There are many ways to build a media server, but the FreeNAS Plex approach is cheap, easy, and great for viewing different forms of movies, TV, audio, and pictures. However, you can also replace the FreeNAS bits with a DIY NAS.
What We’ll Build
This multimedia server will do a few things:
- Record new TV shows and movies automatically and legally every night (with PlayOn).
- Store those files so anyone can access them (on the NAS drive).
- Catalog the media for viewing on any TV, computer or device in the house (with Plex).
The DVR recording part is not necessary. You could just put an existing media collection on the NAS and catalog it with Plex.
For Network Attached Storage basics, see the DIY NAS.
FreeNAS vs. Synology
If you need a lot of storage space or redundancy, a more sophisticated NAS may be in order.
While FreeNAS and Synology have both been major players in the space for years, FreeNAS has emerged as a popular DIY choice. It benefits from open-source and has a free option which works well enough for most home use-cases. If you have a big hard-drive or two lying around, it’s the easy choice.
If you’re ready to buy new hardware to build your NAS, then Synology may be the better option. Their all-in-one NAS solutions are much more plug-n-play. This may make the higher-end options the best NAS for Plex 4k and HDMI transcoding, as they are optimized for this use (the lower-end NASs will not be able to transcode files at these high resolutions).
|Synology 2 bay NAS Disk Station, DS218play (Diskless)|
|Synology 2 bay NAS DiskStation DS218+ (Diskless)|
Best NAS Server Hardware
With a Plex media server build, a lot still depends on how/what you want to watch.
You can go totally overboard with something like this, for the best 4k/HDMI streaming support:
|QNAP TVS-682-i3-8G-US 6 Bay NAS/iSCSI IP-SAN, Intel Skylake Core i3-6100 3.7 GHz Dual core|
… but for a single-family household like ours, we’re not watching on multiple TVs at once. The DVR/recording software (described below) captures mp4 files at 720p, so there’s really not much processing power needed by Plex (unlike when transcoding videos at 1080p). In fact, we have no trouble running FreeNAS hardware or even the DIY NAS: