Intro, Goals, and Hardware
Regular PC Perspective readers probably know that we're big fans of Plex, the popular media management and streaming service. While just about everyone on staff has their own personal Plex server at home, we decided late last year to build a shared server here at the office, both for our own day-to-day use as well as to serve as the backbone of our recent cord cutting experiment.
You can run a Plex server on a range of devices: from off-the-shelf PCs to NAS devices to the NVIDIA SHIELD TV. But with many potential users both local and remote, our Plex server couldn't be a slouch. So, like the sane and reasonable folks we are, we decided to go all out and build a monster Plex server on AMD's Ryzen Threadripper platform. With up to 16 cores and 32 threads, a Threadripper processor would give us all of the transcoding horsepower we'd need.
It's now been several months since our Plex server was brought online, and so we wanted to share with you our build, along with some discussion on why we chose certain hardware and software.
Subject: General Tech | January 4, 2017 - 11:25 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: UHD, streaming box, SHIELD TV, nvidia, media server, hdr, gaming, controller, CES 2017, CES
NVIDIA has announced the newly redesigned SHIELD TV with the promise of higher performance and enhanced functionality from the Android-powered media streamer. In addition to the updated industrial design the new SHIELD TV ships with a game controller in addition to a remote, adding value to what NVIDIA is calling "the world's most advanced streamer".
NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang on stage to introduce the new SHIELD TV
NVIDIA is citing "major improvements" to the new version of the SHIELD TV in the following areas:
Highest Performance, 4K HDR Media Streamer – SHIELD delivers the richest visual experience with support for 4K HDR and 3x the performance of any other streamer on the market. With Amazon Video in 4K HDR, SHIELD offers the largest, most open catalog of media in stunning 4K – also supporting Netflix, YouTube, Google Play Movie and VUDU. YouTube’s flagship TV app will also be available for SHIELD in the coming months, delivering immersive, 360-degree viewing experiences.
Amazing Games – SHIELD stands alone among media streamers, with the widest range of gaming capabilities and richest assortment of game content. GeForce NOW has been upgraded with Pascal performance and will soon add Ubisoft’s catalog of hits, including Watch Dogs 2, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, For Honor and countless others. Upcoming native game releases include The Witness, Tomb Raider and Shadowgun Legends.
AI in the Home – SHIELD is the first streamer to announce support of Google Assistant, optimized for TV and 100% hands-free. Coming soon, SmartThings Hub technology integration will instantly turn SHIELD into a smart home hub that can connect to hundreds of smart home devices. NVIDIA SPOT, an AI mic accessory makes SHIELD the central backbone of the AI home, extending intelligent control throughout the house.
NVIDIA has stated that the features announced for the new SHIELD TV will come to existing SHIELD devices via an over-the-air update this month; though the new hands-free commands will require the updated SHIELD controller (now bundled with the new SHIELD TV), which will be sold separately.
Pre-orders for the new SHIELD TV are now available with units shipping later in January. There will be two configurations, with the SHIELD TV media streamer, which includes a game controller and remote, priced at $199; and the SHIELD Pro home media server, which comes with a controller, remote with headset jack, and 500GB of on-board storage, priced at $299.
Full press release after the break.
Follow all of our coverage of the show at https://pcper.com/ces!
Subject: General Tech, Systems, Storage | May 30, 2015 - 02:14 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: zotac, zbox, SFF, raid, mini server, media server
Zotac recently launched a new line of tiny ZBOX PCs under the new R Series that support two drive RAID 0 and RAID 1 setups. The series currently includes the ZBOX 1323 and ZBOX R1531. Both systems can be mounted vertically or horizontally and strongly resemble the company's existing ZBOX computers. The top and bottom panels are black with a silver bezel around the sides. A Zotac logo sits in the corner and a large blue circle sits in the center of the top.
The front panel hosts two audio jacks, an SDXC ard reader, COM port, IR reciever, and power button. Around back, the ZBOX boasts two antennas for the internal wireless module, two Gigabit Ethernet jacks, two USB 3.0 ports, and DisplayPort and HDMI video outputs. A third USB 3.0 port sits along the top edge of this small form factor PC.
Internally, Zotac is using Intel processors, a small form factor motherboard with two SO-DIMM slots (up to 16 GB), a Mini PCI-E slot for the 802.11ac (plus Bluetooth 4.0) wireless card, and support for up to two 2.5" SATA drives. The motherboard supports RAID 0, RAID 1, and JBOD configurations for the SATA drives, and the R1531 SKU adds a mSATA slot for a third drive.
The ZBOX R1323 is equipped with a 11.5W dual core Intel (Haswell) Celeron 2961Y processor clocked at 1.1 GHz with 2MB cache and Intel HD Graphics clocked at up to 850 MHz. The ZBOX R1531 steps up to a 15W dual core (plus Hyperthreading) Broadwell-based Intel Core i3-5010U clocked at 2.1 GHz with HD 5500 graphics clocked at up to 900 MHz.
Both versions will be offered as barebones systems and the R1531 is additionally be sold in a PLUS model that comes with a 64GB mSATA SSD and 4GB of RAM pre-installed.
The new ZBOX R Series PCs would make for a nice home server with a mSATA drive for the OS and two storage drives in a RAID 1 for redundancy. The Core i3 should be plenty of horsepower for streaming media, running backups, running applications, and even some light video transcoding. The included COM port will also make it suitable for industrial applications, but I think this is mostly going to appeal to home and small business users.
Zotac has not yet revealed pricing or availability though. Hopefully we are able to find out more about these mini PCs at Computex!
If you’re a fan of digital video and music, you’ve likely heard the name “Plex” floating around. Plex (not to be confused with EVE Online’s in-game subscription commodity) is free media center software that lets users manage and stream a wide array of videos, audio files, and pictures to virtually any computer and a growing number of mobile devices and electronics. As a Plex user from the very beginning, I’ve seen the software change and evolve over the years into the versatile and powerful service it is today.
My goal with this article twofold. First, as an avid Plex user, I’d like to introduce the software to users have yet to hear about or try it. Second, for those already using or experimenting with Plex, I hope that I can provide some “best practices” when it comes to configuring your servers, managing your media, or just using the software in general.
Before we dive into the technical aspects of Plex, let’s look at a brief overview of the software’s history and the main components that comprise the Plex ecosystem today.
Although now widely supported on a range of platforms, Plex was born in early 2008 as an OS X fork of the Xbox Media Center project (XBMC). Lovingly named “OSXBMC” (get it?) by its creators, the software was initially a simple media player for Mac, with roughly the same capabilities as the XBMC project from which it was derived. (Note: XBMC changed its name to “Kodi” in August, although you’ll still find plenty of people referring to the software by its original name).
A few months into the project, the OSXBMC team decided to change the name to “Plex” and things really started to take off for the nascent media software. Unlike the XBMC/Kodi community, which focused its efforts primarily on the playback client, the Plex team decided to bifurcate the project with two distinct components: a dedicated media server and a dedicated playback client.
The dedicated media server made Plex unique among its media center peers. Once properly set up, it gave users with very little technical knowledge the ability to maintain a server that was capable of delivering their movies, TV shows, music, and pictures on demand throughout the house and, later, the world. We'll take a more detailed look at each of the Plex components next.
The “brains” behind the entire Plex ecosystem is Plex Media Server (PMS). This software, available for Windows, Linux, and OS X, manages your media database, metadata, and any necessary transcoding, which is one of its best features. Although far from error-free, the PMS encoding engine can convert virtually any video codec and container on the fly to a format requested by a client device. Want to play a high-bitrate 1080p MKV file with a 7.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack on your Roku? No problem; Plex will seamlessly transcode that high quality source file to the proper format for Roku, as well as your iPad, or your Galaxy S5, and many other devices, all without having to store multiple copies of your video files.