A few things to consider when going for an ESXi server configuration for purposes beyond file storage, esp. in the multimedia area:...
WRT ESXi, I only meant it for whatever "server" machine was actually used and only for this machine that is already created. My suggestion would be to start with a VM in Workstation, for example, to get it all working virtually first. That said, I did know about a lot of these things, so I will address a few of them, but it is good to point them out.
1. Performance - Yes, it can be hit or miss, but unless you are KILLING the machine, in a home environment these shouldn't be an issue. I can't imagine throttling a single VM for ANY resources as it wouldn't make any sense.
2. Hardware limits - True, but again, in this particular environment it wouldn't need to be anything more. If it turned out it did, there are other routes to go (Like V2P).
3. Graphic Card Acceleration - True. I forgot that may end up playing a big part of any Multimedia setup. This could be a deal breaker for permanent setup, but you can alway V2P back once everything is setup.
4. USB Pass-through et. al. - I am not sure why you would think this to be the route to take with ANY server. It was already mentioned that the right way to handle this would be to pull/push the data from the server to do intensive multimedia manipulation on his regular machine. This takes the USB and Blu-Ray issues out of the picture.
The lab environment doesn't give any indication of many things, but it does help to determine what he would want to look at for actual hardware. If it works out to be a multibox setup, you can figure out how to do so. If it were just to determine what software is needed, again it works. Even network issues can be found this way, though that can be (read usually is) difficult to determine and I am not sure if it carries over outside of the paid versions of ESXi. I only pointed out a great way to create a proof of concept, and if it works well in the PoC, then you can move it wholesale to another machine as is. If not, you have options, including a V2P if performance is the only issue and you are inclined to believe that it is due to the virtualization. It is really just a cheap way to figure out what's what.
Steeladept!!! Come up here and take a bow!
Before you buy anything I'd definitely give virtual a try to get a better handle on how to implement this project. No need to worry about hardware right away. They'll build plenty more by the time you're ready to buy something.
Who knows? It might even end up staying in a virtual environment if it works for you.
Thanks. That last line is the point I was making about the ESXi. It isn't the only option, but if it works well, it is definitely the way to go.