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[HOW-TO] USB Blu-ray Drive over IP Ethernet Network

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[HOW-TO] USB Blu-ray Drive over IP Ethernet Network

Post by Pauven » Wed Jun 03, 2020 11:32 am

Currently I run My Movies on an old Windows 10 desktop that I would like to retire. For a long time I've wanted to move My Movies to a Windows 10 VM on my Unraid server, which has plenty of spare memory and CPU cores. That would allow me to save electricity, and easy backup and management of the entire Win10 VM image.

Normally, when I add ISOs to my collection, I go from my office PC over the network straight into the Unraid storage array, and use My Movies Folder Monitoring to pick up new titles. I then remote desktop into my old PC to access My Movies and manage my collection. Which works great, until you get to TV Series. To map episodes, often you have to insert the disk into the My Movies PC to read the chapters off the disc.

The problem, for me at least, is that my Unraid NAS server is in the basement, and my office PC where I manage my collection is two floors up and on the other end of the house. It is incredibly inconvenient for me to run back and forth from my office to the basement to swap discs just to read the chapter data for mapping episodes.

This logistical hurdle has been holding me back from moving My Movies into VM land. What I needed was a way to add a Blu-ray drive to my Unraid server in the basement, but somehow have the drive physically in my office.

I figured other users may have similar requirements, so here is how I solved them.

Trial and Error
My first thought is that I could just share one of the Blu-ray drives on my office PC over the network. Setting up a share was easy enough in Windows: I selected a Blu-ray drive and shared it, then on my old My Movies PC I mapped that Blu-ray drive as a local drive. I inserted a disc, and sure enough I could see the disc data on the old My Movies PC.

But the disc data appeared as a regular hard-drive volume, not an optical disc. While I could see and browse the data over the network, My Movies didn't recognize the mapped drive as a Optical Disc Drive, and refused to read any data from it.

Since Windows doesn't provide a way to share a device (the drive itself), this was a dead end. And for a while, I thought I was out of options.

A Potential Solution
Recently I was looking at network KVM devices (Keyboard, Video, Mouse), which can let you remotely access and control a PC over a network by sending video and USB signals using TCP/IP network protocols. This is different than remote desktop access, which only allows you to share your O/S screen and give control of a booted Windows/Linux session. KVM devices allow you remote control as if you were standing in front of the PC by being an external, hardware based solution - you can even see and access the BIOS during boot.

It occurred to me that these network KVM devices are sending USB signals over the network - and perhaps something similar would work for a USB Blu-ray drive.

I started searching for "USB over network" and "USB over Ethernet" devices, and sure enough found a lot of options, many quite affordable. But I started noticing a trend: most of these devices were USB Extenders that simply used Ethernet cabling. These kits comes with two "hubs", one that plugs into your USB device and connects to one end of the Ethernet cable, and the other that plugs into the PC's USB port and the other end of the Ethernet cable. While this type of solution was using a network cable, it was NOT using networking. This would require a dedicated cable just for the connection.

While I obviously have a network cable that runs from my basement to my office, it is being used for my home network, and I have no way to run a new cable just for a USB extender. So this type of USB Extender device wasn't going to work for me.

What I needed was true "USB over IP".

The Solution
Once I got my terminology right, and started searching for "USB over IP", I started finding true network devices for networking USB devices, like printers and scanners and drives. I was finding lots of options on Amazon, starting around $40-$50. But the reviews were pretty bad. Apparently, most of these devices have inconsistent connectivity and flaky performance. For this to work, I was going to need something more robust. One of the reviews for a poorly performing product mentioned "don't buy this, buy a Silex DS-510 instead", which led me to the product I ended up buying.

The main benefit of the Silex DS-510 seems to be its reliability. Review after review confirmed that this device just worked, day after day, without issues. A few buyers complained of limitations like that only 1 PC could connect to a USB device at a time, but for me that was my intended use so this wouldn't be a limitation at all. My biggest hesitation was the price, $99. Ouch. But if it worked reliably I decided it would be worth it, and worst case I could return it for a refund. Not only did the two USB ports suggest I could network multiple Blu-ray drives, but some reviewers confirmed that you could plug in a USB hub for even more devices! ... le_o04_s01

The Silex DS-510 is a simple small box with two USB 2.0 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port, and a power port. You connect it to your USB device, in this case my USB Blu-ray drive, and your network and power it up, and you're done. Installation took all of 2 minutes. My USB Blu-ray drive did need a separate power supply, as the USB power from the DS-510 was not strong enough to keep it working, but this was expected and not a problem at all.

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By default the DS-510 uses DHCP to grab an IP address off your network. I like to manage my IP addresses, so I logged into my DHCP server and assigned a static IP to the new device, then power cycled the DS-510, which now showed up using my desired IP address. Silex also provides a "Device Server Setup" program you can download off their website to configure the network connection on the DS-510 if you don't have a way to configure it in your DHCP server, but I didn't need to use this software at all.

Now that the Silex DS-510 in on my network, the next step was to install Silex's "SX Virtual Link" software on the My Movies PC. The SX Virtual Link connects to the DS-510 "server", and allows you to connect to the associated USB device and make it appear as a local USB device. This was incredibly easy to do. It only took a few minutes to download and install the "SX Virtual Link" software, and almost immediately after launching the app it found the DS-510 on my network.

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I clicked the Connect button and I was done. I could hear a few Windows chimes indicating that Device Manager had found a new device and was installing it. I checked Device Manager, and sure enough the USB Blu-ray drive had appeared.

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I needed to map episodes for my Breaking Bad Season 4 Disc 3, so I popped that in and checked Windows Explorer, and sure enough drive G:\ showed the disc was inserted:

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And the final test was to see if My Movies would read the Disc ID and Chapter indexes from it. Sure enough, the "Select DVD Drive" prompt included my networked USB Blu-ray drive, drive G:\

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The Adventure Continues
So is the Silex DS-510 the best USB over IP device? I have no idea, but it does seem to be a very good one. So far I've had a solid connection even over extended time, and I saw 12+ MB/s transfer speeds while creating an ISO over the network, which is probably the max speed of my USB Blu-ray drive. The DS-510 seems more than capable for what I need.

Looking on Silex's website, I see they sell a DS-520AN model that adds wireless networking, and a DS-600 model that offers USB 3.0 connectivity for even faster transfer speeds. I have no idea how much these cost, but I'm sure they are more expensive. Since I don't need wireless, and I don't think that USB 3.0 would offer any speed improvements for optical discs, the DS-510 seems like the best Silex branded option for my needs.

But my journey is not over. Now that I have a solution for networking a Blu-ray drive, I need to create my Win10 VM, install My Movies in it, migrate my database, and install the Silex SX Virtual Link software to connect to the USB Blu-ray drive. But that last step may provide some new challenges - on the Silex website they offer a different software download called "SX-Virtual Link for Software as a Service", which they claim is "Ideal for Virtual Environments". At this point, I'm not clear if I should run the regular SX Virtual Link that I've already tested on my old PC, or the "Software as a Service" (SaaS) version, or if this is just a preference and either way works.

I'll update this post later, once I've got my My Movies on Win10 VM solution working. This may take a while - I might hold out for Binnerup to release MM 5.26 final before installing My Movies, and who know what kind of release timeline they're on...

President, Chameleon Consulting LLC
Author, Chameleon MediaCenter

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