It can be difficult to find ways to watch your favourite movies and series while travelling in an RV. Streaming over Wi-Fi is an option, but most campgrounds lack the necessary bandwidth. It’s also a viable option to use a mobile hotspot, but what happens if you run out of data? DVDs are also an option, but they take up a lot of space in the limited space you have.
That’s why we went with a media server. Some people see large computers coupled to massive storage drives when they think of a media server. Fortunately, that isn’t the case with many of the solutions available today. Our server, in actuality, takes up very little space in our RV while storing hundreds of movies and programmes for both adults and children.
The beauty of today’s media servers is that they don’t require a complex configuration. For ours, we utilise an HP laptop. It isn’t really noteworthy. We opted to buy it because it was on sale at Best Buy. It takes up very little room, which is maybe the most crucial consideration while travelling full-time.
We tried using one of our older computers for a while, which worked perfectly. Most computers will do as long as they meet the minimal system requirements for the server software you intend to utilise. The hardware requirements aren’t very demanding: check out the Plex system requirements for an idea of what you’ll need.
Before you go too far with your server setup, you might want to consider adding an external storage device. Our laptop has 1TB of local storage, which is plenty but insufficient for the quantity of movies and television episodes we own. We bought a 9TB hard drive on sale, just like the laptop, to save our stuff. We’ve almost completely filled it after almost a year.
You’ll need to install and setup your media server software after you’ve figured out your hardware. This is the application that handles all of the behind-the-scenes operations. All of the choices I’ve discussed below offer nice user interfaces that make scrolling through your material simple – as long as everything is set up correctly.
Plex is, without a doubt, the most well-known media server software available. It’s easy to get started, and its adaptability makes it ideal for organising all of your movies, TV series, personal videos, and photos. Plex can be installed on a computer or laptop, as well as a network-attached storage device (NAS). If you have a computer that is almost always on, you should have no trouble setting it up as the Plex server’s host.
The setup is mostly automated, and watching material is as easy as downloading the free player app for the platform you intend to use. Plex is compatible with a wide range of operating systems, including Windows, Linux, Android TV, PlayStation, macOS, AppleTV, and more. Plex customers have access to a wide range of capabilities right out of the box.
Remote access and port forwarding, for example, work without requiring any additional alterations or adjustments, allowing you to connect to your media from anywhere at any time. Plex automatically uses the local network for streaming whether you’re inside or near your RV, as long as your device and the server are on the same network.
However, if you wish to watch your media from a different location, you can do so without paying anything more. When we take the kids to the park to let them run about, we sit on a park bench and watch our favourite TV show while they play. It gives the children exercise and the grownups some alone time. The menus are attractive, intuitive, and simple to use.
Keep in mind that if you have a large movie collection, you may experience some slowdowns from time to time. Another useful feature is the software’s ability to download cover art metadata from IMDB automatically. Plex has utilised art from the wrong version of a movie or couldn’t find the film at all on a few occasions, but these have been the anomalies rather than the rule.
Plex, like its competitors, transcodes content in real time, making automatic modifications to improve quality and performance. However, take in mind that the quality will be limited by the available bandwidth. While most of what Plex has to offer is free, some of the platform’s better features are only available to those who subscribe to the Plex Pass monthly subscription.
This includes things like streaming entertainment to your smartphone or tablet, downloading movies to your device for offline viewing, and controlling your dashboard from your PC. If you don’t require the Plex Pass’s premium capabilities, you can unlock the mobile apps for a one-time cost.
Plex makes it simple to manage and stream your media. Follow the on-screen steps, and you’ll soon have all of your video content in one spot, ready to watch whenever you want. After evaluating a number of choices, we decided on Plex for our media server requirements.
Emby is a newer software solution on the market that blends Plex’s clean and polished design with Kodi’s open-source capabilities. It’s a little more difficult to set up than Plex, so if you’re new to media servers and how they function, you might want to start with something else. Emby began as an open-source software project, but in 2018 it closed the code and shifted its focus to a Plex-like commercial model.
The platform began to evolve and offer plugins that customers would want, but these were put behind a paywall. Even if you choose to use the free version, you’ll get a lot of features that make Emby a good media server software option. Emby, like other media server technologies, has a client/server model. The playback client is installed on your smart TV, PlayStation, smartphone, or other connected devices after the server software is installed on the host device.
If you want to stream content, you can also watch on your PC. If you don’t want to pay for the extra services Emby offers, you’ll have to stream content from the same local network as the server. For an RV media server, this method works perfectly. Although I must confess that Plex performs a much better job in this area than Emby, the software automatically gathers metadata and organises your collection.
Emby has a good feature that Plex lacks: the ability to create profiles for individual users. You can also set parental restrictions for specific user profiles to prevent youngsters from viewing stuff they shouldn’t. The core functions Emby offers should enough for those just getting started in the realm of media servers. However, you’ll most likely want to upgrade to Emby Premiere in the near future.
Remote access, DVR support, quicker transcoding, offline viewing, and a slew of other capabilities are all available for $5 per month. Unfortunately, for individuals who stream content on a regular basis (like us), the free edition of the media server software will not provide enough functionality, making the Premiere features worthwhile. If you don’t think the free version of Emby will enough, I prefer Jellyfin, which is explained further down.
When Emby become closed-source, contributors created Jellyfin as a fork to keep an open-source alternative alive on the market. Jellyfin is 100% free, and there are no extra services or features to pay for. You get exactly what you see. Jellyfin has built-in DVR and live television functionality, and there’s no data tracking of your viewing habits because it doesn’t “phone home” to a central server.
The server software is compatible with a variety of operating systems, including Windows, Linux, and macOS, as well as a portable version that can run on anything with a.NET core, such as most smartphones and tablets. Despite the fact that the server’s core functionalities are robust, the client apps may use some improvement in terms of making navigating easier for the typical user.
However, keep in mind that the software is always being updated, so expect things to change in the near future. On Android or iOS smartphones, web browsers, smart TVs, and other devices, you can use your Jellyfish client to watch content. Jellyfin is a good option if you prefer an open-source and entirely free media server.
How We Set Up the Media Server in our RV
We use Plex as our media server, and it was a really simple procedure to set it up.
Before you begin downloading Plex, keep in mind that you’ll need to have all of your stuff arranged into folders. TV shows in a show folder, movies in a movie folder, and so on.
This is so that when you link the content during setup, it’ll be ready to pull material from the folder in one step. You may also connect the directories to the server first and then add the content afterwards, however the media type won’t be recognised until the content is added.
- Download and install Plex onto your server machine (in our case, the HP laptop.) While you’re on the downloads page, be sure to take a moment and check out client downloads as well, to make sure you’ll be able to watch shows on your favorite device.
- Install the server software on your computer.
- The software will launch, and you’ll be greeted with a login page. If you don’t already have a Plex account, sign up for one.
- Next, you’ll name your server. You can either leave it as the default name Plex gives it or change it to something more creative. Ours is ‘RV Media Server.’ Pretty clever, huh?
- Now you’ll add media to your server. Choose ‘Add Library’ to get started.
- Select the type of content you want to add. You can choose between movies, shows, music, photos, and home videos.
- Let’s use ‘Movies’ to get started. You can either leave it called Movies, which is what we did, or change it to something else. Then click Next.
- Next, you’ll need to point Plex to the folder that contains the files. We’d named the folder Movies, so there’s no confusion. Use the ‘Browse for media folder’ button to navigate the appropriate content.
- Now do the same for all your other media types. Music, TV shows, home videos: the process is the same.
- Continue through the process until Plex tells you that you’re ready to launch. Click the Done button. Your media server is now up and running!
Another thing to bear in mind is that after the first setup, the server will take some time to update all of its libraries. This stage entails searching the folder for files, locating metadata, and populating and structuring your user interface. Don’t be shocked if your content takes a while to appear. On subsequent runs, it will be faster.
Plex supports a large number of client devices, so you should be able to find one that works for you. Plex can be seen on Android and Amazon TVs, Windows and macOS laptops, PlayStations, cellphones, and other devices.
All you have to do is go to the device’s app store, find the programme, download and install it, and then run it. You can connect using the same credentials you used to sign up for Plex. That concludes our discussion. You may now watch your media from wherever you choose, even if you aren’t in your RV.
Problems We’ve Run Into
We have a few issues with our media server because we are on the road full-time. They can be aggravating at times, but having our stuff available is worth the minor inconvenience. As you could expect, connectivity is the most difficult issue. On the road, Wi-Fi is frequently inadequate, making remote streaming and downloading of new shows problematic.
Plex, on the other hand, can stream across the local network when it can, so we don’t need internet access to view our favourite shows and movies. We’re fine to go as long as we’re in the RV and the shows are already on our server, with minimum buffering or delays. This is a great alternative to sites that require a connection to work, such as Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+.
Another issue we have from time to time is streaming content to several devices at the same time. Because we have four children, the server can become clogged if everyone wants to watch something different on Plex. However, it’s rarely a huge issue because the kids almost always watch the same item on the same device.
Why We Like It
We appreciate Plex in our RV for a variety of reasons, but the most important is having access to entertainment whenever we want it. If you’re a parent, you’re aware that there are times when you just want your children to leave you alone. Plex allows them to watch a television or a movie while we enjoy some peace and quiet. That isn’t to suggest that my husband and I don’t utilise it ourselves.
While we’re winding down at night, we watch our favourite shows. It’s a wonderful way for us to conclude the day and spend some quality time together. Plus, we don’t have to scroll for hours to find something fascinating – if it’s on our server, it’s likely one of us put it there because we want to watch it. Finally, we won’t have to struggle with the buffering that comes with trying to use streaming services on a terrible Internet connection.
There are a few issues, but for the most part, we have access to the movies and shows we want at any time. It’s a convenient, space-saving, and effective solution to our entertainment demands for RV travellers like us.