A Raspberry Flavoured Media Server (Looking Glass)


A Raspberry Flavoured Media Server (Looking Glass)

A few months back I found myself thinking that I really want to use a RaspberryPi for something. So two weeks back I went on Amazon, got a shiny new RaspberryPi 3 with a bunch of other stuff (pictured below) and decided to turn it into my own media server.

Here’s the shopping list:

For additional pazazz:

Total spend: 83.93 pounds + delivery fees

You can probably also see a Makey-Makey on the table in the photo above, it didn’t make-y it into this project. I immediately regret that pun.

Actually, once you get everything and arrange it nicely on the table, the rest is pretty straightforward and easy. There’s a massive amount of instructions available online, check them out: installing OS images on RPi and Plex media server setup; my smooth, silky written words are here mostly as an experience sharing thing.

The Process

First things first. Before we’re too engrossed in the project - it needs a name. I’ll spare you from an awful pun or two. Upon staring at the wall blankly for ten minutes, then having a cup of tea, then remembering that I’ve recently decided to read Alice in Wonderland for the first time in my life - I’ve decided to call my media server The Looking Glass, I almost went for You’re Blocking The View (because Lego blocks), but thought better of it.

Next step - get the latest version of Raspbian Jessie and write it onto the SD card. I used Win32 Disk Imager, it’s lightweight and straightforward to use. I also didn’t end up with 400GB of malware on my disk afterwards, which is always a plus.

Then it’s fitting everything together time. The SD card goes into RPi, as well as a keyboard, a mouse, an Ethernet and HDMI cables.

My devious plan was to look at all the setup instructions on my phone and connect the RPi to my monitor. But turned out that my monitor is old-fashioned and refuses to get an HDMI port. He says it’s for youngsters and punks. No sense of adventure.

Luckily I have a projector with an HDMI port and hold a firm belief that nothing quite says cyberpunk like a Linux console being projected onto a wall.

After everything was connected and Raspbian was being projected onto my wall with a vinyl sunflower - there were some minimal changes to my RPi’s boot behaviour to be done - have it boot to terminal and logged in, and set the allocation of memory to the GPU to be tiny (the article suggested 8MB, Raspbian didn’t let me go below 16MB).

After that followed an hour of updating software and downloading required packages to set up Plex, setting up WiFi (RaspberryPi 3 actually has built-in wireless, but because I already have bought a wireless USB adapter, I decided to uncompromisingly use that), fixing the IP address of the Looking Glass and mounting an additional external drive. For really good, detailed instructions check out the link above or just click here, I really don’t want to steal that guy’s thunder, the instructions are easy to read, thorough and without screw ups.

And that’s literally it. You disconnect your RPi from the unnecessary stuff, like mouse, keyboard, HDMI, find a cosy place for it and leave it there. And on the device of your choosing you log into your cool new server with that IP you fixed with :324000/web added, accept the Terms and Conditions and you’re ready to go.

You might or might not be wondering - why did I pick Plex? Honestly? Because it was among the first five results I got on Google, it is free if you use it for your home network, the UI looks pretty and it uses metadata to look up posters, descriptions, alternative names and sometimes subtitles for your films. That fit my idea of what I wanted perfectly.

Total setup time: ~2 hours.


Now, you might be wondering, what’s the point of having a media server? Well, I used to store all my media on my PC, and then when I wanted to watch something from my PC on my TV - I had to take out my 10 meter HDMI cable, because my PC and my TV are in different rooms. A media server allows you to access your data - films, music, photos - from a wide range of devices in your home network, in this case - ones that have browsers. But through the magic of using, say, Chromecast you can easily access your media on your TV or projector. You can also make your server accessible from the outside and watch your favourite episode of Adventure Time from the convenience of your office. The future is now.

The whole thing ended up being really compact and tidy.

Barely any wires.