So my journey started back in 2009 or 2010. I was given an HP Pavilion Media Center running windows 7, and this PC also came with an analog capture card and an IR remote controller. So naturally, like many thinkers and self-hosters, I got curious about what I could do with this.
So I started playing with Windows Media Center. At the same time, it was great for getting my toes wet. I already saw that I would want and need more. So while I continued playing with Windows Media Center, I began researching its full capabilities and went down the rabbit hole.
While researching, I discovered a pretty cool program called AnyDVD. This software allowed me to pull movies from the DVDs I owned. Why is that important, you might ask. At that time, I had little ones in my house who loved to pull them out and leave them sitting on everything—in my opinion, leading to a scratched disc and money going down the drain. Well, I started digitizing my media. This led to needing more storage which led to modifying the HP to allow more than one drive.
As time progressed, more DVDs digitized, and the wife looked at me like I was a crazy man. "Why are you doing all this? We have cable boxes and DVD players on all our TVs." She said this so many times. Well, as this collection grew, I realized what good was to have all this if I couldn't watch it outside my house.
So I began researching and looking for something that allowed me to stream this collection to my phone. I found Plex. While there were things I loved about Plex, they didn't support tuner cards at the time. So back into the rabbit hole I went.
After months of looking, I discovered MediaPortal. While this had the main things I wanted, Movie and TV support, streaming via a webpage, and TV tuner support. I still felt like something was missing. It didn't entirely feel right for my family or me. I had to configure the tuner manually and configure the web player the way I wanted, and I was constantly tinkering with it, trying to get it just right. After waiting and even helping troubleshoot what would become v2, I knew there had to be something better. So back into the rabbit hole I went.
This time I found Media Browser (now known as Emby). This software was gaming-changing. It allowed me to have a centralized server for everything built with web support, live TV support, etc. It even had applications explicitly built for Roku and iOS.
During this time, I installed three 2 TB drives. While that was a lot of storage for me then, I didn't want to remember where I was storing what. So I did more research and found Drive Bender. This allowed me to pull all three drives and present them to windows as a 6TB drive.
I was floating on cloud nine and found the perfect solution for what I wanted. The family had started to use the Roku app, and the number of devices on my TVs began to dwindle.
The collection kept growing, and I realized I needed a more significant case and a better system. So I begged and pleaded with the wife to get something better. So I bought this setup. More drive mounts than I thought I would ever need. Better processor to support multiple threading, and I even used it for basic weekend gaming. This posed its only challenges down the road as streaming media while gaming was impossible.
Also, during this time, I had a domain I wasn't using for anything, so I decided to use it to stream files and allow me to RDP back into the computer so I could tinker while at lunch. All I needed to do was open the port on my router.
This all worked great for a few years, but streaming took its toll on the family when I would game, so I decided to build my third home server—this time using a new case that was much smaller, SilverStone D360, with a Micro ITX motherboard and LSI 9211 HBA card. I installed Linux, having little experience; once I had a fundamental understanding of what I was doing, I began to realize that moving to Linux meant I no longer would have Drive Bender to pool my media. This led to more research and ultimately landed on MergerFS. I also knew I would want more than just MediaBrowser on my system, so I started researching and landing on docker. So now, understanding all this, I installed emby and started the prolonged process of copying my collection to the new system.
Easy peasy lemon squeeze, right? Wrong.
I had to modify the Silverstone case to accept the LSI 9211 card. This led to the discovery that the mod was blocking the airflow from the drives causing them to run hotter than they or I liked. While not ideal, I ran this for about two years before I upgraded the case one more time, and this time to Fractal Design's Node 804.
This system was and is a beast. It supported all my projects and tinkering until about 2 or 3 years ago when I noticed it was struggling to stream and run Home Assistant. So I did what any good self-hoster would do and bought more computers. This time I had a plan. Leave anything and everything media related on the current system and start moving all my other applications to dedicated systems. So I bought three intel NUCs; one would be used for everything website and web services related, one would become a dedicated Home Assistant system, and the final would be used just for running Minecraft servers for friends and family.
So here we are at current times with many learning experiences under my belt and the future to be unseen. I have many plans to rework a lot of my setup and plan to document it along the way.