I need to preface this by admitting to living in a household that consumes a lot of media. We typically have a movie, show or gaming video running in the background at all times. We are the type of people who will put on a 10-hour bird video for the cats before leaving the house, for their entertainment. If your situation is different the following may not apply to you.
- We have too many media subscription services with content that is of zero interest, even though we consume lots of media.
- Funneling savings from canceled subscriptions into building a media collection is no added cost, and I get to own the media as opposed to renting access to it.
- In the end, I have fewer subscriptions and a collection of shows and movies I actually want to watch, streaming anywhere.
Before there were streaming services, I used to complain about paying for cable/dish channels I never watched. When streaming showed up, there was hope for something better. Many cut cable entirely. Others, like myself, ended up keeping cable while adding more services on top. When the specials and promo deals expire, it can get pretty expensive.
Most streaming services do allow you to turn them on and off without long-term contracts. I will be honest here. I do not have the follow through to manage them month-to-month, depending on whether I’m done/starting with the latest season of whatever show that service drew me in with.
On top of that, I still only consume a fraction of what each of these services have to offer. So, I have the same problem as I did before streaming came along. I found myself wishing things were simpler, and being who I am, found a (not really) complicated way of achieving that.
I decided to build my own media server that could be accessed from the cloud. The money spent on Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, HBO Max, Paramount+ etc. can build a nice library of shows and movies that I like to watch. But actually building a media server at home is not as simple as signing up for Netflix, and there is a significant up-front investment.
With some patience and saving, I eventually added a network attached storage (NAS) setup at home. There are many ways to configure one of these things, including using it as a media server, which is what mine does mostly, but it’s also great for storing backups of my personal documents and data.
It took a lot of research to find a solution I was happy with and also fell within my budget. You can build the whole thing yourself for less, but I wanted something with a little less configuration and assembly required, but still with the option for later expansion. There are lots of options at the prosumer level.
Taking the requirements, availability and support into account, the brands Synology and QNAP are where its at. I mainly compared their respective 4-bay products (Synology’s DS923+ vs the QNAP TS-464) and both are solid solutions, but in the end I went with the latter of the two. The QNAP offers a few more customization and upgrade options. By comparison, Synology is a bit more user-friendly out of the box but has other limitations. However, this is not a comparison post. If you are considering a NAS, I recommend diving into the YouTube channel, NAS Compares.
If you’re a passionate media consumer like myself, chances are you already have a collection of Blu-Ray and DVD movies. That’s an easy place to start, and seeing my personal collection pop up on my smart TV, on my phone and so on, has made me revisit some of those old favorites. My wife reacted the same way, and was inspired to update some of our older DVDs to a higher resolution. Once we’ve filled a few more gaps in the collection, we’ll start actually saving money.
Your needs may differ from mine. I wanted lots of storage and went with 4 x 12 TB HDDs in a RAID 5 config. I bought all refurbished enterprise drives. They are a bit pricier but built for longevity and still come with warranty if you get them from a reputable seller. It took me three months to get the parts needed to actually fire up the NAS and another month for upgrades. Starting with 2 drives per month first, then the QNAP box itself. Finally, I upgraded it to 16 gb of RAM (from 4), a WiFi PCIe card and a 1TB SSD to work as a cache drive. It has been tested by running 2 HD movies on different devices at the same time, while also copying files to the NAS. No problem.
I highly recommend looking into your own media server if you’re in a similar situation and/or enjoy tinkering with tech. Because there will be tinkering. But it’s so cool when it is up and running, and as added bonus, it also gives me cloud storage for my photos, notes and other little services I’ve been paying for.