How to Organize a Modern Home Network and Home Theater: Step by Step Guide

home theater

If you plan to organize a home network for storing a collection of video, audio and photo material with easy access to this content from various devices, this post is right for you.

I will try to describe the structure of a home network with the minimum and optimal set of necessary network and multimedia devices. The article is based on many years of my experience, which is built on efforts and errors, as well as on many changes in configuration and structure.

Home Network Structure

For a beginner, the most difficult thing is to determine the minimum required set of devices for our home media network. Let's start from scratch.

The structure of the home network implies the following minimum set of elements:

  • Quite a large storage volume for storing the entire multimedia collection: films, music and family photo archives.
  • Download torrents by means of a network drive in 24/7 mode.
  • Access to network storage (to the media collection) from any device in the house. If necessary, you can also implement remote access by creating a backup in the cloud.
  • Support for all media extensions. Your system should play almost everything, regardless of format, container, etc. I’m not talking about the base computer player, because we need to access the content from anywhere in the home on a variety of devices.
  • Modern TV or projector.

Ideally, a home media network project should exclude a personal computer, whether it is a desktop or a laptop. In this article, we will deal only with HTPC. HTPC is also a computer, but it will be free from tasks and will not be taken away as a laptop to work, as home users need constant access to the storage with media content.

Main components of the home network

When implementing a home network from scratch, you need to keep at least three devices in your head:

  • NAS – network storage, which will be responsible for storing content.
  • Router to provide wired and wireless access to the storage (to media content).
  • Network media player and TV/projector.

The last point is valid only for those who are planning to purchase a new modern TV or projector for home cinema. For those who already have a TV and it supports access to the network with the ability to play network media content, this item is not relevant.

Network Media Player or NAS

The dilemma is quite relevant. If a modern media player can work as an “all-in-one” gadget, has a relatively low price, then it could well become the center of our home network or home theater in the living room. Consider the main nuances of this configuration.

If we speak of a network player as an independent device, then, as a rule, you can install 1-2 HDDs on it. If you take two 5TB hard drives, then the problem of storing large amounts of data will be temporarily solved.

Given that you will install the largest possible disk in the network media player, the choice will fall only on the HDD. SSDs of 2 TB and above are way too expensive. Placing a network media player near the TV causes interference in the form of noise from the operation of hard drives. You won’t achieve 100% silence if you don’t place it in a special niche.

Another point is that the network media player or the HTPC is quite noticeable, and in the case of some HTPC configurations, occupies a lot of space. Also, the network media player has its remote control and power supply.

NAS or network storage

As you already know, a NAS is an array of several disks combined in RAID 0 or 1 for dual-drive arrays and RAID 5 for three-drive or higher. Other RAID options are possible, but their implementation will depend on the specific NAS model.

Many people think: “Which NAS is better to choose for home storage?”. The choice of network storage model depends on the size of the media collection, as well as on the need for additional services for working with content in the NAS drive, such as cloud backup or remote access.

Basic parameters when choosing a NAS model

Support for large disks, 4 TB and above. When selecting your preferred NAS volume, count the size of your current collection and multiply by two.

Scaling without loss of content. It means the ability to add new disks and change the configuration of RAID without losing existing data. If you increase the number of drives to 3 or more, I strongly recommend switching to RAID 5, as this will significantly improve the reliability of the array, although it will take away the capacity of one disk from you.

LAN 1000 interface (gigabit network).

DLNA support. DLNA is an international standard that allows different devices to share media content on their home network. DLNA support in NAS will let you easily and comfortably play video, photos, and audio from the storage on any home device with DLNA support, be it Smart TV or a smartphone.

Additional functionality. The presence of additional “chips” in the network storage in the form of various online services, the ability to connect IP cameras, FTP access, SMB protocol, security policies, remote access and restrictions on user access rights to different parts of the content can make interaction with the media collection as comfortable as possible. On a modern NAS model, you can even host your website.

TV or projector?

I find the projector an imperfect solution for an apartment; if you are not able to allocate a separate room for a home theater, then it's better to say goodbye to the idea of ​​buying a projector. I recommend installing a large panel and a projector in a private house or large apartment. After all, when using a projector, you have to turn off the light in the room, put blinds or blackout curtains. When viewing the projector, an expensive screen is needed in order not to observe the texture of a cheap canvas. There is also a noisy cooler; a cooling lamp will add pepper to operation as well as a bundle of wires under the ceiling, not to mention a separate remote control.

Media streamer and TV boxes

It’s a simple solution for organizing a home network with old client devices. If you have a TV without network support, you can get a media streamer. Such a gadget can transfer media content via LAN or Wi-Fi from the network storage to your TV. The operating system allows you to install additional applications on media streamers and connect accessories: remote controllers with a gyroscope, wireless keyboards, etc. There are quite a few manufacturers of such devices; I recommend devices from Dune, Popcorn, and iconBit.

HTPC

I love PC-based home media configurations; these devices provide ample opportunities because they can combine the functions of all the above devices: network storage, router, and media player.

Modern media centers (Kodi, Plex, Serviio, Nero MediaHome) allow you to quickly set up such a system, which can be a worthy replacement for the previously described version of the home media network. You can control the HTPC with the installed media center using the IR remote control or the remote control with a gyroscope, or connect a wireless mouse and keyboard with a touchpad.

Transcoding

Transcoding is the process of converting video on the fly (or separately video or audio stream) into a format supported by the device directly during playback.

The need for transcoding occurs at a time when the TV or player cannot play (decode) the video or audio file. If the file was attempted to be played on the DLNA network, in case of failure, the TV (or player) reports the DLNA server about the inability to play the content, and separately reports what exactly it failed to play, the audio track or video. If the DLNA server is classified as advanced, it automatically starts the transcoding procedure of the entire file or a specific audio or video track.

Alternatively, you can prepare all the videos beforehand. So you won’t need to wait when you decide to enjoy a movie. If you have videos in various formats or even old DVDs, use a free DVD ripping software from Freemake to convert them to a format supported by your home theatre. I recommend choosing an MP4. The majority of modern gadgets supports it. You will only need to insert your DVD, click “to MP4” and run the conversion process. Then upload the ready files to your media storage.  

I described the possible ways of organizing a modern home network in a rather compact way; I will be happy to answer all the questions that arise and add to the article because I think a lot has been missed.