Streaming content is great for watching movies and TV shows. It almost makes it unnecessary to keep a DVD player around, except for home movies. What’s the modern solution for those? Actually there is one, and it’s likely to have better longevity than recorded DVDs or VHS tapes as long as you’re careful. Here’s how to watch home movies on Roku.
There are three secrets to playing your own video on a Roku devices over your local network. The first is standing up one or more DLNA servers to serve up video to Roku players and other streaming devices. The second is getting the video in a compatible format. The third is installing something capable of looking to your local network for video, rather than the cloud.
None of these is difficult.
Convert your video to a compatible format
Roku devices are pickier about video formats than PCs are. When you convert your home videos from VHS, try to capture in MP4, MOV, or MKV format with H.264 video encoding and AAC or MP3 audio format.
If you already have video files, perhaps recorded via smartphone or tablet, you may need to convert it. You can use a tool called Handbrake for that. You can use Handbrake to rip your recorded DVDs as well. Handbrake runs on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux and is free. Helpfully, it includes presets for Roku devices, in addition to devices like Android devices and Apple TV, at various resolutions.
After you launch Handbrake, you can select an individual file or a whole folder to convert. Then click under Presets on the right, scroll down to Devices, and choose between the five Roku formats. I recommend Roku 480p30 for older content, especially anything recorded on VHS or older camcorders. If you’re in Europe, use Roku 576p25 for older PAL-format recorded video. Use Roku720p30 for anything you originally recorded at or around 720p high-definition, Roku1080p30 for anything you recorded at full HD, or Roku 2160p60 if you have any home movies in 4K. Handbrake will upscale or downscale for you, but keep in mind that upscaling doesn’t improve the video quality any. Downscaling may backfire on you if you buy a nicer TV later.
Once you’re happy with your settings, give it a filename and then click Start Encode.
Stand up a DLNA server
DLNA is an industry standard for streaming video and music between different devices. A Windows PC can act as a DLNA server if you wish. Simply launch Windows Media Player, then click Stream, then click Automatically allow devices to play my media and follow the prompts.
The only hard part about this is certain system updates reset this setting from time to time. So if your Roku ever can’t see your Windows PC, just go back to your PC and check this setting. Click those options again, and your PC and Roku will start talking again happily.
Also, many home routers have the ability to act as a DLNA server. If your router has a USB port, it probably has that ability. Enabling it will vary from router to router, so if you want to use your router as a DLNA server to your other devices, consult your router’s manual. Once you enable that setting, copy your movies to a USB drive, plug it into your router, and you’re ready to go.
You can sort your videos into folders to help you find them. Use whatever system works for you, whether it’s by year, location, or some combination.
Install Roku Media Player
On your Roku device, go to the Roku Channels and search for Roku Media Player. Select it and install it. Once you see Roku Media Player on your home screen, launch it. It will give you a list of DLNA servers on your network. Pick a server, select Video, then navigate through the folders to find the home movie you want to watch. It’s not really any harder than watching content on Hulu or Netflix.
Troubleshooting Roku Media Player
I found streaming local video over wi fi is more demanding on the Roku platform than streaming from Netflix and Hulu, ironically. If your videos start to load but never start, it’s probably a heat issue. Here’s how to fix heat issues on Roku devices.
Backing up your movies
I recommend making backup copies once you have all your home movies saved as video files. Ideally, store a copy both on a USB external hard drive and on high-quality USB flash drives made by a company like Sandisk or Lexar. If possible, keep a set at your house, and keep a set at a relative’s house. Having your home movies backed up on a couple of different physical formats is the best way to ensure longevity over time. I specifically recommend an HGST-brand USB hard drive if you can get one. And I do recommend Sandisk or Lexar specifically for USB flash media.
After all, it’s not possible to watch home movies on Roku, or any other device, if your DLNA server crashes and takes the only remaining copy with it.