limited storage capacity (8GB) of the USB thumbdrive.
When I put all of this together in my head, I had a feeling it was one of those “too good to be true” moments. But to my surprise, streaming 720p video to the bedroom worked like a charm right off the bat. The only catch, is that things get ugly when more than one device is tapping into the network storage drive.
Once the tests proved successful, I invested in a new NexStar 3 enclosure with SATA support (my previous one was IDE) and a Western Digital Caviar Green 1TB hard drive. The next step will be to move to a RAID setup for peice of mind, but I wanted to ensure this was going to be a long term solution for us before going all out.