In working with a growing video database for a number of years, owning an ipad, iphone, laptop, and now RasPi, as well as sharing media to a bunch of different devices (low power computers, game consoles, etc), I can speak with confidence when I propose a shift in thinking:
What you want is a beefed up NAS-style server, and the Raspberry is not going to give this to you.
First off; you would have to plug in an external USB enclosure (multi-drive enclosure if you want semi-serious storage space), and the USB bus is going to sap CPU every time a file is accessed.
Secondly, setting up a DLNA server or any kind of media server with the raspberry at it's core is going to be a great exercise in learning how to make it work, but it's not going to be a workable solution unless all your media is pre-ecoded for the specific device you want to use it on.
If you want to have a small and reasonably priced all-in-one unit, you're better off going one of three directions:
- 1) Build your own small server and run it as a linux or windows server (cheaper, more bang. Manual setup, and potential noise issues)
2) Buy a NAS that can do video sharing, or even better; something that supports Plex Media Server natively. There are more than a few people using Diskstations ( http://www.synology.com/products/produc ... im&lang=us ) and ReadyNAS devices with success.
3) Buy a small server that's already made, like a mac mini (the most expensive option, and in most cases also requires using external storage, but it does mean you can store 1080p versions of your favourite movies without worrying)
In terms of software, my personal suggestion after years of doing this is Plex Media Server ( http://www.plexapp.com/getplex/index.php
): you install it in windows, linux, or osx very easily, tell it where your files are, and it pulls all the metadata.
Not only does it work like XBMC in this regard, but there are apps for all sorts of devices, including the iPad; it transcodes, and has sharing options, as well as MyPlex, which allows you to watch the same media anywhere you go.
You're at home, and the new episode of a show you watch just downloaded. You fire up Plex on the ipad, tap the photo for that show, and it plays immediately.
You start to fall asleep half way through and press stop, going to bed.
The next day, you're stuck in a line somewhere and decide to finish the show; you pull your phone out, tap Plex, tap the show, and it asks if you want to resume, then plays immediately.
Or, another scenario:
You guys are visiting long-time friends, and during a conversation, you find out that someone in the group has not seen a life-changing movie: everyone vows to rent it or download it some day so you can watch it together. "Too bad we don't have the DVD; we could watch it right now"
You brought your ipad (or even iphone), and they have an apple TV hooked up to a large screen.
Tap Plex, tap to the movie, press Play, and tap another button, and within a few seconds your computer at home transcodes the file, sends the data over the internet to your hand, and the ipad sends it over wireless to the TV.
Everyone settles in to enjoy the show; easy, light, and without any fiddling.