Self-Hosting Your Own Cloud – Part 4: Movies and Music Using Emby

Services like YouTube, Netflix, Spotify, and other streaming services are convenient, and I still use some of them. However, the content they offer changes frequently, with some things becoming unavailable due to changes in licensing, or varying depending on which country you are in.

When you buy your content free of digital rights management (DRM), then manage and store it yourself, you never have to worry about this problem. You can keep it as long as you like (and choose if you want to discard it).

This is the fourth post in a series about protecting your privacy by self-hosting while attempting to maintain the conveniences of public cloud services. See the bottom of this post for a list of other topics covered in the series.

In my previous post, I described how to set up Nextcloud and Syncthing to manage and sync your notes and other files privately.

Why Emby?

I chose Emby because, while it’s not completely open-source, it is free software, and it does not require you to create an account as other media player server software options such as Plex do. It doesn’t make sense to log in to some third-party server to play media that is hosted on my own system on my home network. There is an option for a premier edition of Emby that requires an account, but I have not needed these features and have chosen not to create one.

Emby supports a wide range of video and audio formats. It indexes them and provides an easy-to-use web interface as well as mobile apps.

Download and Install Emby Server

Download and install Emby on your server or workstation. Windows, Linux, Mac and other versions are available. In my case, I am using the Windows version because I use my system as a workstation and server. Each version should function the same, so choose whichever platform works for you.

As you follow through the installation instructions, you’ll be setting up media directories. Typically, you’ll set up one for music, movies, or TV shows. It is important to choose the correct type for each folder because the software will query several online databases for metadata, cover art, etc.

During installation and setup, you may be prompted several times to create an account or sign up with a paid Emby service. You can just skip these steps.

Collect Your CDs and Purchased DRM-Free Music and Videos

When you rip your CDs, you typically have various options for file formats. I prefer MP3s because of their portability and relatively low file size along with good quality sound. It is nice to be able to still play music from CDs I bought and ripped close to 20 years ago.

Audiophiles may find that the lossless FLAC format is the right choice for them. Even though Emby supports most DRM-free formats, MP3 and FLAC aren’t going away anytime soon.

If you already have a collection of DRM-free music that you purchased, you’re probably good to go.

For video, Emby supports just about any format, so no worries there.

Make sure you place your audio and video files in the location where you configured Emby, and it should pick them up automatically.

Install Emby Clients

There are many mobile and TV apps available for Emby. On a PC, Mac, or Linux machine, you can easily access Emby using the web interface. On a smart TV or mobile device, you can download one of their clients (see the section on Emby TV Apps or Emby Mobile Apps). Once you connect to your VPN, you can access your Emby server installation using the IP address of your server instance.

As of this writing, unfortunately, the iOS app does not seem to work for me while using my VPN over an LTE connection. Hopefully this will be fixed in a subsequent version. As an alternative, I have found another app, MusicStreamer, that can connect to SFTP or SMB shares directly. While this doesn’t actually use Emby, you can point it to the same folder location that contains your music. 09/24/2019 Update: streaming over a VPN on an LTE/cellular connection is now fixed on iOS 13/latest Emby app.

Since I do not have an Android device, I am not able to test the Emby client there. I would imagine that there are a plethora of apps that can support playing media over SMB or SFTP if the same problem is present in the Android verion of Emby.

What’s Next

We’re another step closer to our self-hosting goal.

Later in this series, I’ll cover setting up and hosting alternatives to Gmail, Google Photos, and ways to protect your privacy while browsing the web.

Upcoming Posts

This is the fourth in a series about protecting your privacy by self-hosting, while attempting to maintain the conveniences of public cloud services.

  1. Setting up OpenVPN
  2. SMB File Server with Automated Backups using Rsync/Rclone
  3. Note-taking with Nextcloud & Syncthing
  4. Movies and Music using Emby
  5. Protect Yourself Online with Privacy Tools
  6. Ad and Tracker Blocking with Pi-Hole
  7. Email, Contacts, and Calendars
  8. Bookmarks and Browsing History using Firefox Sync and Accounts Server
  9. Photos and Home Movies using Custom Tool