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Help needed - NAS vs Mac Mini for Plex and more

drb99

Active Member
I currently have a Mac mini (2012, Quad core i7) with 16GB RAM and an internal 2TB HDD which I've been using for the last few years to store our collection of photos, home video clips (mostly from when the kids were young), our iTunes library (approx 100Gb), and other data amassed over the years (the stuff you never seem to delete). We have iPads, iPhones and a couple of new model Roku's attached to our TVs and I installed Plex some time ago on these, and we also have a few Sonos speakers that are connected to the iTunes library too.

At the moment my data is a bit vulnerable, I basically plug in an external 2.5" HDD and do incremental backups on an ad hoc basis (whenever I remember / feel like it basically!) and then store the backup drive in a secure place.

So I'm looking to improve on this and ensure I have some redundancy / resilience, and also rip our collection of DVDs (80 approx) and Blu-rays (70 approx) so that we can simply browse and watch using Plex on any device.

A few years ago I had a dabble at ripping a few DVDs using Handbrake. In the last few days, as we are locked down, I have my daughters ripping the rest of the collection onto the free space on the 2TB HDD on the Mac mini using MakeMKV, and I'm then adding them all to a queue in Handbrake to convert to M4V files (H.264) which I believe can be played natively by the Roku and our iOS devices. I have a Pioneer USB3 Blu-ray burner arriving tomorrow to be able to do the BR collection.

So - I've started looking at NAS drives as an alternative to using the Mac. It will immediately give me some redundancy (2 disk mirror) and I was thinking of going for 2 x 4TB to ensure I have plenty of space for the foreseeable future. From what I've read, if I choose the right one, a NAS will allow me to do all of the things we use the Mac for currently, i.e. host our videos, photos, and DVD/BR rips via Plex to a mixture of clients, store our data securely (or at least provide some redundancy), host an iTunes library for Sonos, and no doubt lots more. I've also recently got Office 365 Home (with 5 x 1TB OneDrive included) so I'm thinking of using one of the OneDrive accounts to store our critical data as a second backup, synced with a share/volume on the NAS.

The thing I'm struggling a bit with is transcoding. I'm converting all the MKV rips to M4V, so they should, I believe, play natively on our devices and therefore not need to be transcoded. But we do have thousands of video clips filmed on various cameras/camcorders over the years which range in format from AVI, MPG through to AVCHD (MTS) files. So most of them will need to be transcoded by the NAS via Plex unless I'm going to laboriously convert them all first. When I watch them on say the Roku using Plex they do take quite a while to start playing compared to the DVD rips - and this is of course with them being transcoded by the quad core i7 (2.3Ghz) in the Mac mini.

Budget is about £500 including hard drives. Is there anything better than a Synology DS218+ with 2 x 4TB drives for this price? Will it be beefy enough to transcode the above stuff on the fly with no issues, and will it be faster or slower than the Mac for this? It only has 2GB RAM and a Celeron processor, although I know you can't directly compare it to the Mac as they are about efficiency etc.

I also want to make sure I'm future proofed to an extent - we may go 4K at some point in the next couple of years, not sure, in which case I'll be buying some UHD movies to play on our Xbox One as well. I may want to rip these at some point too - will a DS218+ do the job for those, with Plex?

Final question - as I'm about to start ripping our Blu rays tomorrow, is there any easier / faster way to do them using free software than the MakeMKV / Handbrake combo? What kind of file sizes can I expect if I convert the MKV into an M4V using the 'High' setting on Handbrake?

If there's another option, e.g. attach a cheap NAS to the Mac, and leave the Mac doing the hard work with transcoding etc, then that's fine, I just want to know what the very best option is, given my needs. I do ideally want it to be cost neutral though - the Mac mini is worth about £550 - £600 I think so it would fund a nice NAS - adding a cheaper NAS to the Mac would however cost me £300+ I suspect.

Thanks in advance for all the help and apologies for the long post !
 
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mickevh

Distinguished Member
I invite you to flip the idea of "will device X be powerful enough to transcode without a problem" on it's head and think of it conceptually another way: Transcoding will use as much processing power as it can get - what happens if it "cannot keep up" in real time is that the software will compromise the PQ, bit rate or both and if you are really unlucky the dreaded "buffering." Essentially, it'll try to fit the transcoding around the capacity of the equipment available.

I have often argued that real time transcoding is best avoided unless you absolutely have to, even if that means storing two copies of the media - on super duper all singing and dancing version for the "big" TV and something more mundane such as mpg2 & basic stereo for the phones and ipads where PQ and multi-channel sound is less important. It'll "cost" more in storage, but save you money on high powered processors and you just don't ever have to "worry" about whether the media tank has a powerful enough CPU - for simple/basic file serving, pretty much anything will do.

MakeMKV lifts media off the discs in their original format and wraps them in a new container (MKV) - by design MKV can wrap itself around many video formats. So your DVD rips will be mpg2 and the BD's will be AVC/H.264 or whatever. These formats are widely supported in playback devices. Unless you are trying to save disc space, there's no real need to process them further with Handbrake, though saving space is a good enough reason if you've got the time to do it and cannot discern any PQ change. I don't bother, not least because I'm not short of space.

I don't think there's any particular guidelines one what Handbrake setting X will do to media Y - you basically have to suck it and see - I've done a few that ended up bigger!

If you are thinking about RAID, then we should repeat the AVF mantra that "RAID is NOT backup." RAID avails continued access to data in the event of a disc failure. Backup means making duplicates "somewhere else." If you accidentally delete a file, get crypto-locked, virus infected or inadvertently record Ben 10 over the wedding video, RAID will not save you from a bout of silent treatment and/or speed dusting.

Wiki's articles on RAID and not bad if you want to do some further reading.
 

spinaltap

Distinguished Member
Once, I used to run 2 x Mac Mini’s: one, as my primary Mac, and the second exclusively as a HTPC. Now, I just have the one, which is located upstairs, while an AppleTV replaced the second Mac Mini in my lounge. Devolo HomePlugs connect the two.

My advice; add a suitably large USB HDD to your existing Mac Mini that contains all your movies, music and photos. The AppleTV will locate and play them all - controlled by iPad/iPhone/iPodTouch via AppleTV app.

The AppleRefurb Store is the place to buy cheaper ‘as new’ kit.
 
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