Giddy with excitement about the prospect of further leveraging my beloved Synology NAS to extend my Media Center setup, I eagerly installed the new Synology DSM 4.1 beta, specifically to test drive the newly announced Video Station application. Sadly, the test drive ended quickly .
Unlike Plex’s terrific Media Server, the Video Station doesn’t enable users to create multiple Movie and TV Show libraries. No separation of kids movies or tv shows from others. No separation of movies by collection or any other means you desire, all movies are lumped together into a single ‘Movies’ section. Same for TV Shows. In addition, all your media files have to be on the Disk Station – no remote HDDs attached to your Mac or Windows machines allowed. One of the touted advantages of Video Station over Plex in Synology’s own blog was the incorporation of live and recorded TV, shockingly, at this time, the highly popular HDHomeRun by SiliconDust isn’t supported…boo.
Another major requirement of any media server is the ability to pull and display metadata based on standard file naming conventions. Here Video Station was on par with both Plex and XBMC, although given the interface, only movie thumbs are pulled and stored, no fan art of banner art.
With indexing complete, the true test for any media center setup is playback, this is where Video Station really failed. First, the only non-mobile client is the DSM web app itself. As the lead developer himself stated in a response to a question I posted on his blog entry, transcoding is “done on the fly, and applies to x86 models. For ARM models, the formats supported by the iOS device will be played directly (MP4 – M4V – MOV). However, this is fact is not the case. When I was transfered to the Synology Beta Support team, I got this response back as part of my inquiry: “the Video Station only suppor [sic] the x86 model for playing the video on the iOS devices.” In other words, if you have an ARM-based DS, no mobile for you. Other formats can be played if you install 3rd party player on your Mac or Windows machine for web-based playback (like Gplayer or AcePlayer for instance). That means popular containers like MKV and AVI for example are unplayable natively, and require a 3rd party plugin when viewing through a browser. In my tests, even supported file formats crashed the web app, spiking my DS209′s CPU usage to 100%. In fact, just having the Video Station running kept CPU usage at 100%, as soon as I stopped the application, CPU usage fell down to normal, below 20% levels, but it was only temporary. Since installing VS, CPU usage on my Synology is pretty consistently at 100%, something the Synology Beta Support Team is looking into.
Despite a pretty interface, playback, CPU, setup and flexibility issues all plague the Video Station beta. While I realize its a beta, I’d really consider this more an alpha product, not ready for prime time. Many of these issues may in fact be related to my only have an ARM-based DSM to test with, as one TotalHTPC reader noted he has successfully installed the App on his x86 712+ and has been able to play movies to his iOS device without an issue, and without full CPU usage (and x86-based DSM’s will transcode on the fly, while ARM-based DSM’s cannot at all). So if you have a powerful DSM, Video Station just might mitigate, although we would say not completely replace the need for either Plex or XBMC. Hopefully, like many of the terrific packages that Synology has added to the DSM roster over time, this is just the first in a long line of iterations of Video Station.
After working with Synology Beta Support, some items were clarified:
1. CPU usage will spike to 100% and possibly beyond while Video Station is indexing files. This takes a long time, especially for ARM-based Disk Stations. In my case, with 100 TV shows and over 500 Movies, this took almost 8 hours. However, once indexing was complete, CPU usage fell back to normal levels.
2. iOS does support the following formats: MP4/MOV/M4V, and any formats that Apple supports natively in quicktime. I was able, over local WIFI and 3G, to stream a 720p version of the film 300 I own (in M4V format), and it played flawlessly.
We (and Synology) apologized for the confusion. As we get updates, and test items, we will continue to update you. Happy cutting.