Mac Media Centre part one - hardware

14 Jan 2006

For a few months now, I’ve been bitten by the desire for a Mac based ‘Home Media Centre’. I have all these scattered elements – music in various iTunes libraries, photos in various iPhoto libraries (We’d been using Old Faithful for downloading and keeping all the family photos), as well as DVDs and movies. I felt that I could bring these together somehow, but I also didn’t want to buy lots of new kit in order to do it. What follows is my experience in setting up a basic media thingy.

First of all, I’m a muppet when it comes anything video related. Emails back and forth with Siobhan who knows about such things helped me learn my coaxial from my s-video, and formulate some plans. Originally I wondered if I could use my G5 to double up as a ‘centre’, but looking through the January sales in Glasgow, I found a low spec ex-demo Mac Mini going cheap. It went against the ‘spending too much money’ rule, but it was a bargain. There was no damage – just a bit dusty on top.

Mac Mini

Being the lower model, it lacked a few features, most of which I could compensate for:

So, connecting it all up. At the moment, the iPod dock, bluetooth dongle and firewire drive plug into the mini, and the mini is connected the telly by Scart connector with audio coming from the headphone socket, and video passing through an Apple DVI Video adaptor (which converts the DVI connection to s-video).

Once the hardware was set up, it was time to set up the software:

Final note – if you’re ever trying to get Apple DVD player working when there isn’t a display connected (as I was, using VNC), it won’t work. DVD player doesn’t like this situation and will refuse to play. VLC doesn’t however. I spent ages trying to work out what was up with it. Doh.

Mac Mini

It all works, except…

The upshot is that this works just fine, apart from my TV, its not one of these fancy ones with a DVI or VGA connection. The S-Video to Scart connection works, but the picture quality isn’t brilliant (looks better on DVD’s though). This is the limitation of the s-video connection, I was a bit naive to think that it would be enough. The sound quality playing music through the TV’s speakers is made ‘fairly good’ by using the Volume Logic plugin for iTunes, but it lacks a bit of oomph. Music could be fed to a stereo via Airport Express, but while Airfoil allows you to send audio from other apps, the small time lag means this wouldn’t work for playing DVDs. At least thats what I figure – if you have any experience with using an Airport Express like this, please leave a comment!

So that’s the only limitation so far, but there’s not much we can do about that. Unless I can arrange the children to have a little ‘accident’ with the telly, there’s not enough justification to get a new one!

Now, read Part two: software

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