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Considering media streaming? - The experience (headaches!) of my HD project

Discussion in 'Streamers & Network Media Players' started by MrGrumpie, Jan 26, 2009.

  1. MrGrumpie

    MrGrumpie Active Member

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    Hi all

    There seem to be alot of enquiry posts on the forum about media streaming, about what models people should go for, can it do this, can it do that, will this work? etc, so I thought I'd post my experiences now that my project is (almost) drawing to a close. Some of you will know about my various frustrations over the last few weeks, but this may be useful to those people who are tempted to dip their foot in the streaming waters.

    Prior to starting this, I had pretty much no experience of PCs and networking, and in fact I've always shied away from this side of things as I've been convinced I "wouldn't get it". And to put all of this into perspective, the first time I saw a Popcorn Hour classifieds ad, I wondered why on earth anyone would spend that much money on a popcorn maker :D

    Anyway, I disgress. Ultimately I quite fancied a challenge, although this challenge moved far far away from what I originally envisaged! My main priorities were:

    * To be able to stream audio and video to my living room, from a media server located elsewhere in the house
    * To be able to rip Blurays and DVDs, including the removal of menus, extras, surplus audio tracks etc.
    * To be able watch uncompressed 1080p BDs, @ 1080p/24 and with lossless audio.
    * To have some kind of jukebox front end, where you can browse through movie covers and genres, and select a movie from there.

    It seemed like a tall order at the time, and it wasn't until I looked at this forum that I discovered that yes, it was possible. With alot of digging around, I knew I was looking at a NMT (Network Media Tank), of which there are several. In fact although the choice is varied, in reality many of them - such as the Popcorn Hour, HDX-1000 and iStar HD - are pretty much the same under the hood.

    So why did I go for the PCH (Popcorn Hour)?

    It seems that they're all much of a muchness (i.e. NMTs) but the popcorn hour is reasonably priced, has good support - which as many people will find, is ESSENTIAL - and is always at the forefront of firmware upgrades (the others seem to follow a few weeks later). The PCH A110 - the latest incarnation - supports HDMI v1.3, and the other key things that swung it for me are that it can output @ 1080p/24 and can bitstream the latest lossless audio codecs.

    The box itself looks pretty cheap, and it's alot smaller than I was expecting. But under the hood it really is a neat little gadget.

    Anyway, onto the guts of the project.

    Initially I was planning on setting up my existing PC and piling in a load of hard drives to stream from there, via homeplugs to the living room below. The problem I discovered, upon wading through the thick layer of dust on the old rig, was that the components were far too out of date; the motherboard only supported IDE HDDs and not enough of them at that, and I recall that running slightly overclocked, it used to run at around 60 degrees + ...not good for longevity imho.

    I also discovered that whilst I was not planning on re-encoding any BluRays (just remuxing to remove unwanted streams), this would still take an age on the existing PC. So from a £300 budget, it grew and grew until I ended up with a completely new build:

    1 x Asus P5Q Deluxe P45 Socket 775 8 Channel Audio ATX Motherboard
    1 x Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 G0 Stepping (2.4GHz 1066MHz) Socket 775 L2 8MB Cache (2x4MB (4MB per core pair) Retail Boxed Processor
    1 x ASUS HD 4670 512MB GDDR3 VGA DVI HDMI PCI-E Graphics Card
    1 x OCZ 8GB Kit (2x4GB) 800MHz/PC2-6400 Memory Platinum Performance CL5 (5-4-4-18)
    1 x Coolermaster Elite 330 Black Case With CM eXtreme Power 650W PSU
    1 x Logitech G-15 keyboard
    1 x Razor Boomslang Mouse
    1 x Xilence Red Wing 120mm Quiet Fan - 3&4pin connection
    1 x LG Electronics Blu-Ray & HD-DVD-Rom Combo 16x DVDRW Black SATA - Retail Box
    1 x Samsung SM2032BW 20"TFT Monitor Widescreen 1680x1050 3000:1 300cd/m2 2ms
    1 x Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium - Licence and media - 1 PC - OEM - DVD - 64-bit - English
    5 x Western Digital Caviar Green 5400RPM SATA II 1TB HDD
    1 x Seagate ST3500320AS 500GB Hard Drive SATA II 7200rpm *32MB Cache* - OEM

    It ended up quite a decent spec and completely overkill for a media server, but I wanted something I wouldn't upgrade for a while and for occasional gaming too.

    The build was pretty straight forward, had a few issues setting up the drives in a RAID5 array (the drives need to be set to RAID in the BIOS before the O/S is installed, which I discovered after several blue screens of death), but the biggest problem was when one of the HDDs in the array failed. It basically screwed up the whole PC and when I finally identified it, the process was a nightmare.

    At this point I destroyed the RAID, took the faulty drive out, and set up the drives normally for testing purposes, and then went to set up the PCH.

    Media Server lesson no.1: A RAID is a good idea for providing backups if you don't want to lose any data should anything go wrong (though it's not a true backup as if you are burgled, or flooded you still lose everything. But ultimately, if you're backing up optical discs, they're still going to be gone in the event of someone breaking in!) - BUT....if the RAID is in your PC and you don't have an expensive controller, it's a real pig to sort out if anything goes wrong. External storage i.e. a NAS is a good idea if you want to take this as a long term project.

    The first hard lesson I learnt was that from a streaming perspective, it's not always straight forward setting it up. Especially as a Vista user (which I was new to), there were a number of issues relating to network sharing, and although I spent hours and hours trying to sort the problem, I found that whilst the PCH could see my PC and vice versa, the PCH couldn't see ANY files on the network. It didn't help that most of the guides out there relate to XP rather than Vista, but I discovered two key things:

    Vista lesson no.1: Make sure you enable a Guest account on your PC!

    Vista lesson no.2: On the PCH (from your PC), make sure you add Guest to the user groups!


    As soon as I did the above two things it worked fine.

    How happy was I! I was over the moon until I tried playing the first file. Result? It d-d-d-d-d-d--didn't q-q-q-u-i-t-t-t-t-e w-w-w-o-o-r-r-r-r-k.... Yep, you guessed, the dreaded stutter. Alot depends on your network, on your wiring and homeplugs, but even with the 200mbps plugs it simply didn't work, with constant freezing and audio dropouts. It might work for compressed files, but bearing in mind my aim of playing back uncompressed 1080p files, it was a complete waste of time. One thing that's worth bearing in mind is that alot of people's views of uncompressed 1080p vary. We're talking about a typical movie being anywhere between 19-30GB (at the very top end) - a 9GB MKV file is definately compressed!

    Streaming lesson no. 1: Wireless simply doesn't work for uncompressed HD media streaming! You need a wired connection or use the internal drive within the PCH

    After all this faffing around, I put one of the drives inside the PCH directly, then moved files across the network. Hey presto, I was able to set up YAMJ (a jukebox which will take you ages to setup initially but makes the whole thing worth while!) and finally finally finally........I could watch streamed blurays!

    But uh-oh....hang on, some of the files weren't playing properly, some played without audio, and one disc changed half way through to an interview with the director. Oops. Something was wrong as many files were giving me these issues. I started a separate thread which provides an overview of how I rip my discs, and following these instructions sorted several problems: http://www.avforums.com/forums/stre...96-blu-ray-ripping-guide-media-streamers.html

    The main problem that remained was that no matter how I ripped certain discs, they froze, or video stuttered or they dropped frames, making them unwatchable. However quite by chance I solved this last week by changing the video output from the PCH from 1080p/23.976hz to 1080p/60hz. Miraculously, 99% of the problems have gone away. Now my panel is native 1080p/24 but it's interesting to note that somewhere, somehow there was some conflict.

    Streaming lesson no. 2: The majority of the time, issues around file playback will be down to the file itself, a network problem, or settings on the NMT.

    Streaming lesson no.3: In the event of a problem, first make sure you're streaming over a wired network or an internal (or external HDD), and if possible test all 3 in the event of issues to help identify the problem - if you have a problem on all 3 then you can be pretty sure it's down to the files or other settings.

    Streaming lesson no.4: If you still have a problem, look at how you're ripping your files. A classic issue is the "no audio" problem, but as you can see from the guide certain programmes screw up certain types of soundtrack. Other problems are caused by multiple m2ts files and where they join - I've not completely sorted this problem but am looking into it now.

    Streaming lesson no.5: Your network's fine, the HDDs are fine, the files are fine....but still problems with audio and video? Don't assume that because your PCH is set to settings that you KNOW to be right, that it'll necessarily work. e.g. problems with stuttering after the things above have been tried and tested? Try changing the refresh rate at which the PCH outputs. If you have audio problems, there is a bug where sometimes you need to select all audio output to PCM, switch HDMI audio off, change the video refresh rate then reboot before changing it back. Funny things aren't they? :eek:


    Just a quick word on jukeboxes. Anyone going down the NMT route will likely want to use something like YAMJ (Yet Another Movie Jukebox) or MovieFlow, essentially replacing the somewhat dull NMT front end. There are numerous guides on the net so look them up, but a couple of tips for anyone setting up YAMJ:

    Jukebox lesson no.1: Make sure the paths are correct on the YAMJ or Movieflow GUIs. So far, this seems to be the most common problem for either the jukebox skin not appearing properly or the files not playing at all. For example, I navigated directly to the mapped network drive in the GUI, and this gave me problems. Then I tried it again, and rather than mapping via the network drive, I navigated via the My Computer tree (if that makes sense).

    Jukebox lesson no.2: Unless you plan on hard-powering down the PCH after each use, it doesn't matter if the index file isn't in the root folder. Each time you switch the PCH on, so long as you were in the jukebox screen when you put the PCH in standby, it'll go straight back into the jukebox with no wife-confusing navigation to contend with.

    Jukebox lesson no.3: Most jukeboxes use IMDB tags to generate cover art, however it sometimes goes horribly wrong. If something isn't showing properly, look for the movie on IMDB and name the file exactly the same. For example, Stargate kept appearing as Stargate Continuim in the jukebox, however in IMDB it shows Stargate aka a french name. As soon as you change the name file to the french title, the cover art and IMDB info shows correctly.


    The last big phase of the project was completed last night, with the installation of a Thecus N5200B 5-bay NAS. A NAS solution isn't ideal if either a. you don't care about backup, b. you don't need much storage and c. you don't want to make any project an expensive beast. Otherwise, imho a NAS is a GREAT investment. The thecus in particular seems to be a major bargain currently, with a price belying 5TB capacity (actually more than that if you use 1.5TB drives) and being ultimately simple to setup.

    The biggest issue I had was getting into the web console (the setup disc is the first program since I built my machine that isn't compatible with Vista), as I had to manually assign the IP address. Not knowing much about networks or IP addresses gave me a bit of a challenge, but I finally sorted it (ran ipconfig from the windows command console and found the gateway IP, and then just fiddled with the last number until I found one that worked!) and from there it's been plain sailing.

    The only thing I really struggled to find info on was what stripe size to use. A google search yielded lots of posts - many of them from years ago on other forums - but none of them specifically dealing with files of 20GB+ etc. I ended up opting for a 256KB stripe size although I'm still unsure as to whether this is optimal or not. Things I learnt on the NAS front:

    NAS Lesson no. 1: Great for running storage that doesn't impact on your main PC - i.e. if any drives fail it doesn't slow or cripple your working PC, and it's easy to swap drives out

    NAS Lesson no.2: Stupidly, I didn't realise the NAS wouldn't show on my network until the drives were all up and running. Once I'd completely the RAID build and set up a shared folder through the console, all of a sudden I could map that drive and use it like it's an extension of the main PC.

    NAS Lesson no.3: Nothing, it's great!


    Summary

    Network Media Tanks provide a compact front end to enable you to stream the latest media. Whether it's downloading files, ripping DVDs or BluRays, they are versatile pieces of kit, all the more so because unlike your PS3s or XBMCs, they play ALMOST everything that you can throw at them. If you are willing to put the time and investment into it, it can be very rewarding, but be warned.....this is most definately not "plug and play".

    So if you want a challenge and realise there will be many headaches along the way, but know that you'll end up with something that even the most technophobe family member will look at and say "That's great", then get stuck in :)

    Cheers
    Matt
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    Last edited: Jan 26, 2009
  2. zAndy1

    zAndy1 Active Member

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    Glad you got there in the end, I'm trying to get by mainly with my PS3 which to be fair is working pretty well with the latest mkv2vob and PMS. I've also got the WD TV HD which doesn't stream over the network but is perfect for attaching my USB HDD to and playing stuff off there. Doesn't do dvd menus yet thouugh (I suspect that will be resolved in the next firmware update), also doesn't do cover art so I'm in 2 minds whether to get the PH A110. I had the A100 a while ago but had problems with stuttering even on stuff that would stream to my PS3 absolutely fine. I can stream a 1080p .mpg file converted from a .mkv to my PS3 with no problems at all so my network isn't the issue but I'm worried if I get another Popcorn I'll get the stuttering back. Anyway, thanks for the very thorough write up I'm sure it will come in very handy if not for me then for someone braver than me!

    Cheers
    Andy
  3. MrGrumpie

    MrGrumpie Active Member

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    Andy

    Worth checking the video output on the PCH, sounds like you had the same problem I did!

    Just setup NFS shares on my NAS tonight and it's working a treat. Only problem I have currently is the YAMJ doesn't seem to recognise any TV series episodes other than the first one.

    Oh there's always something to do :D
  4. daniel_owen_uk

    daniel_owen_uk Member

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    Just so you know the latest firmware for A100 and the soon to arrive A110 will have an automatic framerate switch.

    This means if you have a TV that support 50/60/24hz (well actually it's more like 72hz but you know what I mean), then if you set it to (dead easy), it will automatically switch the PCH output to the framerate of the file.
  5. MrGrumpie

    MrGrumpie Active Member

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    Looking forward to that although I'll probably have to switch it off. I don't understand why, but on many rips my plasma doesn't like the PCH outputting @ 23.976fps (even though my panel is native 1080p/24hz) - so I may end up with problems. I can't work out why I'm getting this problem, the only way I can get rips to play properly is 1080p/60. I'm not 100% convinced that's right either, because either way I get the odd dropped frame on many rips. It's annoying but livable for now, still not sure if this is down to the PCH not being powerful enough, but I guess time will tell as newer NMTs hit the market :)
  6. Topboy

    Topboy Member

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    Smurfin

    Excellent post...This would make a good sticky for new users

    Thanks again for the info
  7. daniel_owen_uk

    daniel_owen_uk Member

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    It should be nothing to do with the power, it's still processing the frames, it just means it sends them to the TV differently, but there will be a slight judder using this method, read up on telecine judder and 3:2 pulldown.

    Telecine - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Could be something to do with your plasma's EDID, what plasma do you have? (edit see it's in sig, very nice :)).
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2009
  8. Kieron

    Kieron Moderator

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    Blimey, sounds like you had a hard time getting everything going.

    For me, I grabbed a couple of popcorn hours, a Qnap 409 II nas, turned on the mac, turned on the pc and started streaming.

    Even the PS3 saw the nas immediately.

    I was up and running within 20 minutes.

    I do know that the Qnap's have streaming software built in though, but we only use twonky for the PS3 - the popcorn's see it and pull from it directly.
  9. MrGrumpie

    MrGrumpie Active Member

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    Pioneer's processing should sort any 3:2 pulldown issues, beginning to wonder if I'm simply getting a bit paranoid and looking in too much detail at the image! Tempted to do a factory reset on my unit tonight and then update the firmware again.

    Wouldn't mind trying another one just to see if my unit is doing anything silly, anyone close to St Albans? :D
  10. Rob

    Rob Member

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    Another great guide Matt. Glad you're approaching streaming perfection.:)

    Keep an eye on the hard drive status of your NAS. I know its kinda obvious but last week I noticed one of my drives in my TS-409 was dead and had been for about a week. :eek: (I'd had an Email to tell me this but missed it) To say I was panicking untill a replacement turned up is an understatement. I've RMA'd it now so will at least have a replacement ready should another one go.(running Raid5 BTW) Keeping a spare drive is certainly worth considering.

    Rob.
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  11. MrGrumpie

    MrGrumpie Active Member

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    Remember I came to the party with pretty much zero knowledge of PCs, networking and NAS's, and I suppose my requirements are towards the top end of what people will need in terms of media (uncompressed BluRay etc)

    It's been a learning curve that's for sure!:)
  12. dietcola

    dietcola Member

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    well i felt right outa my depth till i got about half way down that bad boi n it all starts to come together...
    brilliant article mate! thanks for the info ill defo be using that as a reference for my college work! brilliant, i might start my own little experiement off too....

    great inspiration!!!

    muchos thanks bro! muchos:clap:

    Peace out
    DCx
  13. Kieron

    Kieron Moderator

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    I can imagine!

    For me the issue was (and always has been) PC's

    My Mac's see items on networks instantly. Windoze takes some "fettling"

    Great article though :thumbsup:
  14. MrGrumpie

    MrGrumpie Active Member

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    Just a quick update :)

    I've been busy ripping Blu-Rays and everything is working great now :) Several rips later and I'm not experiencing ANY issues with playback. Word of advice to people though: I've not been able to get BluRays which don't have forced subtitles but are foreign language to work. Ones which DO have forced subtitles (i.e. burnt in) work fine.

    I'm finding NFS transfer from the NAS to be slightly quicker than SMB, as I never get a "buffering" logo when starting file playback.
  15. Nando1970

    Nando1970 Member

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    How do your setup deal with bluray uncompressed bitrate spike?

    I have my PCH streaming from NFS network share and I have stutter with compressed 1080p material when the bitrate peaks over 30 Mbps.

    Now I do understand that I'm hitting the limit for NFS which is reported at 33 Mbps and I'm thinking to move to internal HDD for which the limit would be 42 Mbps

    Anyway thare are uncompressed bluray with much higher bitrate peaks since the specs for bluray allow for up to 54 Mbps (even if 40 Mbps should be the maximum for video, but this is unconfirmed)

    ciao -- Nando
  16. MrGrumpie

    MrGrumpie Active Member

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    Can you give me some specific examples of particular files?

    I've been playing uncompressed rips from both an internal HDD and via NFS from my NAS, and there's absolutely no difference in playback. After trying lots of files, the only one I have consistent issues with is an uncompressed rip of Wall*E....
  17. daniel_owen_uk

    daniel_owen_uk Member

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    50Mbps is the limit of HP4.0 H264 (which is basically bluray).

    HTTP is the best method for network playback (IMO), and allows peaks of 47Mbps which I think will deal with anything.

    Wall-e has some weird branching iirc.
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  18. MrGrumpie

    MrGrumpie Active Member

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    Ahh, wonder if that's why I can't get it to work properly. Almost everything else plays fine for me, finally feel like I'm getting my money's worth from the PCH now :thumbsup:
  19. daniel_owen_uk

    daniel_owen_uk Member

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    I am really glad you feel like that (mainly as it was myself that recommended it in the first place) :D
  20. MrGrumpie

    MrGrumpie Active Member

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    To be honest it's this weekend that's really sealed it for me :) I've narrowed my issues down to one BluRay file (i.e. Wall*E) and any others I've had problems with are - I think - down to seamless branching. The subtitle issue is a tad annoying, but I only have a few foreign movies so not a biggie currently.

    Now ripping in earnest, up to around 30 movies on the NAS, and when it comes together it really is a joy :thumbsup: The funny thing is, I now think the PCH is a doddle to setup, although I'm learning more every day - for example, Deception (2008) was throwing up art work for the awful Reindeer Games on YAMJ, and I couldn't for the life of me sort out the NFO file. It turned out that I just needed to go into control panel and select "show file extensions", hey presto - sorted:thumbsup:

    Resources like AVF and especially NMT are great. Half of the replies to problem posts aren't helpful or won't solve the problem, but there'll always be one person that triggers the solution:thumbsup:
  21. daniel_owen_uk

    daniel_owen_uk Member

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    Have a look at xmbc media companion, that lets you pick and grab whichever artwork you want.

    YAMJ are committed to following xmbc nfo spec (or incredibly close) so they should work side by side.
  22. zero7

    zero7 Member

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    Take my hat of to you matt, it's hard work picking up something new, I had ot rebuild a PC and laptop the other day with new drives and had been away from tinkering for a few years and it took me ages:thumbsdow

    I have been thinking of going down the HTPC route for a while and been talking to some of the network geeks at work.

    My 'free' PC is due to be with me in the next couple of weeks and I intend to use that as my media player, I will be ordering a QNAP TS-509 with 5x 1.5TB Drives.

    I was thinking about going gigabit wired but one of the lads at work is steering me towards Wireless-N, at 300Mbps it should work even with uncompressed files or compressed at around 11GB (that was a test he carried out yesterday).

    I will be selling my DV139 to fund the project and the added benefit of the PS3 is I have a decent HD gaming console and Blu-Ray player.

    Based on this kit list I'm pretty sure I will not need a PCH, or are there other benefits over the PS3 for this task. (I'm thinking one less box less problems.)

    Great write up...
  23. MrGrumpie

    MrGrumpie Active Member

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    Good luck with your project :) Re: the NAS, take a look at the Thecus, got mine working a dream and it's fast, easy to setup, and you could almost have 2 for the price of the QNAP :eek: (I have 5 x 1TB drives in mine). I'm still not convinced of the reliability of the 1.5TB drives yet....
  24. zero7

    zero7 Member

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    I think the QNAP TS-509 and Thecus N5200 are about on par....
  25. MrGrumpie

    MrGrumpie Active Member

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    You're right, but the Thecus is £360 inc VAT :)
  26. Rob

    Rob Member

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    Wall.E was a problem for me too. Now seems to be running & playing smoothly :thumbsup:
  27. zero7

    zero7 Member

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    Your right, it's cheaper but has 1/2gb less memory and a slightly slower processor....as you, i'm goign to get something that is a bit future proofed..if at all possible...
  28. MrGrumpie

    MrGrumpie Active Member

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    It's certainly one of the best out there :thumbsup: (I would have chosen it if budget didn't come into the equation!)
  29. Nando1970

    Nando1970 Member

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    The last 2 I had problems with are Bee Movie (when they first fly outside), Iron Man (when he gets out of the cave with huge bombing and fire).
    Both of them are COMPRESSED 1080p rips. Once again I've been using wired NFS connection from my QNAP NAS

    On one hand what you say it's encouraging, as I just might have to fix my set up . On the other hand there's still something which puzzles me: when the bitrate is over 33 Mbps you _should_ have problems, since it's exceeding the specs.
    Do you have a rip which peaks for few seconds over 40 Mbps (video and audio included)? Does it work flawlessly?

    My LG bluray drive is on the arrival, so I will join the lossless rip club... I'm just hoping that everything will work OK

    ciao -- Nando
  30. MrGrumpie

    MrGrumpie Active Member

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    I don't have Bee Movie but I do have Iron Man on BluRay - I'll rip this tonight and test it. I'll be doing an uncompressed rip, so in theory I should have problems with the scene you mention. Am I right in thinking this is when he escapes in the mk1 version of the iron man suit? What file size and what audio is on your rip?

    To be honest I don't look at bitrates, just whether files play fine or not! Do you know how I can check and any particular files which peak at over 40mbps? (if Iron Man isn't one of those). As it stands I now only have one problem disc which is Wall*E, but I've sold the disc and deleted the file so can't play around with that anymore. Might rent it on Blu from Lovefilm just to see if ToNMT sorts it out once and for all - I have a feeling it will as I believe problems were down to some funny seamless branching rather than bitrate issues.

    I've also finally got round to watching a couple of full movies from the popcorn hour, watched Deception (compressed 1080p MKV) and L.A Confidential (uncompressed BluRay rip) and a DVD .ISO rip, and all played flawlessly. To say I'm a happy man is an understatement :)

    I'm sure it will :thumbsup: Just make sure you update the LG firmware, and I assume you have AnyDVD HD?

    Have you also tried streaming via HTTP or SMB to see if that makes any difference on your problem files? And have you tried them with a USB HDD? - at least you can eliminate network issues if you also get problems with an attached drive, which will mean it's a file issue.

    cheers
    Matt

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