An economical solution to streaming movies onboard


As a captain I have always been amazed at the amount of money that is sometimes spent on proprietary systems designed to simply stream movies and music onboard.

Streaming technology has moved on a lot in the last decade, but even 10 years ago it was perfectly possible to set up a perfectly functional and extremely economical streaming system with a great user interface for movies and music.

As an alternative to the large proprietary brands, a significantly cheaper solution can be achieved using Apple TV which I have been using since 2008 a year after it was introduced. It can literally be less than 1% of the cost of a high end proprietary system.

Well known proprietary brands can be staggeringly expensive and to my mind come nowhere near justifying their price tag when traded off against any advantage that they may have over an alternative Apple TV system.

Here is what you need to set up an Apple TV system.

I will assume that the vessel already has a hard wired Ethernet network preferably gigabit form end to end, but not essential by any means. An available Ethernet port and an HDTV, and some kind of AV amplifier that connects the TV sets to speakers in each space that you wish the system to operate in.

The actual Apple TV and media storage / server components required for a good set up can all be bought for around € 2,000 for five separate outlets, assuming other components listed above are already in place. This includes a dedicated Mac Mini to manage everything from, and an external HDD connected to that Mac configured with Time Machine as a perpetual back up of the system.

A dedicated computer to manage the content / server is the best solution but even that is not essential. You can actually use the NAS drive as the server and manage the content through any computer connected to your network. I much prefer a dedicated stand-alone machine though with nothing installed on it other than what’s needed for the specific task in hand.

I use Western Digital “My Cloud” NAS drives which are very easy to set up and inexpensive. You can also plug a standard external USB directly into the back of them to increase the capacity of the media server very inexpensively. I have never done this other than to test for functionality as I prefer to use the built in RAID functionality (if you have a 2 or more drive bay model), to have full mirroring of the dual internal drives for single drive redundancy.

Get into the habit of, or set up an automated schedule to back up the I tunes library file. It is only small but this is where all the library data is stored so in the event of any kind of failure you do not need to go through the very time consuming process of setting metadata, cover art etc.. for each file in the library.

You can buy more robust enterprise level NAS systems with more drive bays etc. if your movie library is very large or if all your movies are Blu Ray for example. Lawrence of Arabia, for example on Blue Ray is about 38 Gb.

Another great benefit of the Apple TV system is that your guests can directly stream any of their content to the system form their mobile devices simply by using the Air Play function which is already part of the iOS in their device, so their favourite music or movies can go direct from their iOS device to the big screen or main hifi system at the touch of a button.

Something to be aware of is copyright. Make sure you only install content that you legitimately own and keep a record of the receipts etc. onboard in the event you are ever subjected to any kind of digital media audit.

There are a couple of minor limitations to the Apple TV system as follows: You can in theory only run five Apple TV units form a single account, so that is not a big issue. It can also be bypassed but you can just set up multiple accounts. Secondly every now and again the system wants to “call home’ so if you have lost your internet connection at a time when it decides to do this, then your system will be offline until you re-establish your IP connection.

All this amounts to a perfectly functional system for a fraction of the cost of its competition. The latest generation of Apple TV incorporates many more features than it’s predecessors with lots of games and Apps. full 4k support, Netflix, Amazon Prime, You Tube, Vimeo etc. all native in the OS. Photo streaming, and SIRI compatible.

Where’s the popcorn?

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