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Reccomend A HTPC Solution For My Needs

post #1 of 2
Thread Starter 
I've been using a Mac Mini connected to my Home Theater for several years (the very first Intel Mini that came out). It's never quite worked exactly as I wanted, but it's been highly suitable. I haven't researched options over the last few years, and I've narrowed down what I do, so I"m hoping some of you experts who are up-to-date on developments can give me advice.

My basic uses are to watch TV/Movie that I have "acquired" in various codecs. My workflow is:

1) "acquiring" these video files on my macbook pro laptop
2) manually moving them onto a network drive
3) using Screen Share within OS X Finder to control the Mac Mini
4) through my laptop, via screen share, manually open Finder, find the video file, open in VLC, make full screen

This works fine, but feels clunky. The secondary use that occurs most often is for playing back streaming videos (this occurs more rarely).

Basically I surf the internet on my macbook pro and find a streaming video that's more than 5 minutes that I want to watch on YouTube or any other site. I'm on my couch and decide it's worth taking the extra 20 seconds to play this on my big screen TV (thus for videos 5 minutes+, otherwise if it's short, not worth the effort).

I copy the URL from my laptop webbrowser, use screen share to "send clipboard" and then paste it within the shared-screen Mac Mini to a web browser on there, and then full screen the video and play it. This works, but is a clunky "workflow" and I limit the use to 5 minute+ videos.

My third use for the HTPC is playing iTunes video podcasts, mostly Revision3.

My fourth and final use of the HTPC is playing pre-made TV/Movie DVD rips that I have created, that are iTunes compatible. At one point I had the fantasy of using an AppleTV for everything, so I went to great lengths about 4 years ago to make my media rips compatible.

My current Mac Mini (the 1,1 model that is offhand 1.6 or 1.8 GHZ Core 1 Duo) does all this fine except for one "issue" which is the DVI to HDMI signal doesn't work well in that I can't connect the Mini through the A/V receiver. I need to connect the Mini directly to the TV, and this adds a step to watching it because I need to change the TV video input each time (since I use the A/V HDMI switching to control my other inputs, with a single HDMI from the receiver to the TV). I IDed the solution as a Gefen DVI detective, however at around $80, it's cheaper for me to take the extra 3 seconds and switch the input, even though it's annoying, it comes out to around $200/hour of my time considering the money saved by not buying one

I've been thinking of buying a new 1080p Apple TV and hacking it with XBMC or something else. My goal would be:

1) To resolve the HDMI issue, and be able to plug it directly into my A/V receiver and have the appropriate resolution of the TV detected

2) To have a "prettier" front end so that a 3rd party can come to my home and use an Apple Remote to scroll through my pre-ripped TV show and Movie files. Right now I have to manually launch any videos through Screen Share and finder

My concern is that I spent 90% of my HTPC watching time on (a) watching downloaded video files of random codec through VLC that I load onto my network drive on a temporary folder, watch once, and delete, and (b) sending URLs for streaming videos to watch that I found on my laptop.

I know any of the XBMC type programs will excel at displaying and organizing my "permanent" collection of TV/movie rips that I meticulously edited the meta data and arranged in folder directories. I don't know if XBMC or others will work well with the workflow of random video files of various codecs in a one-time use.

Ideally, I'd like to be able to point XBMC to my organized collection of video rips but also point it to a folder on my network drive called "Temporary" that I can move random video files into via my laptop. Then through the front end on the TV, it will populate what is in that Temporary folder, re-indexing it in real time.

Also no clue on how to "send" URLs for YouTube and other streaming videos to the hacked Apple TV. I believe airplay might work if I don't have it, but not sure it's an option if I do hack it and run XBMC.

What options can the forum offer for me based on my needs?
post #2 of 2
Quote:


My basic uses are to watch TV/Movie that I have "acquired" in various codecs. My workflow is:

1) "acquiring" these video files on my macbook pro laptop
2) manually moving them onto a network drive
3) using Screen Share within OS X Finder to control the Mac Mini
4) through my laptop, via screen share, manually open Finder, find the video file, open in VLC, make full screen

This works fine, but feels clunky.

You haven't been doing this as smoothly as you could--let's break this down into separate tasks:

1. First, the searching and acquiring of files with your laptop. That's fine as it is, you're sitting around somewhere with your laptop open and downloading files to its hard drive. But, it must also be said, you could be doing this with your Mini as well, i.e. screensharing in to the Mini desktop with your laptop, browsing and downloading files "on" the Mini and instead downloading them to the Mini hard drive or an external drive attached to the Mini. Then the files are there, at the Mini.

2. Second, the manually moving them to a network drive. Well, you're right, if they're on the laptop you do have to move them somewhere. I have a bunch of drives connected to my Airport Extreme that I use for this purpose. The drawback of this approach with a laptop is moving video over wireless is slow, you have to have a lot of patience. It could help if you had a gigabit ethernet cable near where you like to sit that you can plug in for those times you want to write large files over to your network storage. But, if you used the Mini to download those files in the first place, then the files are already there and there's no additional movement required. An external drive attached to your Mini can be your network drive--you'd be able to mount any external drive of your Mini on your laptop, for those times you want to watch something on your laptop.

3. Third, screensharing in from your laptop to control your Mini, no problem there.

4. This step is where you're the most awkward, and really needlessly so:

Quote:


4) through my laptop, via screen share, manually open Finder, find the video file, open in VLC, make full screen

What most of us do with a Mini in our living room is use a front end like Plex or XBMC that opens in full screen and sees all our content and not rely on an individual app like VLC, for playback of files. Did you ever use Front Row with the little white Apple remote? You can still use the remote to invoke Plex or XBMC and it'll work just like FR, then arrow up or down to choose what files you want to play from drives or folders or iTunes and it's much easier and simpler than what you're doing.

There are many ways to customize this, you could use a Harmony remote, a remote app from your iPhone or iPad, but the way you're doing step 4 is way more clunky than it needs to be.

Your Youtube browsing on the laptop is a little awkward as well...but if you like doing it that way, just do your browsing on the Mini, i.e. screen share in to the Mini from the laptop, then surf and browse and start playing right from Safari on the Mini and cut out the copy/paste/send crap. Basically, adjust your thinking a bit, use the laptop to control the Mini, as a "remote control" of the Mini, rather than doing something on the laptop and then separately sending/moving it to the Mini to then have the Mini perform the task again. Just do it once on the mini. I don't do Youtube much, and it could be accessed from within a front end on your Mini like Plex or XBMC in addition to Safari, but I prefer using the Youtube app on my iPad.

A Harmony remote would go a long way to solving your input switching issues with TV and AVR, assuming you don't upgrade your Mini (which you should) or AVR or try to solve why you're not able to go through your current AVR.

Buying a new aTV is a no brainer, it would be a nice cheap addition to your current set up...it can actually play high def, which your Mini cannot...there's no need to hack it right away, see how you like it and what it can do right now and then decide about hacking it later. Youtube is already on it. I have a 2011 Mini and aTV3 sitting right next to each other in the living room and use them both...the aTV3 mostly for Netflix instant watch and AirPlay tasks via the iPad and the 2011 Mini for XBMC. One little Apple remote paired with the aTV, another little remote paired to the Mini. Various remote and screensharing apps on the iPad to control them both. Plus, a Macbook usually lying around for those times it's easier to screen share in. Basically, I like being able to decide how I'm gonna interact with them, depending on my mood, what else I'm doing at the time and what device I have at my disposal.

Quote:


2) To have a "prettier" front end so that a 3rd party can come to my home and use an Apple Remote to scroll through my pre-ripped TV show and Movie files. Right now I have to manually launch any videos through Screen Share and finder

As was already mentioned, you have not needed to do this for a very long time.

Quote:


My concern is that I spent 90% of my HTPC watching time on (a) watching downloaded video files of random codec through VLC that I load onto my network drive on a temporary folder, watch once, and delete, and (b) sending URLs for streaming videos to watch that I found on my laptop.

Best thing you could do is dump the over-reliance on VLC. It's a crappy, awkward, very un-Mac-like app that should be used only as a last resort, more of a "I'm having trouble playing this file so I need a kitchen sink type of kind of player."

XBMC (and Plex) have been able to do what you want for years already. I prefer XBMC, but plenty of Mac owners use and like both. No reason you can't be using it right now with that dinosaur of a Mini. Also pick up a new Apple TV and add that to your system. You didn't mention whether you have any iOS devices yet, but they can add significantly to the whole house home theater experience. Longer term, consider purchasing an iPad and a refurb 2011 Mini (which has an HDMI port and can easily play back 1080p blu ray rips.)
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