My Movie Collection Odessey

Since I was a kid, I’ve always been a bit of a gaming and media junkie, often spending time on the computer, video game systems or watching movies.

In my adulthood I slowly started to accumulate a movie collection.  The bigger it got, the more of a pain it was to select and choose a movie that I wanted to watch.  Solutions were attempted and eventually discarded.  DVD cases in a rack made way for DVD books with just the discs in them.  That went away when I got my first 200 DVD changer.

The DVD changer was an interesting solution since it supported up to 200 movies (less than I had at the time) and could automatically scan the DVD to determine what they were.  Unfortunately this functionality worked by checking the disc to see the embedded name.  Some DVDs came up with name embedded.  Others were named, but the names were difficult or even impossible to decipher.

To deal with missing names, you were able to plug in a keyboard to the changer and manually enter names into it.  This had a few flaws:

  • You needed to know the name of the movie before you could add it, which doesn’t make bulk adding of discs easy.
  • Discs with embedded names did not allow you to override them.  So you may have ugly names like LORD_OF_THE_RINGS or you could have less obvious names like LOTRROFTK.
  • You’re not supposed to move the DVD player with discs in it.

The last problem resulted in the changer being discarded after we moved.  I just couldn’t go through the effort to re-enter in all the disc information a second time.  It lingered a few months with discs just being added as needed, but for the most part it was just using up space.

From there I started looking into ripping DVDs (converting them to MPEG4 files) in order to play them on computers.  I had one of the early iPods with a small color screen.  If I copied a movie to it via my computer, I could watch on a tiny screen.  My goal was to hook some sort of computer up to the TV in order to be able to play them.  This was before I had an HDTV, so the quality of the image when a computer was attached was… poor.

Next came the Apple TV in 2007, which allowed me to effectively stream the movie from my Mac using iTunes.  We were making progress, but weren’t there yet.  Next came the Logitech Revue, which was one of the first Google TV devices.  There were apps for the Google TV which allowed simplistic streaming from a home server using UPnP/DLNA.  It worked reasonably well, but the UI consisted of just folders and files, must like a file browser.

Finally I discovered Plex.  Plex is a free home media server which may be installed on Linux, Mac or Windows.  It does automatic discovery of your media files and uses online databases to determine what the movie likely is.  From there, it is able to populate a local database of all the movie titles, genres, actors, posters and more.  You can browse and view your collection within a web browser on a computer, play the movies on any compatible UPnP/DLNA client (with the normal DLNA style browser), or get access to full metadata and more by using a dedicated Plex client.  Plex clients are available for your home computer, Android, iPhone, Roku, TiVo, Playstation, Xbox, and more are coming all the time.  Your Plex server can also be accessed remotely over the Internet and you can choose to share one or more of your libraries with other Plex users if you desire.

While the program itself is free, there is a pay service called Plex Pass.  Having a Plex Pass gives you access to new features earlier than free users, and gives you access to some advanced features.  These advanced features include the ability to sync movies onto your mobile devices and access to new clients before they’re generally available, which is useful when you get the latest gaming console.

New features are available all the time, including one currently Beta only feature allowing for DVR functionality if you have a network enabled TV tuner.

These days I have 600 movies on my Plex server, episodes of 35 TV shows, and quite a lot of music (yeah, it does music too).  It’s definitely worth checking out if you want to have access to your movie library remotely.