What is a Media Server and should I have one?

Put simply, a media server is usually a PC which can store your various media files such as photos, music, home movies and purchased movies. You can also install software to manage your media. Media servers can also hold specialized software to allow you access to internet media content not normally available from a web browser.

A good example of the latter is a software package called Playon (www.playon.tv). Once installed on your media server, Playon allows you to access a host of cable channels including ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, Bravo, LMN and others. The ability to easily install plugins, allows to access channels like TVLand and NatGEO provided by third parties. Playon offers HD programming for a onetime cost. Playon transcodes (converts) your media at the media server, thus requiring a fairly high performance processor. CPU chips with a Passmark score over 2500 are recommended. Since Playon does not have a button available to tell you the Passmark score of your CPU, You have to find the chip information in Windows and look it up yourself. It is well worth the effort if you are building a server to have an idea of your server performance before you start buying components.

My favorite media server application is called Plex (https://plex.tv. It is an open source program that allows you to access your media content on tablets, smartphones, and PC’s from anywhere in the world. You can also share your media libraries with others very easily. There are also apps for Android, IOS and Roku.

These applications also have channels on the Roku devices. Allowing you to take your Roku box with you when you travel and watch your media content anywhere.


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Watch Foreign TV and Movies with VPN for FREE!

I have spent the last couple of weeks with an Ouya game console testing access to foreign (French) broadcast over the web and through Android apps and guess what? It works! Keep in mind the Ouya costs $100, so if you don’t watch a lot of foreign programming, stop here.

Over the last year my biggest challenge to dropping cable was access to French TV shows and movies my wife and I like to watch. There are apps out there that get you real time TV from France, but with the time difference we could not record shows with the apps we used.

We tried YouTube to watch French movies and found out it works really well. Just perform a search for “French comedy movies” or any similar term and you get tons of results that you can watch with your Roku and YouTube account.

The TV shows were a show stopper to dropping cable. I had to find an answer, and it had to be free or really cheap (ex. a $1.99 app) with no paid subscription. Wow, that’s tough.

I tried VPN and proxy solutions but found out all my devices at home were VPN’d to France and switching on the fly with a remote control was impossible. Plus even though VPN services are really cheap ($50 a year), that was over my budget. Yes I am cheap.

Then I heard about the Android based game console Ouya and its ability to act as an android tablet/laptop/whatever. I heard it was not very intuitive because it is after all it is a gaming console and not an Android computer. BUT, after a lot of frustration and time experimenting with the Ouya here is what I found.

It works.

When you start-up the Ouya with its console based menu system the first app I downloaded from Ouya was the Firefox (Ouya friendly) browser. Then I plugged in my mini wireless keyboard dongle so I could easily type in web addresses. I then took a USB storage device and used my laptop to go to http://app​s.evozi.co​m/apk-down​loader/. This site lets me cut and paste any URL like https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.hola and download the app to my PC. Ouya’s way of doing this is almost non-existant.

Once that was done, I was ready to download apps and change the way Ouya works. I logged into the Google Playstore and opened a tab for each app listed below in order:

  • ADW Launcher (new android like menu system)
  • Hola (free VPN client)
  • Root Explorer
  • France TV
  • Tele-Loisirs (any other foreign TV/movie apps)
  • Root My Ouya MOD collection (from the web)

Once you have a tab for each app, copy the URL, and paste it into the downloader site above and bingo the apps download to you PC. Copy them to the USB storage device and stick it in the Ouya game console. Now follow the Ouya instructions to find the USB device and install all the apps. Once you have done this, here is what you get.

An android based, network capable device with a nice browser that lets you use the apps you installed. Hola will give you free VPN to almost any country you want, and the ADK Launcher makes the Ouya look and act like an Android tablet.

Oh yeah. What about the foreign TV shows I wanted to record? Easy. All the shows we like to watch are readily available on the shows web page (ex. http://www.france3.fr/emissions/questions-pour-un-champion). Trying to view this show from the US, you get locked out because of regional blocking. But with Ouya, my web browser is geographically in France. So I bookmark the shows web page, click on the video, and BINGO, the show comes on.

No monthly fees, free VPN, foreign programming, what a life.


Amazon Fire TV – Another Box that Woulda Coulda Shoulda

You read article after article about the new Amazon Fire TV and see the praises heaped on the device. I admit if I was an Amazon prime member and had their tablets, I would look hard at this new entry into the IPTV market. But devices are not the only part of the IPTV viewing experience.

First, you need to know there are three discreet ways you can get IPTV.

  1. Windows PC – A great known in the market, running software like Playon TV, Hulu and a bunch of other apps, including XBMC and PLex media servers. I have a media PC running all of the above and love it.
  2. Linux – Roku and others use their own version of linux and provide their content via Channels you get for free and pay for. A great way to extend you PC an native Roku channels to different rooms in your house wirelessly (great picture quality). BUT, you can only get the channels that Roku lets you have, kind of like iTunes.
  3. Android – I hope this is the future. There are tons of apps made by everybody that gives you the choices we are all craving for. That is, don’t tell me what I want. Let me pick. The more choices I have, the more freedom I have. Not locked into anyone.

Just like the latest HDTV entries that come with their own built in apps, everybody has a different take on what consumers want. The book by Arthur Freeman entitled “Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda: Overcoming Regrets, Mistakes, and Missed Opportunities” says a lot.

My regret is that every manufacturer wants to lock you into their system. Cable and cell phone companies have been doing this for a while (Don’t we love that?). What happened to “open systems”? Where users could pick what they wanted with few restrictions? Reading closely you find out that Amazon uses a “highly customized” version of Android; or in my view a locked version of android. If they woulda used a more open version of Android, you could pick from hundreds of apps not just from their list of available apps.

Amazon and others coulda given us a more open system, giving us choices and let us be loyal customers thankful for the choices.

Somebody shoulda told Amazon people want content, let us pick what we want to watch.

There is hope. I just purchased an Android media box disguised as a game controller. It is called Ouya. It started as a Kickstarter project and is now in production. I haven’t even set it up yet, but based on information on the internet and their forums will let you load all the apps you want without the Amazon, Roku, Boxee, etc. restrictions. So let me list you the FREE apps I am going to install which will also get me off of cable:

  1. ABC
  2. NBC
  3. CBS
  4. PBS
  5. Crackle
  6. Snagfilms
  7. French TV
  8. TV5 MONDE
  9. Tele-Loisirs
  10. Hulu/HuluPlus
  11. Playon
  12. Allcast
  13. YouTube
  14. Plex
  15. Netflix (maybe, Snagfilms has a ton of great movies)

I don’t know about you, but this pretty much fills my TV viewing appetite. So is the Amazon Fire TV a great device? Yep, as far as the device part goes, now who is going to step up and really give us what we want, freedom of choice? No one I know…yet.

YouTube for Roku Whoopee!

If you haven’t heard already, there is a new YouTube channel for the Roku 3. So What? Let me tell you. I search for full length films on YouTube and tag them to the “Watch Later” option. Then in my living room, using the new YouTube channel, go to the “Watch Later” feature and watch my movies for FREE! So who needs Netflix?

Add the Snag Filmls channel to your Roku 3 and you get tons of FREE movies to watch. So download the YouTube channel today!


The perfect Internet TV combination so you can dump cable – Part 3

As I mentioned in my earlier posts and YouTube video, PlayonTV and Hulu Plus basically replaces your cable TV provider. What do you need to do to get on this bandwagon? Easy,

  1. Go to http://www.playon.tv and buy their ultimate package for less than $60, It comes with over 90 cable channels and DVR software. You pay only once, no monthly fees.
  2. Go to http://www.hulu.com/plus and sign up for Hulu Plus, yes it costs $7.99 a month but that is better than your cable bill, isn’t it?
  3. Take any PC you have, either a desktop or laptop;
  4. Make sure it has an HDMI output. If not buy one for your desktop for $50, sorry older laptops can’t be upgraded
  5. Connect the HDMI cable to the PC and TV
  6. Connect a Roku box up (takes 5 minutes)
  7. Go to the Roku website register and select two channels (which will automatically download the ROku device in your house
  8. Select the PlayonTV channel and watch over 90 cable channels with DVR capability (your media server and PlayonTV software)
  9. Select the Hulu Plus channel and watch all your regular TV shows (one day after they are broadcast.

You can do all this in a few hours. In the end, you pay $7.99 a month for Hulu Plus and get free programming for life from PlayonTV. That wasn’t too hard now was it?

Leave a comment and let me know.

home media guy