iTunes movie media center

Discussion in 'Apple TV and Home Theater' started by luthierwnc, May 4, 2013.

  1. luthierwnc macrumors newbie

    May 4, 2013
    Hi All,

    I live in a mixed household of PC and Mac devices and need some ideas on setting up a media center. At its most basic, the object is to be able to play downloaded itunes (and maybe others) that will be stored on a NAS into a HD TV. The needs are pretty modest. There won't be a lot of ripping, simultaneous applications or gaming.

    This all came about because most of our video library is MPEG-4 DRM movies that refuse to go through Twonkymedia. We also have an ATV3 that can't play any of the special features or director's commentaries on the downloads. They are fine on the PCs but not the iPad or through the ATV3. I'm the PC half of the equation but also chief IT officer. I understand that the DRM issue isn't unique to Apple and I don't want to spend time transcoding stuff.

    My thinking right now is to look at a gently used Mac Mini in the 2009-2010 vintage as a media server. I've been lurking here for a few days reading all the threads about that very thing but still have a few questions. I don't need the storage and don't need an optical drive either. Goal A is to be able to play all features in SD of HD as-purchased from itunes. Goal B is to be able to be able to handle non-Apple formats -- probably with Plex.

    Pretty much all the parts are in place but the media center and a gigabit switch. My cable reception is often spotty so wired may help a bit more than the wireless LAN for parts that don't move. I also have a 3T external drive that could plug into the Mini.

    So my basic question is what should I look for in a Mac Mini for essentially a playback unit but capable of 1080p and adequate audio? Thanks, sh
  2. phrehdd macrumors 68040


    Oct 25, 2008
    I would highly suggest you go to XBMC and PLEX websites. These are free front ends for multimedia. If you are wise, you would look at iTune plug ins for these software.

    The Mac Mini should be able to play 1080 iTune movies with no problem. The advantage of Mini over the AT3 is it can do much much more if you set it up correctly. The only caveat is that OSX does not handle HD audio (example - DTS-Master). The iTunes movies do not include HD audio so it should not be a problem for you.
  3. luthierwnc thread starter macrumors newbie

    May 4, 2013
    Thanks phrehdd,

    How I got here is a long, dull story and certainly filled with misinterpretations. I got the 3T backup drive and a Sony BDP-S3100 on the advice of a large retailer to be able to transfer movies stored on a bulging computer hard drive and play them on the TV. You can imagine how far that got me. Then I got a QNAP TS-119 II NAS to go into the network to do the same thing. Again, didn't work right. Probably nothing to do with the NAS since the devices can all see it. It does use a media player called Twonkymedia which the Blu-Ray can access but in the M4V format (with or without the DRM) it comes up with an error warning that the audio is not supported. There are issues with seeing them on the Windows Media Player from my computer but that is probably my fault.

    I'm leery of recoding the movies (nearly all of which were downloaded from itunes) and would rather get a system that is known-friendly with that format. My wife is the expert on movie quality and she feels Apple has the best resolution and also also offers the holiday-issue special compilations that are more than just the movie. I don't particularly want to jailbreak anything but I am pretty handy so building an HTPC is certainly possible. The WD TV, Xios and Boxee formats have some appeal but there are issues too.

    That keeps bringing me back to the Mac Mini. I know it will play itunes movies and can also handle Plex, WMP and XBMC. Depending on the era, $200 - $300 on eBay gets me there. I just need to be sure it will handle 1080p.

    One of the reasons this is taking so long is because I want so little. We don't have a big collection and won't expand it rapidly, I don't have a burning ambition to rip all our existing DVDs, we don't need gaming graphics and usually only have one device going at a time. We use the TV speakers so as long as it doesn't look like it was dubbed, that's OK too. No 3D, rarely music (plenty of room for those on the computers) and for things without special features, the ATV3 from the cloud works great. It could be that we have both confused that device too. As I understand it, when we access movies on it, it only brings up the main feature, even if the downloaded version has all the extras. Surfing around I found we aren't the only ones with that issue but if there is a work-around, this would be a good time to know.

    I do have to consider the remotes. It would be great if the iPad could run it. Picking one letter at a time from the grid gets old. There are small QWERTY remotes with IR built in that have potential so any advice there would help.

    Thanks again for looking and don't be afraid to point out errors in my process. I'm not married to any of it and not too proud to change direction. sh
  4. spacepower7 macrumors 68000

    May 6, 2004
    The iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch can all be used as remotes for the AppleTV. Apple has a free Remote app. This solves the typing problem.

    The Apple free Remote app can also control iTunes on a Mac and PC. If you have a Mac mini or HTPC connected to a stereo, you can use Remote app to access songs and playlists etc....

    Another idea to consider, is using a cheap <$100 Roku box. I'm currently using a 2009 Mac mini running Plex server, streaming movies to the Plex app on the Roku box hooked up large SDTV. My movies don't have drm though.

    While the Roku box with Plex, NetFlix, and Amazon Video, is pretty good, I still prefer the AppleTV.

    I have had two WDTV boxes, gave one away, the other is collecting dust since I got the Roku with Plex.

    Have you tried renaming the DRM-free m4v files to .mp4 as this might fix the compatibility with the Blu Ray player?
  5. phrehdd macrumors 68040


    Oct 25, 2008
    I was going to suggest similar.
  6. luthierwnc thread starter macrumors newbie

    May 4, 2013
    All of them are DRM movies.

    I hadn't anticipated something so simple could be so complicated -- store movies on a NAS and play them on a television set. Easy, right?

    I think I have all the network issues worked out so now I am down to formats. The NAS came with Twonkymedia which categorically won't play DRM media. I find that on the network through the Blu-Ray which probably isn't the best anyway.

    So it seems I either strip the DRM and possibly change the container (I don't like that one) or I find something that will accept media from the NAS as-purchased and make it usable for the TV. It may be more money but definitely less labor.

    I've attached the layout as I see it in my head right now. Everything but the gigabit switch and the media player are in place. I need the switch because both the NAS and a phone extender (not shown) need ethernet. The computers are shown as hardwired because the wires are already in and it is a little faster than beaming it through brick walls.

    I think if I can get the right solution for playing itunes movies I'll be on my way.

    Thanks, sh

    Attached Files:

  7. charlien macrumors 6502

    Jul 3, 2006
    If you want it easy to use you either need to strip the DRM or encode the other formats to one that iTunes can use.
  8. Lumpy05 macrumors regular

    Mar 16, 2010
    Bloomington, IN
    You are not specific about what DRM is on your movies, I am assuming iTunes?

    If so I recommend this:

    Use your PC or a newly aquired mac mini to be your iTunes server. It will be on all the time and be running your itunes library (the library will be stored on your NAS). Use your Apple TV at the TV to play files from the library, you can use your iPad and the remote app to play any movie or extra in your itunes library.

    Assuming you already have a pc you dont need additional hardware. Basically anything that will play in itunes will play on your ATV. And just to be clear you start the video playback from the itunes library and not from the apple tv and use airplay to direct the output to the ATV.
  9. luthierwnc thread starter macrumors newbie

    May 4, 2013
    Yes, they are MPEG-4 DRM movies purchased through itunes.

    You lost me on the ATV part. When the PCs are on , the ATV will play the feature off the network but not the extras. I opened one of the movies on the PC showing the special features menu but the ATV still starts at the beginning of the movie with no menus shown. Airplay is on on the ATV. The laptop housing the movies now is being retired so there won't be any PCs within sight of the television.

    Is there a way around this? Still seems like I need some kind of box in the TV room but I could be talked out of it. The Mac Mini seems like a good choice but an HTPC with a DVR built in has some advantages. Thanks, sh
  10. Lumpy05 macrumors regular

    Mar 16, 2010
    Bloomington, IN
    I'm not sure what movies you have with menus bought through itunes? All the itunes movie extras I have come as seperate video files?

    Anyways, anything that you can play in itunes on the PC can be sent via airplay to the ATV. You can also control your itunes library via the apple remote app on any iOS device (iphone, ipad, ipod touch, etc). So you can have the PC anywhere on the same network and control the itunes library playback from the remote app. So if your extras play in itunes all you have to do is send that output via the airplay icon in itunes on the PC to the ATV. You can try it with your current equipment.
  11. luthierwnc thread starter macrumors newbie

    May 4, 2013
    I waited until I got home and switched on my wife's machine. On it, itunes shows three entries for movies that came with special features: one HD in MPEG-4, one SD in MPEG-4 and one itunes extras ending with .ite

    In Explorer those features all show in sub (and sub sub) folders. I have no clue which is the director's commentary since it is an audio track laid-over the video feature. Individual folders open into itunes just by double clicking.

    On the computer, the special features offering (all of which have what looks like a stack of paper symbol next to the MPAA rating) opens into the DVD-like menu and you choose from there. Through the ATV3, only the SD and HD choices show up. No sign of the .ite.

    From what I've gathered, lots of people can't play them so I don't feel particularly special. As long as a standalone server running itunes, plex, XBMC or whatever can service the hdmi port to the TV, I think I'm OK. sh
  12. Munchiemonster1, May 7, 2013
    Last edited: May 7, 2013

    Munchiemonster1 macrumors newbie

    Nov 30, 2012

    This is the setup I use. I have an Apple TV on all 4 televisions in my house, and movies are stored on a large external drive attached to the Mac Mini. This setup has been very reliable for the past 4 years, and the quality is astounding. One thing is if you begin playing a file on the Mac mini and airplay it before turning your tv to the Apple TV input, the drm handshake will not occur and an error screen will come up on your tv. Just restart the file after making sure the tv is on the Apple TV input.

    Also, I found that iTunes did not play nicely with the nas, so had to relocate it on the Mac mini.
  13. luthierwnc thread starter macrumors newbie

    May 4, 2013
    Looks like eBay time!

    One further question: the iPad user isn't always the TV user. It would make sense to have a dedicated remote for the Mac Mini. I'm thinking a mini wireless keyboard with a trackball or touchpad. Any recommendations?

    Thanks again for all your help, sh
  14. Lumpy05 macrumors regular

    Mar 16, 2010
    Bloomington, IN
    So did you try starting the DVD-like menu and playing the extra you want and then clicking the airplay icon to send to the ATV? It should work, although I will admit I dont have any itunes movies in my library that have extras like that. All my extras are just seperate video files.
  15. slothrob macrumors 6502

    Jun 12, 2007
    The work around for iTunes movie extras is to play them from iTunes, via Airplay, through the aTV, as Lumpy said.

Share This Page