Media server (AppleTV) etc.

Discussion in 'Hardware Lounge' started by Chris Slade, May 23, 2007.

  1. Chris Slade

    Chris Slade Active Member War Zone Member Top Poster

    So I've been researching these off and on for a few months. Reading a lot at AVS. There doesn't seem to be a really good unit out there. Some play very few formats, some have a crappy interface, some have network issues. Pretty much there isn't a unit out there that many enthusiasts recommended.

    I'm so frustrated it's unreal. The best thing to do seems to be buy an original Xbox, mod it and run XBMC and that will do most things.

    I don't understand why someone can't get this product right. I think the demand for a good working versatile unit would be huge. I'm I crazy?

    I've looked at Netgear EVA8000
    dlink DSM-520

    and probably some others I can't remember right now.
  2. CJ

    CJ Well-Known Member Admin War Zone Member

    The reason that no one has got it right is that up until recently many big players have avoided the game for fear of lawsuits. Kaleidescape recently won a lawsuit that may change this. I would give it a little more time and see if some products don't start coming out. The AppleTV would be ideal if there was a good way to get high quality videos into iTunes.
  3. Chris Slade

    Chris Slade Active Member War Zone Member Top Poster

    Yeap, format support is the problem with AppleTV. It seems like a great polished product, just what I'd want if I could use it to play pretty much whatever I want.
  4. DYohn

    DYohn Well-Known Member Donor

    Top Poster Of Month

    If you can get it into iTunes Apple TV will play it. If you can't...
  5. Chris Slade

    Chris Slade Active Member War Zone Member Top Poster

    Did some more research. It turns out AppleTV is hackable to watch Xvid or pretty much any other type of file. And not even that difficult to do. I can't tell form reading the articles if the system will easily and reliably stream these files from a PC or if they have to be on the AppleTV harddrive. This little piece of hardware is getting more interesting.
  6. Chris Slade

    Chris Slade Active Member War Zone Member Top Poster

    There are people on eBay selling larger replacement hard drives modded to play other file types.
  7. E Jones

    E Jones Active Member

    I know you been looking for quite some time. Have you looked into the MacMini much? That's what I use a my living room media center and I've been quite please with it.

  8. Steve Tannehill

    Steve Tannehill New Member War Zone Member Top Poster

  9. Chris Slade

    Chris Slade Active Member War Zone Member Top Poster

    Can the mac mini integrate as well as the AppleTV, meaning the front end I guess? Can it be just as easy to use for my wife? Also I thought the Mac Mini didn't have an HDMI port, so are you guys running component? Will this be an issue with HD formats? Media Center wise are there things the mini does that the ATV doesn't?
  10. Steve Tannehill

    Steve Tannehill New Member War Zone Member Top Poster

    The Mac mini has a remote control and Front Row, which is the front end to iTunes, iPhoto, movie and DVD content. It is very easy to use. With Mac The Ripper and Matinee, you can even have DVD content resident on your hard drive for immediate playback. The mini has DVI--a simple adapter will convert it to HDMI. It has an optical digital output (1/8 inch mini plug). You can hook up an EyeTV box (or even simple USB dongle) to the mini and receive and record OTA high definition. EyeTV integrates with the Apple Remote as well.

    The Apple TV is a specialized TV playback box. If you can get it into iTunes, you can stream or sync it with your Apple TV. It also syncs photos. The ATV has a 40 gig hard drive (although you can hack it to make it bigger). The mini has at least twice the hard drive. The mini also has DVD whereas the ATV does not.

    I have not played around much with the Apple TV--I have it connected via component video and optical digital (the typical squarish optical plug). It also has HDMI and composite video. It comes with the same Apple Remote as the mini.

    The mini is a full-fledged computer too...with a bluetooth keyboard and mouse, you can surf, play games, do whatever you can on a real computer, whereas the Apple TV is designed to be a convergence device for your TV.

    Hope this helps.

    - Steve
  11. Chris Slade

    Chris Slade Active Member War Zone Member Top Poster

    Thanks Steve, that helps a lot. I'll do some more research on the mini.
  12. Chris Slade

    Chris Slade Active Member War Zone Member Top Poster

    It seems a new mini should be out this year. This pisses me off. I just want to buy something that does the job, but I'll also be living with it for a few years anyway, so I should probaby wait for the upgrade if I go the mini route.
  13. E Jones

    E Jones Active Member

    If you're a patient man that would probably be a good move. As with all Apple products though nothing is definite as far as releases go. Apple likes to keep people guessing. The mini hasn't had a rev. for a while so a new mini is likely to be seen this year. Most likely to get a faster processor, better video card, maybe more RAM and wireless N support. If you don't want to wait you may be able to pick up a used Intel unit for a good price. (Stay away from the G4's they're not enough of a powerhouse and don't have a remote functionality built in. ) I found my mini a few months back for $450 which compared to the aTV was a no brainier.

    The aTV is essentially an iPod for your TV. It syncs with your computer and everything you play/watch/listen uses iTunes as the client. With a mini you get a full fledge computer (with a very small footprint it's impressive how small they are if you've never seen one in person).

    Here's a run down of my experience:

    Video: My biggest desire was to be able to playback any type of video without the hassle of converting videos to an iTunes friendly format. aTV/iTunes limits you to MP4 and H.264 or Quicktime files. With the use VLC Videolan the mini is able to playback everything I want to watch in native formats. WMA files are also watchable with the use of the free plugin Flip4Mac which allows WMA/WMV is to play in quicktime player. If you like to watch videos from youtube and the like you can also do so by watching them in the browser of your choice (safari, firefox, camino) with ease. It's especially nice when you want to play a video for an audience your don't have to huddle around your computer desk.

    DVD: As Steve mentioned DVD playback is accomplished by DVD player (apple supplied software) you can set it to auto-load so when you pop a disk in it will auto play just like a regular standalone unit. You have full playback functions via the Apple Remote. Or you can make legal copies of the disc's you own using Mac the Ripper (also available for free) and set up a DVD server. MTR rips to Video_TS files unfortunately the OS doesn't really know what to do with Video_TS files. That's where a launcher comes in handy. I use DistantDVD, Steve uses Matinee. (I prefer the full screen look of DistantDVD's interface.) Both provide a way to view your ripped DVD's by displaying a movie poster/cover of your DVD library then you select which to watch and it auto launches in DVD player or VLC. (If you want a DVD library be prepared to get a large external drive. The DVD files are HDD hogs and require anywhere from 2gb to 8gb depending on the length and if you rip the complete DVD or just the main feature.)

    Home Videos: I recently converted all of my DV tapes of my family/kids and now have an "ondemand" library on the mini. Which is great way to share with relatives when they visit and is super easy. No more dragging out the camera, hooking it up and digging for the correct tape.

    DVR: I have very basic cable ($14 a month) and refuse to pay the extra $30 bucks + DVR fee a month to jump to the next tier in order to have a DVR through my cable provider. So I also wanted to utilize the mini as a DVR. This is accomplished through a tuner/dongle and software known as EyeTV2. The tuner I use is the Elgato EyeTV Hybrid. (Just for info. the ETV Hybrid is essentially a rebranded Hauppauge! WinTV HVR-900.)

    The Hybrid can be used for either analog non-encrypted cable or OTA HD. One or the other not both. I have mine connected to cable. I have spotty OTA-HD that requires antenna adjustment so for now I don't hassle with it. Although there are many satisfied user of Elgato's products this is where I've hit the biggest snag. I'm on my second Hybrid replacement unit after incurring a lot of issues. The EyeTV software has been heralded and is even used by other manufactures, although it been nothing but trouble and I'm sorry to say that at this point I cannot rely on it. I usually hope it recored a scheduled program crossing my fingers and if not I use iTunes as a backup. So far the new unit is working correctly.

    HD video: the mini will play HD. I watch all my movie trailers from quicktime, yahoo, aol movie phone in HD when available. I also have some recored HD content from when I had the EyeTV connected via OTA HD.

    Music: I use iTunes for my music library and enjoy coverflow's new full screen option. With iTunes you have the option of streaming from other PC's that also are using iTunes. The only drawback is iTunes has to be running all the time (on your networked machines) for this to work.

    Photos: iPhoto is a great library manager and has slide show options which is great if you want to have a photo showing in the back ground or if you want to show friends/family your latest pics. It also can stream but only from another Mac running iPhoto.

    Convergence: Remote Buddy is your friend although it's not quite the killer app. it wants to be (yet). Remote Buddy (RB) allows access to almost all functions on the mac via remote. It has it's limitations though. You cannot use just any app. with RB because it has to be programmed to support RB first. The aforementioned app. DistantDVD is not supported, I therefore have to use a keyboard to control it. RB also has it's own interface that replaces the interface of the app. you want to use but you still can access that specific applications interface which can at times be confusing. RB is free for a 60 day trial and is less than $20 to purchase. The main developer Felix is constantly working on it and it continues to improve. I find myself switching between RB and my wireless keyboard. Ease of operation for the novice computer user is probably where a mini based media center is lacking the most.

    Computer use: Since the mini is a computer you have all the functions at your disposal. I surf the web from my couch a bit. Although my TV is only a 27" so it's limited for me as to what I can see across the room. I use the Universal Access Zoom feature which I have mapped to "f" function keys for quick in and out desktop zooming.
    The mini has built in "G" wireless and bluetooth. If you have a bluetooth phone it's very easy to download your photos and videos from the phone to the mini for playback.

    The mini is a great Media center that allows a lot of options for a myriad of media without the hassle of routing everything through iTunes . It's a little more complicated than an aTV because it really lacks that totally killer app. that easily ties all of the applications together that makes it as easy to use as Frontrow alone. Yes the mini has Frontrow also but it only controls a portion of the mini's possible applications. For your use James if you don't want the DVR functionality Frontrow would probably be enough for your wife to use easily. You can also use DVD Assist to add Video_TS (ripped DVD content) for Frontrow accessable playback. I haven't however tired this because I don't really use Frontrow. My wife was able to learn how to use Remote Buddy and when all else fails she defaults to the keyboard.

    Pros for Mini based Media Center:
    ? It's a computer
    ? Extremely small footprint. Allows for mounting and hiding if desired.
    ? Run files native without converting hassles
    ? Plays DVD's
    ? Lots of cool applications available most are free or low cost shareware
    ? Can be used as a DVR
    ? Can be used as a DVD media center
    ? Can be used as a Music/CD center (without limitations)
    ? Can be used as a Photo center
    ? Access to online video content (Youtube, etc.)
    ? Store and control all media in one location.

    ? Multiple apps. means more functions that equals less ease of use integration
    ? Higher learning curve for novice users
    ? Must purchase a wireless keyboard. I recommend the xGene wireless Mostly because it can be had for about $50 and it has a built in trackball and scroll wheel. It's a windows keyboard but all of the important functions work with the Mac.
    ? Small HDD. My 80gb filled up fast. I found a 500gb USB2 for $140 with rebate from Fry's which I think can be had even cheaper now.
    ? Needs more RAM. I found things snappier when I boosted the stock 512mb up to 1gb.

    Hope this helps it kind of turned into a full fledged (long winded) review which I've been meaning to write anyway.

  14. E Jones

    E Jones Active Member

    Almost forgot. What TV are you going to be connecting to? There are some TV's that haven't played nice with the DVI and differing resolutions. More info. can be had at AVS Mac HTPC and 123MacMini Forum .

  15. Chris Slade

    Chris Slade Active Member War Zone Member Top Poster

    Great post, it helps a ton. Being able to surf the net from the sofa would be great for my wife. I'd be a little nervous though since we have a plasma set. I won't be having DVR cabability, although I'd like to. We have digital cable, with a unique set top box (hidden in my basement using RF remote) but I don't think I'll be able to get that working with any DVR period.

    So basically if I went mac mini, I would try and mount the unit as neatly as possible (wall mounted plasma with currently no wires etc showing) so I'd hide it between the wall and the set. So I'd pick up a router and we'd have my windows box and this mac mini on the network. Would I be able to play files from the windows box drives on the mac mini? Meaning stream them I guess. This is where the non n wireless worries me a bit (I guess I could also use a wired network but this would require wire fishing etc). Or would it be best to keep my media on the mini HD. I suppose I could do that easy enough.

    I was thinking the mini might be a bit pricey, but if it got the wife online in the living room while I was using the windows box she might go for it.
  16. E Jones

    E Jones Active Member

    Glad to help.

    I have my mini setup so that I can mount drives from other machines (an iMac and a Powerbook laptop) via my home network. I haven't done Mac to Win drive sharing but I believe it is possible. I'm sure if its not directly supported by OSX then there is most likely a free or shareware app. available that can do it for you. That said I have streamed video to my mini from my G5 iMac. The iMac is hard wired to my router/switch the mini is connected via wi-fi G. For standard video I had no problems streaming from the iMac. Maybe you will find similar performance?

  17. Chris Slade

    Chris Slade Active Member War Zone Member Top Poster

    I'm watching ebay for a decent price on a good machine.
  18. Andrew Pratt

    Andrew Pratt Well-Known Member Top Poster

    FYI I wouldn't hold my breath for a new Mini from Apple as all the rumor sites are predicting the end of the line for the little mac.b As for a good deal on one check out the refurb's on Apple's website (lower left corner) as they often have them in there at great prices and they come with the standard 1 year warranty. I got my MB Pro there earlier this year and it was "as new"
  19. E Jones

    E Jones Active Member

    Yeah, the rumor mill is working overtime on the death of the mini. I've been following Apple/Mac's for a long time and the rumors concerning Apple hardware are usually just that. Maybe 20% of the time they are correct. One thing most fail to mention is that if Apple does discontinue the mini they'll probably have some type of replacement up their sleeve. I can't see them not having an entry level Mac in the lineup.

  20. Chris Slade

    Chris Slade Active Member War Zone Member Top Poster

    I've heard (read) rumors of an upgrade and the end of the mini. I don't know what to believe.

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