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This is sort of an open ended question, so any recommendations will be appreciated

I have a ubuntu box as my main server and I stream video on my mac since I can't carry my server box upstairs

This is my current configuration: My mac connects to my linux box via samba and basically mounts the shared folder as a network drive. I am using VLC player to play videos over this network drive and I find that the quality of the video is not as optimal as I would like it to be - seeking takes a good 10 seconds while I get the occasional stuttering (green screen) playing 540p videos, let alone 1080p.

My current setup permits a 1.8 MB/s bandwidth (tested with SCP), so I don't think network latency is that big an issue here.

I have trouble tweaking VLC because I am not technically streaming videos in the VLC player - VLC has no idea I am playing over a LAN network. Hence, I am unable to set the stream buffer and cache values that are specific only to network streaming on VLC.

Is there anything I can do to improve my current set up? Will using a media streaming server help (like Amahi)? Are there more efficient protocols than SMB for this purpose?

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It's entirely possible you simply don't have enough bandwidth to seek quickly. Our local wifi set-up pushes just under 300mbit on a good day, and seeking can be somewhat of an issue - but stuff plugged into the gigabit LAN has absolutely no such issues.

The problem is seeking files takes a little bit more data than you'd actually expect. Streaming servers work differently when you seek than something like VLC when it thinks it's looking at a real local file. A streaming server absolutely may help - though you're probably going to end up with re-encoded video (or a lot of CPU time used on the server), if that is something you're happy with then it's probably worth a shot.

If your issue is more with stuttering video you can change the cache config in preferences. If you change the Show settings option to All and go to Input/Codecs there is an option named File caching (ms) - but this will probably in fact make your seeking issue worse (it will have to pull more data before it can start playing video).

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There are definitly client/server programs that can stream video without forced transcoding, even with subtitles. (although i'm not here to advise one, even if I have my favourite) That suposes the client player has the required codecs, though. (which my tablet doesn't have for example) – mveroone Jun 12 '15 at 8:36

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