Update on the QNAP TS-473A

It’s been almost a year since I wrote about the QNAP NAS system, and I thought it appropriate to talk about some updated experiences.

First, I’m no longer using the DLNA server as the primary way to stream media. It’s not that it didn’t work, but it was clunky, and I knew my wife would never be happy with it.

This led to a lot of experimentation. Over the same period of time, it became clear that her iMac needed a system software update to continue to be useful as an Internet-facing machine, and since Apple does not support that model of iMac with updates, I installed Linux Mint on it.

The Linux install was easy and straightforward, and I installed a couple of things to make it look a little more Mac-like for her, but Kodi continued to give us problems, and even seemed to be more unstable than before. It certainly didn’t work well with the DLNA from the QNAP (I am still making video available from the old TrueNAS system, although it doesn’t get any new rips) and I could see that my wife was getting very frustrated.

I decided to try a different tack. I have a free account with Plex, but in my experience, they only let you stream your local content locally if you also have a paid subscription. I may be misunderstanding that, or maybe it only applies to the clients, or something, but I could never get it to do what I wanted it to do.

I then looked at Emby, and ran into some similar issues, but then I tried Jellyfin, which was a fork of an earlier version of Emby. Not only does it have a native client, it also just works in a web browser.

Back to the QNAP. QNAP ships with software called ContainerStation. This software allows one to install and run docker containers on the NAS. It allows installation from Docker Hub, which opens up the possibilities for a vast array of software running on the NAS.

One of the drawbacks of ContainerStation is that it is difficult to modify a docker configuration after it is created — specifically to change the list of file system folders that are mounted inside the docker environment. However, since it is so easy to spin up a second copy of a container and configure it the way you want, this isn’t as bad a deal as it might otherwise be.

I installed a Jellyfin docker container, and my wife is now happy with the streaming media available on her iMac. It’s easy for me to add content to, to modify metadata, etc., and she benefits from all the changes I make.

Second, there’s also a docker image for calibre-web. I haven’t decided, yet, whether this is my solution, or if I’m going to instead run an image for Calibre itself (running as a headless server). The benefit to running Calibre is that you can easily make virtual libraries based upon metadata, including tags. On calibre-web, you have to add the books one by one to the “shelf” you want them on. On the other hand, I do think the interface looks nicer for calibre-web.

All in all, I’m still quite pleased with QUTS-Hero as an OS on the NAS, and the hardware of the QNAP TS-473A. It is very responsive for what I want to do with it, and in my limited use-case it’s been a good value for the money. That said, the QNAP software for media streaming and control is terrible, and seems designed (like Plex) to try to drive you to their servers and services. No thanks. The reason I do this on-prem is to avoid having your tendrils in my stuff. The fact that ContainerStation makes it relatively painless to do this is a clear win. Also, if I do need a more complete solution of something down the road, I still have the ability to install Ubuntu, etc., to have a more fine-grained software experience.

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