Building that Media PC

I’ve gone back and forth so many times on how to run a media server, what to buy, which operating system to use, how to get it all tied together and how to make it just work. I can’t say I’m done yet, but every new idea comes with new challenges and processes to get it done.

A little background on our RV. We have two Macbooks, one Pro and one Air. We both have iPhone 7’s. We have two tablets, one Amazon Fire 8, one generic android. For TV viewing, we have two Roku sticks. Then for media, we have a Lenovo Ideastick 300. There is an external 4TB hard drive with all our music and movies on it. For internet, we have an AT&T service with a ZTE Mobley, and connected to that is a GLi router.

I want a couple of things, and I’m still trying to figure out how to make this all work. We want to be able to watch movies and TV shows we’ve downloaded. We want to be able to listen to music. We want to be able to play games. We also want to have a video monitoring system of some sort, so we can record things for our YouTube channel. Ideally, I’d like it all to happen on the same device.

For software, I’m fine using Plex and OBS. Plex works with the Roku, so we can watch movies from the server on either TV. OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) should handle the video recording if I’m reading correctly about how it all works. The Lenovo stick PC, though, is not powerful enough to handle all these things. Hell, its barely even powerful enough to handle one of those things.

Right now, Windows 10 is installed on the Stick PC with Plex Server. It is connected to the living room TV through HDMI, and powered through a micro-USB plug into a USB charging hub. The hard drive is connected to the stick PC through its only USB port, but also connected to the USB charging hub because the stick PC does not provide enough power to the hard drive alone. The stick PC is supposed to login on its own and start the Plex server, but that isn’t happening for some reason. It boots and brings up a login screen and has two logins for me to use. I have not figured out yet why this is the case, but I may do a clean install of Windows on it and start over. Its been a bit convoluted and hasn’t had a refresh in a few months, so a clean install may be good.

With Plex server, I should be able to get the media server working. Its simple enough, and works when its supposed to. I’ll do a clean install tonight and walk through the process to get just Plex on it and nothing else. It would be great if I could install a lower demand OS on it, but there is something with the BIOS that does not allow that on the Lenovo version of the stick PC.

For the OBS server, I’m still not sure what to do. We have a space in our front dash that used to hold an old CRT TV, and I’d like to put it in there with a touchscreen so I can mess with it while its recording if need be. It would be great if I could somehow get a tablet that did that, but I’m not sure I can. A Windows Surface would be ideal, but those are pricey.

Basically, I need something with a decent amount of power, either a core i5 or maybe i7, 4GB of RAM minimum, and enough USB ports to attach three or four webcams, and an external hard drive. Not too lofty of a goal. A battery would be great too so it would run even when we aren’t connected to power. So how do I do this all? Probably with a laptop and a USB hub. I just have to find one that is powerful enough, small enough, and cheap enough. I don’t have a budget for one at the moment, but I’m shopping right now. Even a Windows tablet that isn’t a Microsoft Surface would be fine, and they sometimes show up on Amazon for fairly cheap.

I will also need some other things that will go in the opening where the TV used to be like a backup camera and a GPS designed for RVs. Those aren’t too big, but they will also require power. Right now, there is a cigarette lighter power plug inside the opening that I assume is getting power from the engine battery, so anything plugged in there will run when the engine battery is hooked up. I’m adding a disconnect switch because something is draining the battery when it sits for more than a couple of days, so at the present, I’ve been manually disconnected the power so it doesn’t drain. A backup camera and a GPS wouldn’t need to be powered while we aren’t driving anyway, so if they don’t have power, that’s fine. The OBS computer would need to be powered at times when the RV was stationary though, so it would be fine to be plugged into the AC power above the dash. We’ve already got a power strip plugged into that which we use to charge our batteries and such, so having a low demand computer plugged into that too would be fine.

So for now, I’m stuck. I want a new computer of some sort that works as a server, but I don’t have the money or technical aptitude to make it work right now. I’m going to try and get Linux of some sort installed on the Lenovo stick, so that might run better than Windows 10 with less resources. If I can make that happen, Plex and file sharing will be easy. That’s the goal for tonight, get the Plex server running properly.

Bubba outs.

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