At this point, you've either setup your unRAID server, or hooked your external hard drive into a compatible router with a USB port, and you're now ready to start managing your collection of movies and music.
There are many options for managing your digital collection, I've chosen to use PLEX and Media Monkey, but many people swear by XBOX Media Center (XBMC). There are benefits and cons against either, but for the most part we'll just be looking at how to get content from your DVDs and CDs and onto your storage solution, and then how to manipulate those movies, TV shows, and music through PLEX and/or Media Monkey.
anydvd and handbrake
There are two options that you can pursue when attempting to convert physical DVD and Blu-Rays into digital files, the first of which is the more popular: Handbrake and AnyDVD. These two software packages will remove the copy protection from the media, compress it, remove any title menus and previews, and convert it to a file that can be read by your PLEX server. Data Mike, a relatively popular YouTubist has us covered on a brief introduction into pulling data off DVDs using Handbrake and AnyDVD.
part one of two
part two of two
These two videos give you a brief crash course in converting your DVDs into digital files that can be read by your PLEX Server, and a vibrant community exists to help you with more in depth issues. However, please make sure you are not stealing movies, and are aware of the laws in your area that may prevent the use of copyright protection cracking (even for personal use) such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. I am not a lawyer, so do not take this post to be an assertion that your actions are legal in your area!
YouTube user, Michele Berner has a three part web-series that helps dive into PLEX rather rapidly. The hard part of using PLEX was in setting up your server, which we've already covered, so rather than reinvent the wheel, I'd rather send you over to his YouTube channel to get you spun up on the software.
Media Monkey is a fantastic software suite that, while free, has a lot of powerful features if you choose to upgrade to the $50 Gold version. It is a pretty exhaustive and customizeable database that tracks as many songs, videos, and TV series as you can put into it. And, unlike PLEX, it has a built in feature that allows you to rip audio CDs into your media collection straight from Media Monkey; so you don't need a third party software to do the trick.
First, a brief overview of the software seems prudent before we get into specifically ripping your physical CDs or transferring your Amazon or iTunes library. Now, it's worth noting several things: First is that all of the fields shown above are customizeable (what you care to track may not be what I care about), and that the content of each field is customizeable as well:
Ever heard of "nerdcore" as a genre? I thought not. You can assign "moods" and "occasions" to each song, and then create auto-playlists based on what amounts to a database query:
Give me all 3-5 star songs of any genre with the mood of "Happy" and the tempo of "Upbeat"
And Media Monkey will spit out a playlist for you. Needless to say, that's a pretty powerful tool for managing your music on a server. Add in things like auto-leveling your volume (everything has the same average volume - great for indie bands that can't volume mix their own stuff), and compressing large songs and you have a pretty powerful tool.
So how do you get content into Media Monkey?
At this point, you should have a functioning media server (or dongle), and you should be ready to start your cable cutting experience. As I mentioned earlier in this post, you can invest in a Harmony Remote system or SONOS Playbar and/or Play:1 to bring your home entertainment system to the next level, but for now you should have enough information to get started in your cable cutting adventures.
If you run into any problems, there is a vibrant community for unRAID, PLEX, and AnyDVD/Handbrake that should be able to help you solve any issues you have (nothing you're about to do is new; it's all been done before), and you should feel confident that cable cutting is going to save you money over the long haul.