Introduction: Multi-Room Media Network on the CHEAP

About: In my free time, I like building and repairing almost anything especially with found or recycled materials.
We seem to be recording more and more programming off satellite TV (New Zealand Freeview) so we can watch it when we have time (instead of when it is aired).  A couple of years ago, it became obvious that the hard disk recorder wasn't really up to the challenge.  In fact, the old Media centre in the living room had to give way to a media network, but how to make it work for everyone!

Media Acquisition Requirements:
Everyone (except the littlest one) needs to be able to "book" programs to be recorded.  If it is too complicated, someone will have to do this for them (i.e. me).  For some programming, they should be able record, watch, then delete, and for others, they should be able to edit and archive it to watch later (or again).

Media Distribution Requirements:
The littlest one wants to watch the same 40 "Angelina Ballerinas" over and over on the TV in the Kids Living Room (KLR) when she gets home from school.  The teenagers might watch last week's Glee in the KLR or on their laptops.  My wife and I would like to watch something in our room (MBR) or on our laptops.

Sound impossible to do this on the cheap?  Read on!

Step 1: Media Acquisition

1. Satellite to Dreambox Receiver
The Dreambox (pic 1) is a satellite receiver that has an Electronic Program Guide (EPG) web page that is accessible by everyone on the LAN and it streams MPEG2 video over the LAN to shared network storage devices.  The EPG (pic 2) has 24 hours of programming for all the available channels with a clock-shaped "Record" button for each program.  You can't book two recordings at the same time on this entry level Dreambox but you can set up repeated bookings.

2. Dreambox to AirDisk
Anything "booked" on the Dreambox records onto a USB hard drive connected to the Airport Extreme, which is also accessible from everyone on the LAN.  A NAS would be similar, probably faster.  It is recorded as a MPEG2 transport stream or .ts file.  VLC happily plays .ts files so as soon as it starts to record, you can watch it on the LAN.  However, the .ts files are around 1GB/hour of programming, so it wouldn't take long to fill any hard disk.

3. AirDisk to MPEG Streamclip and Back Again
We use a freeware program called MPEG Streamclip (pic 3) to edit the .ts files and compress them into .AVI files (~330MB/hour) and save them back on the AirDisk.  Everyone is responsible for editing and archiving anything they want to save and any .ts file that stays on the AirDisk for 2 weeks gets automatically deleted.

All this happens without any dedicated server or media centre humming 24/7.  Just the Dreambox (on standby when not recording), the Airport extreme and AirDisk.  If there is a power cut, the Dreambox restarts, reattaches to the restarted Airport and AirDisk and everything is back online.

Cost: The Dreambox cost around NZ$250

Step 2: Media Distribution

Laptops are wonderful things, but sometimes is nice to watch programs with other people.  It's also not very practical to have the littlest one dragging a laptop around the house (or to the sandpit).  We've got two media distributors on the network, KLR and MBR.  I came across this solution by accident and it was so cheap and worked so well, that it hasn't really changed.  

Hard Disk to Media Player to TV/Projector
Years ago I found this DVD player from Dick Smith Electronics for NZ $69 that played AVI files via the USB port (pic 1).  Now you can find similar machines everywhere.  It doesn't even have USB 2.0 but we shrink the AVIs so much that the USB bandwidth isn't really a problem.

It clearly stated on the box that the USB could handle flash drives up to 2GB so for months we moved flash drives across the house.  One day I plugged in a 20GB external HD (FAT32 format) and it recognised it!  I found a 120GB external and it didn't, but when I put the 120GB drive in the 20GB case, it DID recognize it.  It turns out that the cable for the 20GB case did not have a wire connecting the earth (ground) shields.  When I wrapped the USB cable earth (ground) with electrical tape, it suddently recognised any FAT32 formatted USB drive.  Now I could copy all the kiddy programming to the KLR hard drive and all the things we were going to watch to MBR.  Pic 3 is the rather basic DSE player interface showing folders on the left column and AVIs on the right.  Note that any name longer than 8 characters (folder or file) is awkwardly truncated.  Pic 4 is MBR with another DSE player and what might be the worlds oldest Sanyo projector still in use.

Network to KLR/MBR Hard Disks
A couple of years ago I was trawling and found the two Ximeta NetDisk enclosures for US$19.95 each.  They were limited to PATA drives (and the player to FAT32) but I hooked them up (with the electrical tape trick) and they have performed flawlessly (pic 5).  USB seems to be the dominant interface so when you turn on the NetDisk and turn on the player, the network interface is ignored.  If you turn on the NetDisk when the player is off, then the drives show up on everyone's desktop (pic 6).  Now everyone can move media to and from the AirDisk, KLR and MBR.

Cost: 2X DSE players @ NZ$69 + 2X Ximeta NetDisk enclosures @US$19 so ~NZ$200

I've done another instructable going into more detail setting up the media player.

Hope you enjoy!