So we have the plan for the home media network, now we need to get stuck into how we are going to set it up and what we are going to use.

One thing that I think is important in these types of setups is to be able to get the most amount of value from your hardware. It would be nice to be able to go and buy a brand new workstation etc for these items but not all of us have the money to do that, or want to spend our money on this straight out of the box.

The hardware I have used in this setup comprises of a number of older computers that I had lying around and some new gear that I purchased specifically for a certain role. Here is what I have used.

Back end

The back end is the behind the scenes computer and runs the show. If you were going to spend your money on a part of this system I would recommend that you spend it here. Likewise if you are looking to upgrade a part of the system I would recommend you start here.

So for this role I have the following

  • Acer Aspire One Netbook – This isnt going to run any front end services so while it may be a little slow it will be fine for the back end processes. I also increased its memory from 1GB to 1.5GB. (Which is the max for the machine without getting out a soldering iron). Netbooks seem to be on the way out but a cheap laptop will do the same thing, if you watch the specials you can pick up laptops from about $300 brand new.
  • A USB HD Digital tuner. This was purchased for about $30 originally online by doing a quick Google search I have found a bucket load for under $100.
  • A Seagate 2TB External Hard Drive which was purchased for about $100. It isn’t hugely fast but again that isn’t a massive problem.

If you were starting from scratch then you could purchase the entire back end for under $500.

Front End

The front end is a little more important. It needs to be easy to use, reliable and quick. You have plenty of options when it comes to front ends. I started with a Kaiser Baas Media Centre device which broke not long after purchasing it. I ended up trading it in for a Western Digital HD TV Live media player and have been happy with it. I picked this up from JB Hifi for about $100. The only key to choosing a front end device is that it should support File shares and DLNA.

Network

The final thing to think about for this is the network in which is will run across. This is one area that we do need to get right straight up because if it isn’t right the whole system will not work as expected. You don’t need to spend bucket loads of money on your network but you do need to remember a few things.

  • Avoid Wifi for as much as you can. – Wifi makes all this very easy to connect BUT it has its down sides such as its usually a shared medium.┬áThat means that if you have 54Mbps and you have 5 devices then each device may be reduced to about 10Mbps. (Its not quite that simple but its a good idea of how it can limit the amount of traffic being supplied) One quick note about this. If you have the back end and front end on a Wireless G Access point you straight away half your speed, add a phone and computer and you have potentially reduced the amount of speed available to below what you require to stream HD content which is about 16Mbps.
  • I have simplified to one device because I don’t want to run a lot of network gear that sits idle for most of the time. This device is a Wireless Modem/Router. I have decided to use a Billion because they have a good wrap. This came to about $100 – $150.
  • Cable in the core gear. In terms of speed and reliability you can not beat a cable. I have cabled in the following devices to ensure that they get good speed and a reliable connection. The Back End Server or Servers, The front end devices. The rest can run across the wireless as long as it supports the amount of data being transferred.

So in my network I have a Billion BiPAC 7300GRA with the following devices connected via a cable.

  • The Acer Aspire One Back end Server
  • The Western Digital TV Live Front End
  • A Sony Blu Ray Player which as supports Quickflix and catch up TV.

I also have a computer, printer and a number of phones and tablets connected via wireless. This setup allows the high bandwidth devices the high speed of the cable but also allows me to stream content to other devices if I decide to.

As you can see the setup is not expensive, the total for new would be about $600. I would assume though that you have a modem so it would come in around $500 ish. Remember the gear doesn’t need to be hugely powerful but of course the more power the better the performance.