Home Theater PC

berstch

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Oct 28, 2003
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My home laptop is on the way out, and with 95% of what used to be my computer time now being taken up by the iPad, I'd like to look at a small desktop as my next PC purchase. It's not an absolute must, but I would like to go with a very small form factor. My primary use of the machine will be leaving it on as a home theater Plex media server, so I'm seeking something that can run cooly and quietly while being on all the time with at least a 500 GB hard drive. I will likely hook it up to my main tv (thus the desire for small form factor in an already cramped media cabinet) and would like to have the ability to stream to my Chromecast on the bedroom TV via the Plex iPad app. I believe this requires the PC to transcode the video, so I'm wondering how much processing power will be necessary to serve HD video in this manner. I've found some options that fit what I'm looking for overall, but am not sure the specs will fit my needs, particularly in processing power or RAM. Does anyone have feedback on the following options?

Asus Vivo VM40 - http://www.amazon.com/Asus-VivoPC-VM40B-02-ASUS-Desktop/dp/B00KU54KPQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1406078050&sr=8-1&keywords=Asus+vivopc
1.5 GHz Intel Celeron, 4 GB DDR3 RAM, 500 GB Hard Drive - $249

Asus Vivo VM60 - http://www.amazon.com/Asus-VM60-G067R-ASUS-Desktop/dp/B00J2DXUWQ/ref=psdc2_t3_B00KU54KPQ_B00J2DXUWQ
1.8 GHz Core i3, 4 GB DDR3 RAM, 500 GB Hard Drive - $433. This machine is also available with a 1.8 GHz Core i5 and 1 TB hard drive for $548.

Lenovo Q190 - http://shop.lenovo.com/SEUILibrary/controller/e/web/LenovoPortal/en_US/catalog.workflow:category.details?current-catalog-id=12F0696583E04D86B9B79B0FEC01C087&current-category-id=714E1CE6CB3E6B9AE0640BA4246C8A1D&action=init
1.6 GHz Intel Celeron, 4 GB DDR3 RAM, 500 GB Hard Drive - $249

Mac Mini - http://store.apple.com/us/buy-mac/mac-mini?afid=p219%7CGOUS&cid=AOS-US-KWG-MAC
2.5 GHz Core i5, 4 GB DDR3 RAM, 500 GB Hard Drive - $599

The Intel Nuc looks to be the only other option, but I prefer not to build a kit.
 

Couperin47

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Everything you have listed is way underpowered for efficient transcoding except the Mac and that's still somewhat underpowered, you want an i5 quad core. Shuttle makes good stuff, they withdrew from the primary mainboard market a few years ago and have been specializing in small formfactor boxes.  You mount an i5-4690S which has a low (65w) thermal envelope, perfect for the reduced ventilation in any small formfactor box.
 

SumnerH

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Transcoding sucks, look for a setup that avoids it.  It's probably cheaper and definitely less of a headache to get a nicer device on your bedroom PC that can play files without transcoding them and a server that doesn't need to transcode than it is to get a beefier server can transcode things for the chromecast.
 

jercra

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FWIW, I bought components and built a PC and I use my PC for exactly what you're describing (Serviio instead of Plex but basically the same thing anyway).  I have a Core i5 Quad Core, 8 GB of RAM and a 2TB drive.  I've had no problems at all with on the fly transcode to my Roku, my laptop or my tablet.  Perhaps it's underpowered but it's also my HA server and is constantly capturing video from 2 IP cams and never seems to break a sweat.  I didn't even bother putting the OS on the 64GB SSD that I have because it seems not to need it. YMMV.
 

Couperin47

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SumnerH said:
Transcoding sucks, look for a setup that avoids it.  It's probably cheaper and definitely less of a headache to get a nicer device on your bedroom PC that can play files without transcoding them and a server that doesn't need to transcode than it is to get a beefier server can transcode things for the chromecast.
 
Transcoding does suck, but the OP didn't specify what files he's getting and from where and considering what's available on usenet and via torrents, transcoding is very very often unavoidable... :rolleyes:
 

SumnerH

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Couperin47 said:
 
Transcoding does suck, but the OP didn't specify what files he's getting and from where and considering what's available on usenet and via torrents, transcoding is very very often unavoidable... :rolleyes:
The wdtv live smp will play pretty much whatever codec you throw at it. Buying one of those and a cheap server is likely cheaper and less hassle than buying a beefy server and transcoding.
 

jayhoz

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I would like to set up a media box that accomplishes the following.  What do I need?
  • Stores local video content 
  • Serves local video content to two different smart TVs
    LG TV via wired ethernet and I assume some sort of media extender?
  • Samsung TV via HDMI

[*]Can be navigated via remote at both locations (The box itself can sit next to one of the TVs)
[*]Has robust codec support
[*]Can run SabNZB, Sickbeard, Couchpotato
[*]Is configurable from another PC on the network (I don't want a monitor attached to the box)
[*]Can Stream Netflix (this is not a must have as the TVs both support Netflix)
 

jayhoz

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I have a 3TB external drive that is probably 60% full and shrinking.
 

AlNipper49

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jayhoz said:
 
I would like to set up a media box that accomplishes the following.  What do I need?
  • Stores local video content 
  • Serves local video content to two different smart TVs
    LG TV via wired ethernet and I assume some sort of media extender?
  • Samsung TV via HDMI

[*]Can be navigated via remote at both locations (The box itself can sit next to one of the TVs)
[*]Has robust codec support
[*]Can run SabNZB, Sickbeard, Couchpotato
[*]Is configurable from another PC on the network (I don't want a monitor attached to the box)
[*]Can Stream Netflix (this is not a must have as the TVs both support Netflix)
 
 
That's exactly my setup w/ Plex.  I have a server downstairs that runs Plex, SABNZBD, Sickbeard and Couchpotato (and headphones but I don't really listen to music that's not on Spotify but whatever).  My TVs have Rokus on them which have a picture-perfect Plex client.  
 
The Samsung TV may have a Plex client already.  My father-in-law's does.
 
For my PC I have a box that can take 12 hard drives.  I use Flexraid which is a super-easy application-level RAID software which will combine the drives, and future drives very easily.  It's not perfect but it works very well for what I need it to do.
 

SumnerH

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Couperin47 said:
One question before we even start answering: How much video content ? Many people I know are content to handle 2-4 Gigs, then there are those who don't blink at keeping 50-70 Gig on line (which removes any possibility of a small formfactor answer).
 
That seems on the low side for an audio server, let alone video.  My media server has 7TB of storage (it's mirrored for safety, so 14TB of total storage but 7TB usable space).  It's right around the 70GB mark for mp3/ogg/flac files, and has about 6.3 TB of video.
 
jayhoz said:
 
I would like to set up a media box that accomplishes the following.  What do I need?
  • Stores local video content 
  • Serves local video content to two different smart TVs
    LG TV via wired ethernet and I assume some sort of media extender?
  • Samsung TV via HDMI

[*]Can be navigated via remote at both locations (The box itself can sit next to one of the TVs)
[*]Has robust codec support
[*]Can run SabNZB, Sickbeard, Couchpotato
[*]Is configurable from another PC on the network (I don't want a monitor attached to the box)
[*]Can Stream Netflix (this is not a must have as the TVs both support Netflix)
 
 
This depends on how sophisticated you want to get.  In an ideal world I'd have an XBMC device (something like the Ouya + SBMC, which will set you back less than $100 each) at each location and have a much nicer interface than your smart TVs will have, unlimited codec support, Couchpotato, sickbeard, and all kinds of other features.  One of them would have external USB drive(s) with the data and serve them over SMB to the other; both are configurable on-screen on the TVs.    Ouya also has support for Netflix, though MLB At Bat, Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus require sideloading those apps.  
 
 
A WDTV Live or Roku will be a bit cheaper than an XBMC box, but less featureful for local files (the Roku in particular has limited codec support; the WD has a fairly sluggish UI, but will play whatever you throw at it); they have better support out of the box for streaming services (Roku really shines there).
 
 
If you want to save money and one of your TVs has decent codec support, you could go with a single Ouya/WDTV that's also serving out to the other TV (XBMC has a DLNA/UPnP server built in, but it doesn't transcode; WDTV will also act as a server but not transcode).
 
 
The other alternative is a headless PC in the basement that's purely a server that's running UMS (or plex or whatever) and transcoding out to both TVs (basically Nip's setup, though he uses Rokus instead of Smart TVs).
 

SumnerH

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AlNipper49 said:
For my PC I have a box that can take 12 hard drives.  I use Flexraid which is a super-easy application-level RAID software which will combine the drives, and future drives very easily.  It's not perfect but it works very well for what I need it to do.
 
This is funny because I switched from essentially that (different RAID package, but same conceptual thing) to my current setup at your recommendation.  
 
I just hang a bunch of USB drives off my computer and mirror them nightly.  It's better in some ways than RAID because if I fat-finger and delete a bunch of stuff or edit my config and screw it up or rename things stupidly, I can go get it back until that night.  And there's zero config, if I'm travelling I can take one or two drives along with me no problem, and it's trivial to partition this kind of data across volumes.
 
Right now it's movies on a 3TB, tv shows on a 4TB, but you can easily go A-M on one 4TB and N-Z on another or the like.  They're all mounted alongside each other seamlessly, so I have basically \\sumner\lib for my whole library, with \\sumner\lib\music, \\sumner\lib\movies, \\sumner\lib\shows, and \\sumner\lib\calibre (ebooks) under it (and \\sumner\lib\shows\breaking_bad, \\sumner\lib\shows\sopranos, \\sumner\lib\music\Menudo, \\sumner\lib\music\Justin_Bieber, etc--wait, scratch those last two...)
 

SumnerH

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XBMC screenshots:
 
Front screen:

 TV show library:

 
TV Episodes:

 
Movie library:

 
It's all skinnable, and you can toggle between 6 or 8 different views (to make movies show up more like the TV show view or vice-versa, among other options).
 

AlNipper49

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Yeah I kind of miss my USB setup.  The USB setup was only a problem because I had ten of the damn things and no matter how hard I try I end up messing up cabling, uglifying it, etc.  
 
I guess that my best reason for doing it this way is that I'm a geek and wanted to tinker with a new way of doing it.  
 
Next time around I probably will flock back to USB.  Would be awesome if flexraid could just combine them all into one... hmmmm :)
 

jayhoz

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Sumner.  How are you navigating the content on the TV and where is the porn hidden?
 

SumnerH

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jayhoz said:
Sumner.  How are you navigating the content on the TV and where is the porn hidden?
 
I have a hauppage digital video capture card that records analog inputs to the TV section.  That's a bit of a pain to configure, honestly, especially if you're not a Linux guru (you have to play back through the cable box, component out, and encode on the capture card) but it gives me a ton of flexibility.
 
The alternative is to hit the "input" button on your remote and watch TV from the cable/satellite box.
 
I don't use them, but XBMC supports multiple profiles so you can have a normal one, a kids' profile, and an adult profile each with their own passwords/PINs; my understanding is that it can either lock out some content (nothing R-rated for the kids) or just hide it (so, for instance, adults don't see 18 million Thomas the Tank Engine videos unless they choose to, but they can access it if they want).  But I've never used it.
 

jayhoz

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SumnerH said:
 
I have a hauppage digital video capture card that records analog inputs to the TV section.  That's a bit of a pain to configure, honestly, especially if you're not a Linux guru (you have to play back through the cable box, component out, and encode on the capture card) but it gives me a ton of flexibility.
 
The alternative is to hit the "input" button on your remote and watch TV from the cable/satellite box.
 
I don't use them, but XBMC supports multiple profiles so you can have a normal one, a kids' profile, and an adult profile each with their own passwords/PINs.
Sorry...meant how are you navigating the XBMC GUI from the TV screen?  Are you using some sort of remote or are you using a laptop/smartphone/tablet to navigate?
 
Ideally I need to be able to drive all media watching from my Harmony remote.
 

SumnerH

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AlNipper49 said:
wireless for me.  Works like a champ
 
I had no problem with 802.11g (not even n) for some 1080p videos with 5.1 sound, but if a video was ultra-high bitrate or someone else was streaming Netflix at the same time then they'd stutter or even freeze up going through the wireless.  I got a pair of powerline adapters for $35 that work great (100 Mbit/sec); I suspect an 802.11n or higher wireless router would've worked fine as well.
 

AlNipper49

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yeah I had a powerline adapter before and they are the most surprisingly awesome thing to work with.  I don't know why more people don't use them.  I upgraded my home wireless to a Ruckus setup and now my home wireless is faster than most people's wired networks.
 

jayhoz

Ronald Bartel
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I have the cable run already and my wireless in the basement, via the shitty actiontec Fios router, is abysmal.  I could get a better router or set up a bridge, but I have the lines pulled so why not use them.
 

SumnerH

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jayhoz said:
Sorry...meant how are you navigating the XBMC GUI from the TV screen?  Are you using some sort of remote or are you using a laptop/smartphone/tablet to navigate?
 
Ideally I need to be able to drive all media watching from my Harmony remote.
 
The Ouya is actually a (crappy) game console, I use its controller.  It has no IR support, only Bluetooth--you might be able to get a Harmony Universal (that has BT) to drive it, not sure.  If you only have infrared, then you'll need to add a FLIRC dongle ($23) to control it via remote, or live with the wireless game controller.  Many people have used the FLIRC successfully with XBMC/Ouya.
 
Alternatively you get an Intel NUC with IR support, which will give you a more capable but more expensive machine to run XBMC and other software on (you could run a transcoding server like UMS alongside XBMC on one of those).
 
The next gen Ouya is supposed to have HDMI-CEC support so the TV remote will also drive it (assuming a relatively recent TV); I'm not sure if that one's out yet or not.
 
 
EDIT: Also there's a web interface as well as Android remote control (presumably iphone too) for XBMC if you want to go that direction.  https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.xbmc.android.remote&hl=en has some screenshots of the Android app.  There are numerous plug-in extensions to make the web interface nicer--I use one called Chorus:
 

 
 

AlNipper49

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jayhoz said:
I have the cable run already and my wireless in the basement, via the shitty actiontec Fios router, is abysmal.  I could get a better router or set up a bridge, but I have the lines pulled so why not use them.
 
Most of the Rokus will have a wired option, just check and you should be good.
 

jayhoz

Ronald Bartel
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AlNipper49 said:
 
Most of the Rokus will have a wired option, just check and you should be good.
Looks like only the 3 has wired.
 

SumnerH

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Yeah the interface on the 3 is much more responsive than on the earlier models.  If you decide on a Roku (not my first choice, but they're okay and if you use a lot of online services rather than local videos then it's one of the better options) it's worth the extra few bucks to get the 3.
 

berstch

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I appreciate all the useful information, and this looks like a project that can certainly grow legs in a big way, but I'm still wondering what gets me in the game with an off the shelf desktop box. So far the only pre-built solution that I've heard that can handle transcoding is the Mac Mini. I'd rather not pay the Mac premium and prefer Windows. Are there truly no packaged PC solutions out there for this?
 

AlNipper49

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The one we mentioned above is 100% fine. The roku is just so you don't have to have a crappy machine hooked up to your TV.
 

jercra

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Honestly, transcoding for a Roku will be fine with just about any modern PC depending on the content you start with.  If it's bluray rips at 30Mbps then, yeah, a simple PC won't handle it.  If it's xvid or or mkv or some other mpg4 format transcoded with ffmpeg or the like then you'll be fine with just about any Core i5 and above box.  As I said above, I know this because I do this on a box that was <$500 to build from parts and have had no issues at all.
 

SumnerH

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jercra said:
Honestly, transcoding for a Roku will be fine with just about any modern PC depending on the content you start with.  If it's bluray rips at 30Mbps then, yeah, a simple PC won't handle it.  If it's xvid or or mkv or some other mpg4 format transcoded with ffmpeg or the like then you'll be fine with just about any Core i5 and above box.  As I said above, I know this because I do this on a box that was <$500 to build from parts and have had no issues at all.
 
If you're dropping that much money on a server then, yeah, you can just throw UniversalMediaServer (or plex or whatever) on there and get something that's fine for playing back a single file front to back*. 
 
But you can get a cheap server (like a PogoPlug or whatever) for $20 or so if your devices all have good codec support and you don't need to transcode.  Or you can get more flexibility and features and still stay under $100.  Depending on your setup, it's often cheaper to do that and throw an Ouya/WDTV on all your TVs than to drop a few hundred on a server that can transcode.
 
 
*It still has a tendency to get pretty hinky when fast-forwarding and seeking around.  You also have to be very careful in your transcoding setup if you want to preserve multiple soundtracks (e.g. when English isn't the first soundtrack, or there's director's commentary or the like) and to deal with subtitles properly (forced/hard, soft, or discarded).  And depending on your setup it may bog down if you're transcoding for multiple devices at once.  And you're still winding up with worse quality video in the end.
 

weeba

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How do couchpotato / slick beard work to download TV torrents? Aren't there like 5+ copies of every show on the torrent site, due to converting/releasing differences?
 

AlNipper49

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weeba said:
How do couchpotato / slick beard work to download TV torrents? Aren't there like 5+ copies of every show on the torrent site, due to converting/releasing differences?
 
I don't use torrents.  I use newsgroups.  But you can specify logic if you have a preferred release, etc.  The handful of groups out there who consistently release legit stuff are well-known and the software does a good job of giving preference to those.  It will also use a regular expression or whatever (behind the scenes) to determine quality.  I've never gotten a bad download on a TV show.  Movies can be tough since screeners show up way before the real stuff.
 

savage362

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I'm in the XBMC crowd. I run an older laptop with only a 1 TB external USB drive attached. It's connected to my living room TV directly and I control it with a cheap Windows Media Center remote. In my bedroom I have another old laptop with the XBMC client running. The main host laptop runs an SQL database behind the scenes that stores details of each piece of media which the laptop in my bedroom uses to populate it's library so the content is synced between rooms.
 
Both can be controlled by various IOS or Android apps as well.
 

jayhoz

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Would this work?  If so it seems it would be a much cheaper option.
 
I currently have my 3GB external drive (non-NAS) connected to a Boxee and accessible as a network share.  My desktop dumps its downloads to this drive and the media is accessible on the TV attached to the Boxee.  If I added a second external drive and streaming device (Roku3, WD, etc) to the second TV, could I have this drive mirror the content on the existing 3GB?
 

AlNipper49

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jayhoz said:
Would this work?  If so it seems it would be a much cheaper option.
 
I currently have my 3GB external drive (non-NAS) connected to a Boxee and accessible as a network share.  My desktop dumps its downloads to this drive and the media is accessible on the TV attached to the Boxee.  If I added a second external drive and streaming device (Roku3, WD, etc) to the second TV, could I have this drive mirror the content on the existing 3GB?
 
Boxee is basically abandomware at this point.  If you're redoing things then you're best to move on.  But you probably could find a way to mirror the information but it wouldn't be super-streamlined given the devices that you've listed.  
 

jayhoz

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AlNipper49 said:
 
Boxee is basically abandomware at this point.  If you're redoing things then you're best to move on.  But you probably could find a way to mirror the information but it wouldn't be super-streamlined given the devices that you've listed.  
 
Your laziness is going to end up costing me money!   :p
 

AlNipper49

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jayhoz said:
 
Your laziness is going to end up costing me money!   :p
 
Dude just buy or inherit any shit old box to run sabnzbd and stuff, you already know you want it.  That can run whatever you feel like, plex, xbmc or whatever.  Then just chuck two rokus on your TV to keep things simple.  It'll cost you all of $200.  
 

jayhoz

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AlNipper49 said:
 
Dude just buy or inherit any shit old box to run sabnzbd and stuff, you already know you want it.  That can run whatever you feel like, plex, xbmc or whatever.  Then just chuck two rokus on your TV to keep things simple.  It'll cost you all of $200.  
Where am I going to get the box and storage for free because the roku's are going to cost $200.
 
I get your point and you are right.  Not a lot of money at the end of the day and it won't be some cobbled together POS that sucks a lot of my time.
 

AlNipper49

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jayhoz said:
Where am I going to get the box and storage for free because the roku's are going to cost $200.
 
I get your point and you are right.  Not a lot of money at the end of the day and it won't be some cobbled together POS that sucks a lot of my time.
 
Take the 3TB on your boxee and put it on the box that you have earmarked for sabnzbd/couchpotato/sickbeard.  Like a shitbag old laptop is good enough for now.  Wait for a sale on the Rokus, or hunt for refurbs.  
 

Couperin47

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AlNipper49 said:
 
Take the 3TB on your boxee and put it on the box that you have earmarked for sabnzbd/couchpotato/sickbeard.  Like a shitbag old laptop is good enough for now.  Wait for a sale on the Rokus, or hunt for refurbs.  
 
Newegg had Roku 3 refurbs for all of $68, that sale ended yesterday.. I had it in the Tech Bargain thread.
 

SumnerH

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SumnerH said:
 
XBMC 13.1 is out for boxee, but yes it requires boxee+hacks to install.  I don't think that's the link I saw recently, still hunting.
 
Can't find it, sorry.   XBMC 13.1 does seem to be a pretty significant upgrade over the build in native limited version of XBMC.
 
If you get full XBMC running, you shouldn't even need a second drive on your other media device--XBMC can act as a DLNA/UPnP server.  Of course, mirroring the drive gives you a backup of your data.
 
If you're mostly interested in local/downloaded content, I'd recommend a WDTV Live SMP or an HTPC of some sort over the Roku; the Roku has more limited codec support and won't play a lot of files.  Roku's the clear leader for online streaming services.