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View Full Version : Suggestions for building the ULTIMATE Mac-Mini/AppleTV Media Center




m021478
Jun 29, 2008, 07:58 PM
**I know this post is long, but I AM BEGGING YOU TO PLEASE CONTINUE READING...I could really use everyone's help with this...

To make a long story short, my main objective here is to build the ideal Macintosh Home Theater Media-Center (that suits my specific needs...as described below)...I would like to have easy access to see and hear all of the movies, music, and photos that I have stored on my computer via all of the televisions throughout my house...In addition to the media I already have, I would like to somehow find a way to integrate an AppleTV (which I already own) into this solution so that I could have quick and easy access to all of the movies, podcasts, trailers, etc. that are available for purchase/rent via the AppleTV (iTunes) Store...

I am going to breakdown the rest of this post into sections so that it's easier to read, and doesn't wind up being an over-sized jumble of senseless ramblings...

Content I'd like to be able to access:

VIDEO_TS Folders
I currently have hundreds of VIDEO_TS archival DVD backup folders stored on external hard drives that I would like to be able to browse through using either FrontRow, or any of the dozens of other Mac MediaCenter applications (http://www.pure-mac.com/mediacenter.html) available...Seeing as how Leopard's FrontRow is capable of recognizing and playing back VIDEO_TS archives, this shouldn't be too tough to accomplish, so long as an actual OS X Mac (such as a Mac-Mini) is somehow integrated into the solution somehow

All (or at least almost all) standard computer video files (i.e. mov, m4v, mp4, mpg, avi, wmv, etc...)
In addition to the wealth of VIDEO_TS DVD's I have stored on my computer I've also downloaded, ripped, converted, or otherwise accumulated tons of regular videos on my computer as well, all of which I would definitely like to access on the TVs throughout my apartment via my soon-to-be "HTPC-Mac"

Photos
Many of which are stored in iPhoto Libraries, but I have even more stored in regular old folder hierarchies on external hard drives (and being able to access online photos I have stored on Flickr, Picasa, etc would be ideal as well ~ and I believe this can be done via the AppleTV)

Music
All of my iTunes music (protected and/or unprotected)

EyeTV 250 DVR for LiveTV
I currently use an Elgato EyeTV 250 that I have connected to a cable box in my office (on a completely separate A/V system than my apartment's primary A/V system), but I'd like to figure out a way to incorporate the EyeTV into my home's primary A/V Media Center instead. I do have an old TiVo Series2 located in my A/V system rack, which I could theoretically replace with this EyeTV.

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Inventory of my current hardware:


Mac-Mini (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo; 160GB Serial ATA drive; SuperDrive; Leopard 10.5.3)
AppleTV 160GB (Take-2; latest firmware)
Three 1TB Hard Drives (filled with all of the media formats listed above; can be connected with USB, Firewire, or SATA)
50" Plasma (Panasonic TH-50PWC3 - 16:9 aspect ratio; HD at 720p at full resolution, or 1080i at reduced resolution. Pixel Dimensions: 1366x768 px; 3000:1 contrast ratio)
2 Denon Receivers - an AVR-3805 & AVR-2805 (these multi-zone receivers allow me to the various share various sources (i.e. DVD player, DVR, TiVo; Mac-Media Center) to be shared on all of the various TV's throughout my apt.)
EyeTV 250 Plus


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Remotely controlling my MediaCenter from 3-stories away...

All of my current A/V equipment is currently stored in an rack located in a basement closet on the bottom floor of my three story apartment (and this is where my Mac-Mini~AppleTV MediaCenter will eventually be located as well). The TVs that I would like to be able to access the Mac-Mini~AppleTV MediaCenter are scattered throughout my house (four TV's in total)...

Before I go to much further into this, let me also point out that my cable modem and network router are also located in this same A/V closet, so connecting the Mac-Mini or AppleTV via ethernet cable to my LAN would be extremely easy to do...

Obviously, the chosen location of my MediaCenter -- being in a place where there can be no direct IR remote control signals sent/received -- might prove to be a bit tricky (in regards to how I will eventually go about controlling my Mac-Mini~AppleTV MediaCenter, which will also be housed in this basement closet)...My current A/V system is controlled using multiple Universal Remote MX-850 (http://www.universalremote.com/product_detail.php?model=38) radio-frequency remote control clickers.

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Possible solutions to remote controlling my Mac-Mini~AppleTV MediaCenter:

Idea #1 (via my Laptop):
I've used a piece of software for quite a while now called SynergyKM (http://www.tuaw.com/2005/11/22/synergykm-gui-for-the-synergy-project/), which is a software based KVM switch that lets you use one mouse and one keyboard to control multiple machines on your LAN (it's basically identical to another piece of software called Teleport (http://abyssoft.com/software/teleport/), though SynergyKM is cross-platform...and free) - both of these software packages basically allow you to roll your mouse off one of the edges of your screen and onto the screen of another Mac that you've setup in the system preference configuration (at which point the mouse and keyboard work to control that other mac)...

It seems like this software might be a fantastic solution for remotely controlling the MediaCenter (because I keep a laptop on the thrid floor of my apartment at all times - the same floor that my main livingroom TV is located on)...I could configure the Mac-Mini and my Laptop to use SynergyKM so that when I was in my living room and wanted to tap into the music, movies, and photos on my MacMini, I could simply break out my laptop and via my WiFi LAN network I could the use the Mini's mouse and keyboard to control FrontRow (or even iTunes or Safari or anything else on my MacMini)

Idea #2 (via my iPhone):
Another idea which might be just even more effective in providing remote control capabilities from the top floor of my apartment would be to use my iPhone as a remote control device (which I could do using either iospirit's Remote Buddy (http://www.iospirit.com/) iPhone AJAX remote control software, or even TouchPad Pro (http://www.touchpadpro.com/) on my jailbroken iPhone).

This idea might work out better than idea #1 because of:

the small size of my iPhone (asking someone to "pass me the remote" won't mean that I have to pass over my Macbook Pro);
also, the fact that it's almost always on me or at least nearby;
the fact that my wife and I both have one;


Idea #3 (via my Laptop, using Leopard's built-in 'Screen Sharing' application):
Just like idea #1, only using Leopard's 'Screen Sharing.app' instead of SynergyKM

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Specific Questions I have related to this proposed configuration...

Neither of my Denon Receivers have HDMI inputs...That being said, how would I go about outputting HD from the Mac-Mini? Is there some sort of DVI>>Composite adapter that would be required?

Will the Mac-Mini be able to provide HD output to my 50"; Plasma? I know I won't be getting HD when viewing my 'plain-jane' .mov, .avi, etc. files, nor will I get HD when viewing my ripped DVD VIDEO_TS folders...but what about when I start ripping Blu-Ray, or when I download some HD content...Will the Mac-Mini be able to output the HD resolution required to get true-HD quality on a screen as large as 50"

How can I integrate both my Mac-Mini and my AppleTV into the MediaCenter? Would this require using two separate A/V inputs on my receivers and treating these two components as completely separate devices?

Can anyone think of a way in which I can avoid having (approximately) 3 completely separate MediaCenter GUIs (which as far as I can see would currently include: FrontRow on my Mac-Mini; AppleTV's built-in GUI; EyeTV's proprietary GUI for browsing live TV and DVR recordings)?

Is there somehow a way to consolidate all of these GUIs into a single 'master' GUI to control them all? If the AppleTV's built in GUI is unavoidable (which I think it may be), is there any way to somehow either replace (or integrate) FrontRow with EyeTV's GUI?

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If anyone can foresee any possible problems with my general game-plan, or if anyone can offer any suggestions or things I should consider (such as things I might want to potentially include and integrate into my MediaCenter, I would really appreciate it if you would share that with me...

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated... Thanks!



McGiord
Jun 29, 2008, 08:15 PM
Some HDMI receivers/amplifiers only handle video, so you can go DVI -> HDMI for the video and use other solutions for the audio (optical, etc..), extra cables but you can.
________
Acura CSX history (http://www.honda-wiki.org/wiki/Acura_CSX)

matneh
Jun 30, 2008, 12:07 PM
Why do you even need the AppleTV in this setup if you already have a Mac Mini?

racemize
Jun 30, 2008, 12:28 PM
I'm with the above poster, the apple tv seems not necessary if you have the mac mini (are you using it for the nice renting interface?). Controlling the AppleTV may be an issue, as I think there isn't any way other than through the IR remote (unless you hack it).

Do you only have one TV (it appears so based on your inventory)? I would do the following (and currently am at my house) with one or two tvs:

1) have mac mini serve all content, convert content to iTunes compatible media, and put in iTunes (hook up to a TV if desired, e.g., bedroom tv for me)
2) hook appleTV up to desired TV (e.g., living room TV), and stream from mac mini
3) use screen sharing to control mac mini

I think you will have to treat the apple TV and mac mini's as separate sources.

FYI, I don't know anything about eyeTV.

wPod
Jun 30, 2008, 01:58 PM
aTV Flash (http://www.applecorellc.com/product_info.php?cPath=22&products_id=27) will solve all of your problems. (that and doing as racemize suggests). aTV is a cool app that you load onto your :apple:TV. it is a simple process and it does not mess with your warranty. It will allow you to play all of the media types you want (read more on the website for sure, but it does DVD files DivX, AVI etc. . .) so, all you need to do is put your mac mini down in the rack to serve up all of your data, then just connect the :apple:TV to your TV (or receiver) and you will be set. If you have multiple TVs then go buy multiple :apple:TVs. you only need the 40GB version as you 'stream' the media from your mac mini server and no data actually needs to be stored on your :apple:TV. finally to access your mac mini just use the screen sharring, I use a little freeware app called Chicken of the VNC (http://www.applecorellc.com/product_info.php?cPath=22&products_id=27).

What I have described is the current setup I use. I have not downloaded aTV yet, but have been planning on installing this app once I find some free time to do so.

The only thing I have not mentioned is your EyeTV. I am not sure your exact intension's with this. The only way to watch live TV is to watch from the Mac-mini, in which case you would have to have this hooked up directly to the TV you want to watch. If you go through the pain of finding a long enough DVI cable to do this (you said there is a 3 floor difference from the media rack and your TV???) if you go this route you will be spending lots of $$ on the cable (probably not worth it, unless you already have it). what I do with my EyeTV (i have the 500 which is an older model) is I record to my mac-mini, then convert to :apple:TV format (yeah, i dont like dealing with all the other formats, one format is simple for me) then just open the recording in iTunes and stream it from there.

nittany
Jun 30, 2008, 11:35 PM
I too think racemize's suggestions are correct. My own setup is exactly the same. The only additional suggestions I can make are:

A) Connect your external drive enclosures via Firewire. eSATA would be better, but the Mini doesn't sport such connectivity. USB might seem tempting, but the sustained data rate of Firewire (even Firewire 400) is faster than USB 2.0.

B) Connect everything to everything via a wired LAN. Spend the marginal extra money on cat. 6 cable that will support gigabit ethernet. Sure, your cable modem can't support such speeds (even if your cable company offered the service), but nearly everything you'll need (router and switch) can, for not a lot of money, support a gigabit LAN. So, while you won't receive (for example) downloads from the iTunes store any faster over a gigabit network than you would a 100 megabit LAN, you will be able to move information from your Mini to the :apple:TV (see the caveat below) or from your Macbook Pro to the Mini at truly blazing speed.

So why is it important that you can move information from your Mini to the :apple:TV fast? Because unless you intend to beef up the :apple:TV with more storage (now only available through hacks), you're going to have to stream most of that 3 TB of content stored on the external drives. Read through the MacRumors :apple:TV-based posts and you'll see that a large percentage of problems are related to wireless issues - stop/start, stutters, etc. With a wired network, I've yet to have one of these problems.

And why is it important that you move information quickly to your Macbook Pro from your Mini? Because when you connect to the mini via the Share Screen feature built into Leopard, you will get an amazingly clear image on what's happening on the Mini with truly minimal lags or stutters - just try and do that over a wireless network.

:apple:TV caveat: It is not capable of handling gigabit speeds. Placed on a gigabit network, it will operate at a maximum of 100 megabits per second. Why does the :apple:TV have a 10/100 ethernet port when everything else in the current Apple lineup seems to support 10/100/1000? Who knows, but I've got to believe that the next hardware release will be gigabit capable. In short, prepare for the future now and in the meantime enjoy the benefits of a faster network.

C) Use the Screen Sharing feature built into Leopard. Sure, other programs like Chicken of the VNC can handle this too, but before adding something new into the setup, see if the stock setup will give you what you need. For me, Screen Sharing is more than adequate. I can see exactly what's going on with the desktops and servers (the Mini) in the household with a minimum of fuss.

D) Unless you only want to have the same :apple:TV content shown on all of the monitors in the household (presuming your receiver can feed multiple monitors simultaneously) at the same time, you'll need one :apple:TV for each monitor. With this setup, each monitor can receive both a feed from your centralized receiver (with whatever content it can serve) and from the local :apple:TV. If simultaneously displaying or listening to different content served by the Mini on multiple systems in the household is one of your requirements, then it will be doubly important that your network is capable of handling multiple streams of content - again pointing you toward a wired gigabit network.

E) Make sure you purchase your iTunes content from your Mini rather than your :apple:TV(s). While it's not any more complicated to make the purchase on an :apple:TV, if you don't sync, then getting the content off of the :apple:TV and on your Mini is cumbersome. Without a hack, the only way I know to do so is to sync the devices. This seems awkward to me (which admittedly could be just based on my lack of knowledge regarding the right procedure), so I avoid the problem by making the purchases from the intended content server - the Mini.

F) In reviewing the specs on your Denon receivers, it's hard to tell exactly what video inputs they can handle (for example, the AVR-3805 specs say "Component Video Inputs x Bandwidth - *Assignable" is supported at 3x100), but assuming that it can accept and pass through a 780p or 1080i signal, then by connecting the :apple:TV to your receiver, you will be able to display whatever HD content the :apple:TV supports. On the other hand, I can't find a Panasonic TV with model number TH-50PWC3 on the internet, so it's hard to answer your question. The short answer is that if it's 780p, 1080i capable and has video component inputs (because your receivers can't output HDMI), then you should be able to watch the HD content streamed to your :apple:TV from your Mini on your monitor. Of course, the :apple:TV can output HDMI, so if you connect it directly to the monitor, you will be able to take advantage of all that HDMI offers when Apple gets around to enhancing what the :apple:TV can output signal wise.

G) Yes, you can hook up your Mini to your receiver's video component inputs, but you'll need a DVI to component adapter. Something like http://sewelldirect.com/dvivideoadapter.asp or http://sewelldirect.com/DVI-to-Component-Adapter-Cable-15ft.asp might work. I'm not recommending either the part or the seller, they were just the first items that showed up in a "dvi to component" Google search. I'm sure you can go as nuts as you want in selecting whatever grade of cable and hardware you want.

H) Don't confuse a monitor's need to obtain HD content with its size. A 50" monitor needs the same input data as does a 24" monitor. If you want 1080i content shown on your monitor, then the :apple:TV can provide it assuming the content you feed it is of 1080i caliber. If it's not, then it's upscaled, but from my perspective, you can see when lower resolution has been upscaled to a higher resolution.

Anyway, have fun with designing and building your setup. This stuff is not life threatening.

drag0n
Jul 1, 2008, 04:12 AM
The only thing I have not mentioned is your EyeTV. I am not sure your exact intension's with this. The only way to watch live TV is to watch from the Mac-mini, .

You CAN install EyeTV on the AppleTV and use the AppleTV to watch live TV (connect the EyeTV 250 to the AppleTV usb port).

see http://wiki.awkwardtv.org/wiki/EyeTV

m021478
Jul 1, 2008, 10:49 AM
...On the other hand, I can't find a Panasonic TV with model number TH-50PWC3 on the internet, so it's hard to answer your question.
My mistake...it's actually a Panasonic TH-50PHW3 (forgot to include that 'H' in the middle of the model number)...and thanks so much for all of the other input you've offered...it's all quite helpful!

...A) Connect your external drive enclosures via Firewire. eSATA would be better, but the Mini doesn't sport such connectivity. USB might seem tempting, but the sustained data rate of Firewire (even Firewire 400) is faster than USB 2.0..
...Seeing as how the Mac-Mini only has one Firewire 400 jack, will there be any drawbacks (delays, skipping, stuttering, etc.) if I daisy-chain my hard drives to the Mini?

...aTV Flash will solve all of your problems.
AWESOME TIP!! Thanks so much for this recommendation! I hope it proves to be as easy to use as it appears...I've tried hacking my TV in the past, but with zero programming/*nix experience, I found there to be just one too many terminal commands required to do so...the aTV Flash package you recommended seems like it might ease this process and finally make it 'do-able' for me...

Why do you even need the AppleTV in this setup if you already have a Mac Mini?
As partially stated by racemize, I really like the TV interface...though not just for renting, but also for all of the various other capabilities, such as access to podcasts, photos (including those hosted on flickr or .Mac), YouTube videos (I love that if I simply mark something as a 'Favorite' on YouTube, then I can have immediate access to it via my TV in the 'Favorites' section), Movie Trailers, etc...

see http://wiki.awkwardtv.org/wiki/EyeTV
...Thanks for the tip about the EyeTV!

If anyone else has any other thoughts, ideas, suggestions, or things that I should perhaps consider in building my Mac-Mini ~ TV MediaCenter, I would really love to hear them... Thanks!

nittany
Jul 1, 2008, 12:46 PM
...Seeing as how the Mac-Mini only has one Firewire 400 jack, will there be any drawbacks (delays, skipping, stuttering, etc.) if I daisy-chain my hard drives to the Mini?

My external drives are daisy chained to a Mini and I don't have any stutter-like problems. On the other hand, my server currently only supports one :apple:TV, so I don't know what the load of multiple units making simultaneous requests would be. However, even if you used a server that sported multiple FW400 ports, eventually all of the data would converge on one application (iTunes), the CPU(s) and memory - thus having the potential for a congestion problem regardless. My sense is that the speed of FW400 when compared to the data input requirements of an :apple:TV or two will still leave you in positive territory. Maybe someone with a more technical background can provide some insight on this.

nittany
Jul 1, 2008, 12:57 PM
My mistake...it's actually a Panasonic TH-50PHW3 (forgot to include that 'H' in the middle of the model number)...and thanks so much for all of the other input you've offered...it's all quite helpful!

I looked up your TV on the internet and found the operating instructions at http://support.panasonic.co.nz/docstore/TH50PHW3%20book.pdf.

Unless I'm reading page 34 wrong, the maximum scanning format it can handle is 1080i. If true, then I don't think you'll have to worry about Blu-Ray because that (I believe) requires 1080p capability.

aud10pilot
Oct 30, 2008, 06:02 PM
been a while since the last post on this thread, but I'd like to toss in the recently announced ability to install the latest greatest media center software called boxee ( boxee.tv)

read their blog! it's truly amazing what it can do to an ordinary AppleTV device.

just google "boxee" and freak out!

Cave Man
Oct 30, 2008, 06:08 PM
been a while since the last post on this thread, but I'd like to toss in the recently announced ability to install the latest greatest media center software called boxee ( boxee.tv)

This has been discussed to death in the last few weeks.