Media Centre Setup - Need Direction

Discussion in 'Apple TV and Home Theater' started by Banjara, Jul 13, 2009.

  1. Banjara macrumors newbie

    Jul 13, 2009
    Hi All.

    First of all, thanks to all you putting up lots of really good advice, and showing the rest of us how to do various things.

    I have read some of the stickies, and some other posts, and am getting quite overwhelmed with information, and am not sure which way to go. I am also an Apple newbie, so am not familiar with lots of terminology, so could I be a pain, and ask for for help and direction. I understand that most of what I want to achieve is probably covered elsewhere, so I don't mind if people just send me some links which address what I want to achieve.

    Here goes. What I want to do is setup a Media server, with NAS, and to stream my content to Apple TV (Which I will buy soon), and play my music through Airport Express (which I have recently brought). We have a couple of iPhones, and I have a iTunes library on my laptop (Dell) and my wife has her library on her MacBook (Lovely..I am a convert). What I want to be able to do is move all of the iTunes content to a Media Server, and from our respective laptops, load the iTunes library from the network (which I understand how to do). I also want to be able to build up my media library of all my DVD's so that I can stream them across to Apple TV over the network. I have the whole house CAT5e cabled, so have plenty of ethernet points to plug various pieces of equipment into.
    The Media server I am assuming I will be able to access remotely too (acting as a NAS).

    I have looked at Handbrake, and it looks pretty good, but a little overwhelming to layperson.

    Would really appreciate all the help and advice.
  2. Chipskip macrumors member

    Jan 27, 2009
    OK, if I am understanding you right you you want a full media server, not just an outlet for playing your iTunes content?

    You can do that with an aTV but I think I would suggest going with a mac mini instead. I currently use an aTV hacked with XBMC & Boxee to play my non-iTunes formatted files (*.iso, *.avi, etc) and I use PlayOn to stream Hulu (cbs, abc & espn) to my aTV. I also have 2x 1TB hard drives plugged directly into the aTV. The setup is nice and has work perfect for well over a year now, however if I was starting from scratch I would get a mac mini. You will also read several threads of people making the switch from aTV to mini.

    For more info about how to setup an aTv or Mini with some of these programs go to & and read the forums and wiki.

    The aTv only has a 10/100 ethernet port but has "N" wireless, so if you have a wireless N-router you would be faster going that way.

    The aTv's process is too slow to handle HD files (non-itunes)(*.mkv, or blue-ray ISO). Also, if you want Netflix streaming to your media server aTv wont work either.

    All that said, if you want to do iTunes media only get an aTv. If you want to create a true media server than buy a mac mini. (one last piece of advice: buy the base model mini and upgrade the RAM & HD on your own, much cheaper that way).
  3. Banjara thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jul 13, 2009
    Thanks Chipskip.

    I forgot to mention what else I would like to do is able to stream things like 4OD and BBC iPlayer to my TV aswell. So, what you mention is good advice. Would the Mac mini let me able to do that? What I like about the Apple TV is its simplicity to allow me (or anyone else in the kids) to be able to use it. I agree, the Mac mini might be a better option, but I read a really good thread on how to setup the Apple TV - only to stream content from my media server (which could be a Mac Mini) here.

    Has anyone else achieved anything similar with any degree of success? That is ability to stream the no-iTunes content via Apple TV (like Channel 4OD or the BBC i player)..?

    Many thanks in advance. Also would appreciate if anyone can point me to any really good threads which might help.
  4. Banjara thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jul 13, 2009
    Ok...digested some of the info Chipskip left for me, and so far, this is how I understand things to be:

    Use Mac Mini instead of Apple Tv to play the content - the reason being, you can install things like Boxee or XBMC or similar to stream content onto your TV from the net (in my case, things like the iPlayer or 4OD), plus obviously anything held in your iTunes library.

    Presumably, I should be able to rip my DVD collection using handbrake into some sort of library (iTunes?) and play it off there directly to my tv.

    The only think lacking in a Mac mini is a HDMI slot. Is that too much of an issue? Would I loose a lot of quality converting from MiniDVI to HDMI? I don't have any HDMI content yet anyway, so might not be an issue anyway.

    I am also thinking of a Synology 407e on the network as a NAS and a Backup device, which will allow me to share all of my files over the net, making them available to us wherever we may be.

  5. nando2323 macrumors 6502a

    Aug 15, 2007
    My advice

    I agree with everything chip has said. But there are certain things to keep in mind. I have both an ATV and a Mini and they both have their drawbacks and gains. For instance in order for XBMC or Plex to get tag data for your stuff, you need to stick to their stringent naming convention. You can't just use MetaX to tag it and be done with it. Because Plex and XBMC do not read meta tags on m4v's at least last time I checked. Also setting up the streaming to the Mini via Plex or XBMC is and could be a pain, definitely not as easy as the ATV. Unless the media is residing locally on the mini then it's easy.

    Another thing with the mini is if you don't have a 1080P tv with a VGA/DVI port you will have issues with it finding the correct resolution for the TV. Plex and XBMC let's you fix this with their utility but the OS itself will have overscan issues (cut off screen or black bars) I have 3 HD tv's all of them 720P but only my samsung fills the screen correctly the sharp and panasonic do not. I am talking about while in the OS not in Plex or XBMC. You will have to use utilities such as SwitchResX that will allow you to put in custom resolutions and this just becomes a pain because if you do not put in these setting correctly you will not be able to see anything.

    So basically if you want a Plug and Play system the ATV is for you but it has it's limitations which to me is not a big deal since you can easily re-encode MKV's and AVI's etc to M4V with little time.
  6. Chipskip macrumors member

    Jan 27, 2009
    Handbrake is ok, but very slow. When I made the switch from Windows to Apple I could not give up my Slysoft software (AnyDVD, CloneDVD2 & CloneDVDMobile). These programs are not free, but they are really worth the money if you want to keep your DVD's quality and extra content (ISO & VOB files). If you want to strip down your DVD to just a movie file (avi or mkv or mp4) Handbreak or Mac the ripper are good. Slysoft does run on a mac via Sun's free VMware.

    You can put XBMC & Boxee onto an appleTV and they work great but with a limit of 720p and very choppy on larger HD/Blu-Ray files.

    Good luck and let us know what you do and how it works out.
  7. Banjara thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jul 13, 2009
    Thanks for your quick and informative reply once again Chipskip. I will look into the software you mentioned.

    One thing I wasn't sure how it would work was, with the mac Mini, how would you navigate to your content? Does it come with some sort of similar remote like the Apple TV, or do I need a keyboard and mouse lying around in my living room?
  8. Chipskip macrumors member

    Jan 27, 2009
    You can use the Mac's Frontrow (also on your wife's Macbook right now) for iTunes content. Otherwise XBMC will allow you to access all your non-itunes content from one interface (boxee & Plex will do the same thing too). You can download dozens of skins to customize your XBMC to the way you like it. I use a skin called "iHome Media Center" and it makes XBMC look/act a lot like the aTv interface.

    You can use the apple remote with any of these programs also the Logitech Harmony remotes can also work with very little setup. I have a buddy that has a little bluetooth keyboard/trackball combo thing that is the size of a cell phone. Also, XBMC makes a iPhone app.

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