One format to rule them all,
One archive to protect them,
One player to stream them all,
and on my TV project them.
It seems like a fairly simple proposition, doesn’t it? A common file type to contain video and audio assets without proprietary licensing restrictions or DRM “protections”; A scalable, fault-tolerant storage solution with full redundancy to hold them all; and a means to stream them in all their digital glory to a home theater screen. It would also be nice if it didn’t break the bank Well, I’ve been poking around at this piecemeal for a couple of years now, and I think I’ve finally found a solution that satisfies 99% of the ancient Elvish proverb.
For the impatient, here’s the skinny, in the above order:
- MP4 container – 1080p h.264 video with AAC Stereo (Dolby Pro Logic II) and AC3 (Dolby Digital 5.1 surround) passthrough audio
- Synology Hybrid RAID Network Attached Storage (NAS)
- Kodi (XBMC)
- Google Nexus Player
Let’s break it down, shall we?
One Format to Rule them All – MP4
In a perfect world, I’d happily stick with Matroska (MKV) containers. You can put everything including the kitchen sink into an MKV file, and it will play. Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS, True HD 7.1, AAC, MP3, MJPEG, h.264, subtitles… you name it. If you can encode it, MKV can house it, and the best part: no corporation owns it; it’s open source and utterly free. So why would I settle for MP4? In a word, Apple. The folks in Cupertino, being wedded to so many content providers, aren’t too cozy with open-source formats that let users circumvent their iTunes (near) monopoly. In fairness to the Mac fanboys (among whom I do still occasionally count myself), Google, Amazon, and Samsung play the same game with their content, but I digress. For now, I still like the richness of embedded metadata possible in the MP4 container, and the way iTunes exploits it. So as long as I’m managing my media with iTunes (one notable exception, below), it pays to make it all iTunes -and iOS- friendly. The good news is that my home theater solution works with MP4s as easily as MKVs. So, until Apple throws one of their elitist tantrums and does something stupid, like drop support for Dolby Digital (AC3), I’ll stick with it.
Truthfully, I’m about at my wit’s end with Apple and their inexplicable lack of leadership in the latest media standards (like 4K video, True HD audio, and high resolution mobile device displays). As of this writing, I don’t own any iOS devices anymore, and I’m running out of reasons to keep dumbing down my media experience to accommodate them. Probably the only thing keeping me from kicking MP4 to the curb is the Herculean transcoding/re-muxing chore that will entail. But don’t think I won’t do it eventually, Messrs Ive and Cooke. You’re on thin ice.