Cyberborean Chronicles

Home IT: Media

One of the important tasks of our home server setup is about media. The server hosts our large and old collections of DVD rips, music and photos that lived on our desktop boxes before. The collections are accessible across the home network with Samba/NFS shares and it works great for devices which can understand it: I mean the computers.

The story would end here if we didn’t want to access the media collections also from TV. This brought me to learn about DLNA technology and to get a DLNA-compliant media player, as well as to install and configure special media server software.

The media player

The device is Samsung BD-C5500 Blu-ray player that serves a home theatre setup in the living room (40″ LCD TV and 5+1 Dolby system). The player is compliant with UPnP/DLNA standards and it means that being connected to a network it looks for DLNA-compliant Media Server instances and automatically connects to them.

In the time when I purchased it (summer 2010), my knowledge about this kind of hardware was close to nothing and I had no any specific requirements in my mind. All what I needed was something that should play as many formats as possible, have a digital output and an Ethernet port.

Though my choice was somewhat random, Samsung turned out to be ok: it’s true Full-HD with a nice crisp picture through HDMI, friendly to seemingly all common A/V formats and can browse and play media from DLNA servers, external USB and, um, the disks, of course.

As a bonus, the player connects to internet to show online content like YouTube videos, Google maps, Picasa albums, Twitter and Facebook pages and so on. Sadly enough, the Twitter widget still isn’t aware of OAuth authentication (and therefore, is broken) and the available set of apps lacks such essential thing as a simple web-browser, so there is no way to view the random webs on TV with it.

Another sad thing about the player was WLAN support I’ve rashly bought into. On the rear panel, you can find a USB slot for an external wireless adapter, but don’t expect that any WiFi dongle in the world would work — this is for special Samsung adapter of which I know nothing but that it’s an exotic beast. Out of curiousity, I tried one of DLink dongles and it was (predictably) ignored by the device. There is however, a newer model of the player with a built-in WiFi adapter on board and all in all,  it was not a big problem to lay another Ethernet wire and plug it into the player.

The media server

I considered two DLNA media servers: Serviio and MediaTomb and finally have chosen the latter because it looked simpler, lighter, configurable and has a web-interface to manage media collections.

A gothic look of the user interface makes me sick but the way it works is simple and intuitive. You only need to select a directory in the server filesystem and MediaTomb will crawl it to find all supported media files and add them to the database. After a directory is added, it is monitored for updates to be synchronized with the MediaTomb DB. As soon as you upload new file to a monitored directory on the server, it appears in the MediaTomb collection and hence, in the player.

A good thing about MediaTomb is that it is scriptable — there is straightforward server-side JavaScript one can edit to implement custom collection structures based on metadata extracted from media files. Note that MediaTomb from Ubuntu repositories recklessly lacks scripting capabilities: if you want to enable this feature, download the sourcecode and build it yourself with JavaScript support.

Video

The video collection has a loose ad-hoc structure in the server filesystem, created manually: movies/series/animations/whatsoever, occasionally subcategorized by genre or by a director, etc. I liked to preserve that structure in the MediaTomb database and the import script modified like in this example does that.

Audio

MediaTomb does a good job on categorizing music using common ID3 tags by default: author, album, year and genre. I am happy with that taxonomy (this is what I’m used to see in AmaroK) and have not changed anything there.

Photos

The photo collection is organized in MediaTomb with date-based subalbums. It can read EXIF tags from photos but it’s not too useful: maybe someone wants to see his shots sorted by camera model or by aperture value, but not me. I would better want MediaTomb to be able to read the keywords from XMP/IPTC metadata written by digiKam but I have no idea if it’s possible.

Links

Some manuals and articles that helped me a lot in MediaTomb configuration and customization:

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