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View Full Version : My iMac/Plex home theater: Tips, tricks, and overall impressions




kevin1182
May 7, 2010, 04:33 PM
Hey everyone,

I have been lurking around here for awhile, thinking of how to setup a home theater system to meet my needs while minimizing costs. At the same time, I only had a 4 year old Macbook Core Duo (original intel), so I wanted both a home theater setup and a new computer in general. Just for background information, I am a single guy in an apartment and the main user of my computers. I thought about using an ATV, but really wanted blu ray HD quality and did not feel like messing with converting tons of files. I also wanted streaming netflix.

Next I considered an iMac and a mini, with the mini for the home theater setup, with the content stored on the iMac. This would be more expensive, obviously, so I decided to try just the iMac at first, since I could always add the mini later if it wasn't working out. I decided to get a 27" refurbished i7 iMac, which would be placed in my office room (a spare bedroom, reasonably close to the living room) and use it as a dual purpose machine, both for work and productivity and also for the home theater.

I am thrilled with the setup, and just wanted to offer some tips/tricks/things that have worked for me and will hopefully help someone.


Computer:

27" iMac i7 refurbished. Got about a month ago. Perfect condition, really like the computer so far. Had a 24" monitor before, so the increase in size was not incredible, but I really am happy with the screen (I actually like the glossy screen for what I use the computer for)

Storage:

4-bay USB enclosure for SATA drives:

http://www.sansdigital.com/towerraid/tr4ub.html

I filled this with 2 WD 1 tb (from separately purchases single drive external hard drives), 2 WD 2 tb hard drives. 1 tb drives used for backing up iMac, various other things. 1 of the 2 tb drives used as primary, 2nd is cloned to match the primary on a weekly basis using SuperDuper. So far, enough storage, eventually will probably swap out the 1 tb drives for 2 more 2 tb drives. I have been impressed with the case, it works well. It is not a speed demon, but is fast enough (no stuttering with full sized MKV blu ray files).

External Blu Ray:

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16827249040

Has worked perfectly so far.

DVD/Blu Ray ripping software:

I have had success with MakeMKV for blu ray, and the combination of Mac the Ripper and Handbrake for DVDs.

Connection to TV:

Long HDMI cable (look at partsexpress.com for a cheap one) and the Monoprice USB/Display Port connector:

http://www.monoprice.com/products/product.asp?c_id=104&cp_id=10428&cs_id=1042802&p_id=5969&seq=1&format=2

I leave this plugged into the computer at all times. More on this later under screen switching. Works perfectly for sound and video. Fed through my Onkyo 7.1 receiver which does HDMI switching.

Media Content Interface:

I use plex for the home theater, and it really is terrific. Plays everything I throw at it very well, looks great, and integrates well with my remote. A few tricks later on adjusting it for my TV and my setup. I highly recommend it overall for its versatility and polished look.

Remote control for Plex:

I have an ipod touch, and found an app called Snatch. Basically, you download it through iTunes, put it on your touch/iPhone, install software on your computer, and then you can control your computer from your phone. You can even download custom remotes, such as one designed for plex. This way, your touch/iPhone displays a menu that is perfect for manipulating plex. You can also switch between this remote and a general scrolling pad as well. It really is superb, and since it works through the wireless network, it does not need to be in direct sight of your computer, which is good when it is in the other room.

Screen Switching:

My procedure for switching from a "work" setup to the "theater" version goes like this. While working, I have the external display disabled using SwitchResX. When I want to start using the TV, I simply use SwitchResX to enable the external display hooked up to the display port, switch to mirror the displays and it is all good to go. When I am done and want to switch back to "work" mode I disable the external display and turn off mirroring. This is great in that I don't have to unplug the connector. Prior to using this program, I would turn off the mirroring to get the proper resolution on the iMac, but it would still sense the external display, so the mouse cursor would go over to the external display when I hit the edge of the screen. By switching the external off with SwitchResX this is no longer an issue, and I can leave everything plugged in.

Plex Audio:

Just a note. When I first started pled, I realized the sound was coming out of the iMac. In plex, you need to switch the audio (under preferences; system; audio) to USB then the sound will come out the hdmi connector. And the sound is fabulous, actually, I am impressed.

TV Settings:

I have read a bunch about getting the TV to look right, and here is what I found. I needed to turn overscan on so that when I was looking at the desktop I could see all the task bars and everything. However, with overscan on, Plex did not fill up the screen, and neither did movies. By fill up I mean horizontally as well; movies would have black edges on the left and right side of the screen. I actually made a post about this thinking it was related to the content:

http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=911610

So, for awhile I used it with overscan set to off, so that movies would better fill the screen. But, it was clear when using plex that this was not perfect, since edges of the plex interface were cutoff. Somewhere online I read about how Plex can fix this. Go to: preferences; system; display; display calibration. Here, you actually line up the edges so they look right. After I did this, boom, movies filled the screen, and so did the Plex interface. So at least for me, overscan on, and these adjustments in Plex made things were perfectly.


Well that is all I can think of for now, hopefully someone will find some tips here useful. I am overall very pleased to have a great new working computer and also the ability to basically use it like I have a mac mini sitting in my living room as well. I have Plex loaded with tons of music, movies (blu ray and other), pictures etc. and it all really works flawlessly.

Again this type of setup is perfect if you don't need use of the computer while you are using it for the home theater (might not work with a family or something).

Thanks to all of you for help on some of these issues!

Kevin



ReggaeFire
May 8, 2010, 07:20 AM
1 of the 2 tb drives used as primary, 2nd is cloned to match the primary on a weekly basis using SuperDuper.


Why did you go this route instead of RAID'ing the drive? Don't you risk losing up to a weeks worth of data?

Theappmachine
May 8, 2010, 07:28 AM
WOW :eek:

kevin1182
May 8, 2010, 08:17 AM
Why did you go this route instead of RAID'ing the drive? Don't you risk losing up to a weeks worth of data?

That is true, I guess I could have done a software raid or something like that (the enclosure won't do it). I could also run the backup every night if I was concerned about it but I've loaded most of my movies and stuff in so probably at this point the data on the main disc won't change too too much in a week.

Kevin

kevin1182
May 8, 2010, 08:18 AM
WOW :eek:

Can't tell if this is sarcasm, serious, ??

I know that I am not providing anything breakthrough here, just wanted to summarize what worked for me!

Kevin

macabouttobe
May 8, 2010, 11:48 AM
Thanks for taking the time to share your set-up and experience. I'm going to wait thru june to see if there is any changes with the Mac Mini and ATV.

BigDukeSix
Jan 24, 2011, 03:42 PM
Thanks for the info. I am trying to get my stuff together for a similar setup, and reading what other peeps have done is always helpful.

spencers
Jan 24, 2011, 04:24 PM
Neat setup! I like that you were able to double the machine for HTPC duties.

Though I wouldn't have spent ~$150 on that external case. $200 would have landed you a cheap unraid server; purely for the sake of backup (and ease of replacement) if one of the HDDs died! However, that's just me. I'm happy your solution works great for you!

waw74
Jan 25, 2011, 05:27 AM
as a couple of other notes.

look into remote buddy (http://www.iospirit.com/products/remotebuddy/) for control, you can use a wii-mote which is bluetooth, so it should work through 1 wall if it's not too far away. I really find having hard buttons nice, as well as not having to power on the remote (iOS device), launch an app, and then look at the screen to find a button.
with a "sensor bar", really just a couple of IR LEDs, you can use the wii-mote like a mouse, by pointing it at the screen. not real precise, but you can do basic stuff like click alert boxes.
it has an on screen menu, that you can set screen resolutions and audio output device
it also comes with an iOS formated web page, that will let you access everything.

I've got an LG tv hooked up via HDMI to a mac mini, went through all sorts of problems getting it to work right on the screen. by labeling the input in the tv as "PC", it instantly started working properly, no adjustments needed on the computer.

if you have a laptop, teleport (http://www.abyssoft.com/software/teleport/) is great, you can set up the Media computer as a second screen on your laptop, so just move your mouse off the side of your laptop screen, and your mouse and keyboard are now controlling the other computer. works nicely from the couch.

BigDukeSix
Jan 25, 2011, 07:05 AM
So, I downloaded PLEX so I could try it on my MacBook to get familiar with it. Seems like a fairly good program, however there is a glitch that are quite annoying. It seems that PLEX plugins for various sites like some network tv sites (NBC,USA, etc)are not compatible with Flash 10.1, so you get audio with no video. According to their forum, it is a known problem with some of the plugins. Has anyone else seen this issue?
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waw74
Jan 25, 2011, 09:58 AM
everyone sees that issue, if they have the newest flash, somewhere in the forums there is a work around posted, a script that rolls back flash when you start plex, and the then restores it when you quit.

BigDukeSix
Jan 25, 2011, 10:09 AM
everyone sees that issue, if they have the newest flash, somewhere in the forums there is a work around posted, a script that rolls back flash when you start plex, and the then restores it when you quit.

I was looking for that script, but could not find it. I did see plenty of posts in the PLEX forum about it not working tho.

Tilpots
Jan 25, 2011, 10:11 AM
I was looking for that script, but could not find it. I did see plenty of posts in the PLEX forum about it not working tho.

Check the thread you started. I posted the link there.