New Toy: Synology DS216Play

About a year ago I finally took the dive and started using Plex to host and play my videos. This happened about the time I write about how iTunes was a dumpster fire, because, well, sigh. And still is.

The good news is that my Synology NAS supports a Plex server, so I was able to install it there and shove all of my video content onto it. I bought a USB blu-ray (that also reads DVDS) to suck physical content in, and I use MakeMKV to deal with the media, Handbrake to do the data conversions, MV4Gear to strip DRM off of iTunes content to make it usable in Plex. The process can be time consuming but it’s pretty straightforward. Some of what I’ve encoded has been collections of shorts (Warner Brothers Cartoons, for instance) and that can turn into a grind, but once you get it into Plex, it’s all pretty straightforward, and I’ve been quite happy with Plex on the Apple TV and IOS devices. It’s much more straightforward to sync a video for offline viewing in Plex than in iTunes, for instance.

But… My setup had one problem, which has been annoying me no end. My Synology is a good unit and I love it for its file storage, but it didn’t have enough processing power to handle on the fly transcoding of video for various devices. That means you have to go in and manually optimize copies of videos for the different video uses, which is (a) a pain in the butt, and (b) eats a huge hunk of disk space, since you effectively need to keep a copy of the video for each optimized format.

So of course, what I found after my first round of setting things up was I put the rest of the videos into the “need to be done” pile and left them there. Which kind of defeats the purpose.

I started running into the “is this on Plex or still in iTunes?” problem. I started considering options, hoping without hope Apple would release an updated Mac Mini at a nice price point as my preferred solution (nope). I also started looking at getting another Synology NAS to run Plex, but the cost (about $500-600 with disks) and the general idea of adding a third NAS to the house just left me cold. So I did nothing, but grumped at myself because my setup wasn’t, well, perfect.

And so it sat, literally, for months. And then as I was going to bed about a week ago, I had a thought — instead of running a third NAS, what if I replaced my small NAS with one that could do the Plex work? That small NAS is literally there to act as a backup of the bigger NAS. By re-using the drives in the small NAS instead of buying new ones, I could replace the unit for $250 and still keep the backups on it, without adding a third device to the house.

And at that price, worth it to me, so sold. I ordered the Synology DS216Play and it arrived a couple of days later. After pulling apart the old NAS (now on a shelf) and setting it up, I spent a couple of days moving the video content and setting up the backups again, and things are now working fine. I can render a video and drop it into the Plex folder, and it appears and I can use it. No need for another round of multi-hour optimization. Start-up speeds on videos range from instantaneous (if it doesn’t need transcoding) to “about as fast as Netflix starts”, which is fine with me.

The 216Play is a low end device, so it can only transcode on the fly a single stream, but that’s fine for my situation.

And after another day or so of mostly watching things render in the background, all of my un-processed disks and iTunes videos are now safely ensconced in Plex and I’m happy.

What I’m not sure is why it took me so long to think of replacing the older, small NAS with the new unit.

The one niggling thing I haven’t figured out yet? For some reason, I can’t convince the NAS or my EERO router to let the NAS share out onto the internet so I can’t use it while on the road. A minor problem, given I can sync videos to the iPad to use instead, but one of these days, I’ll have to dig in and figure it out. Some weird firewall issue, I think.

Overall I really like the 216Play. it’s a lot faster than the unit it replaces, and it’s nicely quite. It has more than enough disk to back up the big NAS and run the Plex server. Moving the videos off to it let me delete 3/4 of the disk pace dedicated to Plex because I don’t need those custom optimized versions, and that freed up almost 12% of my big NAS disk space, so I have plenty of room to grow. And now my Warner Brothers and Private Snafu cartoons are up so I can fire them up whenever I feel like it. Which has me wondering…. What should I be adding to it next?