I’m in love…with Roku

Twice a year, every year, the LDS religion holds a general conference where leaders of the church speak to all the members in a general meeting that is broadcast all over the world over internet, TV, and satellite.  It’s very wonderful and inspiring.  Living in Idaho, which has a high Mormon population, we generally got it through local television stations.  But this fall, only the Saturday sessions were broadcast, leaving us, who don’t have cable or satellite, in a lurch.  We could watch it on the computer, but that’s uncomfortable, so we went to Best Buy and bought a Roku box.

The Roku box gets The Mormon Channel AND BYU-TV as a channel, which allows us to easily watch general conference on our TV no matter where we live, as long as we have high-speed internet.  It’s got some pretty dang good other stuff, too.

One of my favorite things about the Roku box is the Plex channel.  By itself it isn’t much.  But combined with a few hours of work and a computer with a large hard drive and DVD drive (and ideally a Blu-Ray drive), you can do WONDERS.  Just rip your movies onto your large hard drive, setup the connected Plex server, and voila!  Your very own video-on-demand service.  It’s a little complicated, though, so I’ll explain.

First, get a large hard drive.  I recommend at LEAST a terabyte of dedicated space, more if you have a large collection of high-definition movies.

Second, make sure you have at least a DVD drive in your computer.  If you have Blu-ray movies, I recommend getting a Blu-ray drive as well.  We have found a huge difference between Blu-rays and DVDs, and we recommend the Blu-ray.

Third, download and install the connected Plex media server from here.  Tell it where you want to store your movies, TV shows, home movies, etc.  I would setup an account, but you don’t have to do the paid account unless you want to.

Fourth, download MakeMKV from Makemkv.com.  This is a nice little piece of software that can rip movies to your hard drive.  If you’re just doing DVDs, you can use it free forever.  If you are ripping Blu-rays, you can try it out free for 30 days (to make sure it works), then you should buy it.  It’s $50 for a forever license, which is MUCH nicer than the other software that does similar things for $50-$100 for only 2 years.  Why does the license term matter?  Because the movie industry is always trying to stop people from using their own movies, so they keep changing the encoding.  That means that if you rip a new movie today, you may not be able to rip a new movie in 3 years with the same software, because the ‘lock’ changed.

Now, if you don’t have a lot of movies or you have a TON of space, you can rename the file and stop if you want.  Plex can read .MKV files just fine…but they are HUGE, so I recommend shrinking them down with Handbrake.  This is another nice piece of software that is completely free, that will take your .MKV files and change them to .mp4 or other formats that are much smaller.

Make sure you have the files named in the format Plex likes (movie title (release year).mp4, for instance) — they have a naming guide that’s handy — and Plex will look up the movies in the location you selected and give you a movie picture and all sorts of info about the movies so it’s easy to sort and find what you’re looking for.
As an added bonus, with Plex you can share your movies or TV shows or home movies with select friends who are also using Plex.  So now, if I want to borrow a movie from my sister in Oklahoma, I can do it over the internet rather than through the mail.

If you want to use the Roku with Plex and have questions, feel free to message me in the comments or call me on the phone if you already have my number.  I’m pretty excited about it.

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