With Kirin’s increasing love affair with Elmo, we decided to bite the bullet and get a new TV. Our old TV we got when we first got married, so I figure eleven years is a good run for a TV.
We were replacing an old 28” CRT TV that had a G5 iMac hooked up to it. The iMac was really starting to struggle with playback on full screen h264 movies, so we decided to replace that as well. To be honest, we actually set out to only replace the iMac, but we got side tracked…
We decided to get a Mac Mini as the basis for the setup. The new Minis are a pretty decent setup for a home theater PC. Its small, its quiet, and it doesn’t look half bad in the living room. We got the Mac Mini home only to discover that I needed a new cable… a quick trip back to the store, cable in hand, home again. This time I was beset by our biggest setback.
The old CRT TV only had a coax RF input. I had an RCA -> RF converterbox already, and was planning on just going from the Mini’s DVI port -> DVI to Video Adaptor -> RCA to RF adaptor -> TV. However, it turns out that the Mac Mini, and likely all future PCs, can no longer output a standard analog video signal. Why is this? Simply put, the MPAA has managed to con the graphics card makers, the PC makers, congress, and most of America into thinking that analog signals = piracy. Sigh.
So no I was faced with either returning the Mini, or going full bore and getting a new TV. I needed a TV capable of either DVI or HDMI inputs. Pretty much any new flat panel TV these days has those inputs, so it was time to buy a new TV.
We got a Samsung 32” LCD TV, got Jeff to come help hang it on the wall (out of Kirin’s reach!), and were finally able to hook the Mini up, and enjoy high def goodness.
Apple ships most computers with a tiny remote, I got one with my last MacBook from work. For some reason, they don’t ship one with the Mini however. Seems strange, since a lot of people seem to buy the Mini to use as a home theater PC. Anyhow, I had a remote already, pointed it at the TV, and was off into Front Row, Apple’s media center software. Once I had iTunes and iPhoto hooked up to my media library, (Yay for external drives, and symbolic links!) Front Row saw all our music, movies and photos. Digitizing movies and putting them into iTunes is a bit of a lengthy chore, but its very worth it. I never have to go hunting for a disc when weKirin wants to watch Elmo. Just punch up Front Row, scroll through the list of movies, and press play.
The realsurprisein all of this came last week when Hulu released their desktop app. I was pleasantly surprised when they announce that it would run on both Windows and Mac OS X. I downloaded it, installed it, signed in with my Hulu account, and in minutes I was watching shows from my queue right on the new TV. I’ll say this right now. Cable andSatelliteTV are dead. Within five years, the majority of ‘television’ will be video on demand, streamed to you over your only remaining communication utility: broadband internet.
We had one small snag in the remote department. With two main applications, Front Row and Hulu, Apple’s simplistic remote couldn’t handle launching different apps. Fortunately, the people at iospirit make a really great program called Remote Buddy. It’s basically a highly configurable menu system that is controllable by remote, and is nice and large, perfect for a home theater PC setup. A little configuration in that, and I’m able to easily choose between Hulu and Front Row. The bonus is I can control a lot more on the Mac also. iPhoto is right there, and has some really stunning slideshows now. Having a 32” video picture frame is pretty cool. We have some Airpot Express modules around the house doing the Airtunes thing. However for someunfathomablereason Front Row doesn’t support streaming music to airtunes speakers. It works fine from iTunes, so Remote Buddy lets me jump into iTunes also with ease.
Final touches involved getting a shelf to put all the electronics on. We still need to get some conduits to hide the cables running to and from the Mac.
All in all, I’m really happy with the setup. I really like having the iPhoto slideshow up. Its great to be able to enjoy your photo library on a day to day basis, without having to sit in front of a computer. Just turn the slide show on and wander around the house. We still don’t watch that much television, but what we do watch is now easy and more enjoyable. Pretty happy with the setup.
Sharing iTunes Libraries among several Macs
Unfortunately, iTunes has no simple way for sharing a single library among several macs. When I mean sharing, I’m talking about being able to fire up iTunes on any computer, and having access to my full library. Not just the simple iTunes sharing a playlist.
The only way I have found to do this is the following. Move your iTunes library to an external drive, be sure to move the entire /Users/You/Music/iTunes folder, and not just the music folder within that. Then delete (or rename if you’re paranoid like me) the local iTunes folder and replace with a symbolic link to the external drive.
ln -s /Volumes/ExternalHD/iTunes /Users/You/Music/iTunes
You can then share this drive, mount it on other macs, and repeat the process. Creating symbolic links for each computer. The big down side with this model is that only one mac can have iTunes open at a time, as it locks the library files. Its somewhat annoying if you forget to close iTunes and have to trek across the house to turn it off.