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**I know this post is long, but I AM BEGGING YOU TO PLEASE CONTINUE READING...I could really use everyone's help with this...


To make a long story short, my main objective here is to build the ideal Macintosh Home Theater Media-Center (that suits my specific needs...as described below)...I would like to have easy access to see and hear all of the movies, music, and photos that I have stored on my computer via all of the televisions throughout my house... In addition to the media I already have, I would like to somehow find a way to integrate an AppleTV (which I already own) into this solution so that I could have quick and easy access to all of the movies, podcasts, trailers, etc. that are available for purchase/rent via the AppleTV (iTunes) Store... I am going to breakdown the rest of this post into sections so that it's easier to read, and doesn't wind up being an oversized jumble of senseless ramblings...

Content I'd like to be able to access:


VIDEO_TS Folders


I currently have hundreds of VIDEO_TS archival DVD backup folders stored on external hard drives that I would like to be able to browse through using either FrontRow, or any of the dozens of other Mac MediaCenter applications available...Seeing as how Leopard's FrontRow is capable of recognizing and playing back VIDEO_TS archives, this shouldn't be too tough to accomplish, so long as an actual OS X Mac (such as a Mac-Mini) is somehow integrated into the solution somehow
Videos

All (or at least almost all) standard computer video files (i.e. mov, m4v, mp4, mpg, avi, wmv, etc...) In addition to the wealth of VIDEO_TS DVD's I have stored on my computer I've also downloaded, ripped, converted, or otherwise accumulated tons of regular videos on my computer as well, all of which I would definitely like to access on the TVs throughout my apartment via my soon-to-be "HTPC-Mac"
Photos

Many of which are stored in iPhoto Libraries, but I have even more stored in regular old folder hierarchies on external hard drives (and being able to access online photos I have stored on Flickr, Picasa, etc would be ideal as well ~ and I believe this can be done via the AppleTV)
Music

All of my iTunes music (protected and/or unprotected)
EyeTV 250 DVR for LiveTV

I currently use an Elgato EyeTV 250 that I have connected to a cable box in my office (on a completely separate A/V system than my apartment's primary A/V system), but I'd like to figure out a way to incorporate the EyeTV into my home's primary A/V Media Center instead. I do have an old TiVo Series2 located in my A/V system rack, which I could theoretically replace with this EyeTV.
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Inventory of my current hardware:
  • Mac-Mini (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo; 160GB Serial ATA drive; SuperDrive; Leopard 10.5.3)
  • AppleTV 160GB (Take-2; latest firmware)
  • Three 1TB Hard Drives (filled with all of the media formats listed above; can be connected with USB, Firewire, or SATA)
  • 50" Plasma (Panasonic TH-50PWC3 - 16:9 aspect ratio; HD at 720p at full resolution, or 1080i at reduced resolution. Pixel Dimensions: 1366x768 px; 3000:1 contrast ratio
  • 2 Denon Receivers - an AVR-3805 & AVR-2805 (these multi-zone receivers allow me to the various share various sources (i.e. DVD player, DVR, TiVo; Mac-Media Center) to be shared on all of the various TV's throughout my apt.)

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Remotely controlling my MediaCenter from 3-stories away...



All of my current A/V equipment is currently stored in an rack located in a basement closet on the bottom floor of my three story apartment (and this is where my Mac-Mini~AppleTV MediaCenter will eventually be located as well). The TVs that I would like to be able to access the Mac-Mini~AppleTV MediaCenter are scattered throughout my house (four TV's in total)... Before I go to much further into this, let me also point out that my cable modem and network router are also located in this same A/V closet, so connecting the MacMini or AppleTV via ethernet cable to my LAN would be extremely easy to do... Obviously, the chosen location of my MediaCenter -- being in a place where there can be no direct IR remote control signals sent/received -- might prove to be a bit tricky (in regards to how I will eventually go about controlling my Mac-Mini~AppleTV MediaCenter, which will also be housed in this basement closet)...My current A/V system is controlled using multiple Universal Remote MX-850 radio-frequency remote control clickers.


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Possible solutions to remote controlling my Mac-Mini~AppleTV MediaCenter:

Idea #1 (via my Laptop):

I've used a piece of software for quite a while now called SynergyKM, which is a software based KVM switch that lets you use one mouse and one keyboard to control multiple machines on your LAN (it's basically identical to another piece of software called Teleport, though SynergyKM is cross-platform...and free) - both of these software packages basically allow you to roll your mouse off one of the edges of your screen and onto the screen of another Mac that you've setup in the system preference configuration (at which point the mouse and keyboard work to control that other mac)...


It seems like this software might be a fantastic solution for remotely controlling the MediaCenter (because I keep a laptop on the thrid floor of my apartment at all times - the same floor that my main livingroom TV is located on)...I could configure the Mac-Mini and my Laptop to use SynergyKM so that when I was in my living room and wanted to tap into the music, movies, and photos on my MacMini, I could simply break out my laptop and via my WiFi LAN network I could the use the Mini's mouse and keyboard to control FrontRow (or even iTunes or Safari or anything else on my MacMini)
Idea #2 (via my iPhone):

Another idea which might be just even more effective in providing remote control capabilities from the top floor of my apartment would be to use my iPhone as a remote control device (which I could do using either iospirit's Remote Buddy iPhone AJAX remote control software, or even TouchPad Pro on my jailbroken iPhone).


This idea might work out better than idea #1 because of the small size of my iPhone (saying, "pass me the remote" won't mean that I have to pass over my Macbook Pro); also, the fact that it's almost always on my or at least nearby; the fact that my wife and I both have one; the fact that turing on the phone and launching TouchPad Pro or the Remote Buddy AJAX remote via Mobile Safari is a lot quicker and easier to do, when compared to turning on my Laptop if it's shutdown at any given moment, then waiting for it to fully boot up before being able to access the mac mini via SynergyKM...
Idea #3 (via my Laptop, using Leopard's built-in 'Screen Sharing' application):

Just like idea #1, only using Leopard's 'Screen Sharing.app' instead of SynergyKM
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Specific Questions I have related to this proposed configuration...
  • Neither of my Denon Receivers have HDMI inputs...That being said, how would I go about outputting HD from the Mac-Mini? Is there some sort of DVI>>Composite adapater that would be required?
  • Will the Mac-Mini be able to provide HD output to my 50" Plasma? I know I won't be getting HD when viewing my plain-jane .mov, .avi, etc. files, nor will I get HD when viewing my ripped DVD VIDEO_TS folders...but what about when I start ripping Blu-Ray, or when I download some HD content...Will the Mac-Mini be able to output the HD resolution required to get true-HD quality on a screen as large as 50"?
  • How can I integrate both my Mac-Mini and my AppleTV into the MediaCenter? Would this require using two separate A/V inputs on my receivers and treating these two components as completely separate devices?
  • Can anyone think of a way in which I can avoid having (approximately) 3 completely separate MediaCenter GUIs (which as far as I can see would currently include: FrontRow on my Mac-Mini; AppleTV's built-in GUI; EyeTV's proprietary GUI for browsing live TV and DVR recordings)?
  • Is there somehow a way to consolidate all of these GUIs into a single 'master' GUI to control them all? If the AppleTV's built in GUI is unavoidable (which I think it may be), is there any way to somehow either replace (or integrate) FrontRow with EyeTV's GUI?

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If anyone can foresee any possible problems with my general game-plan, or if anyone can offer any suggestions or things I should consider (such as things I might want to potentially include and integrate into my MediaCenter, I would really appreciate it if you would share that with me...


Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated... Thanks!
 

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I think the least of your concerns will be how you can remotely access and control the mini. Regardless of how the iPhone remote control options continue to evolve,

Quote:
Idea #3 (via my Laptop, using Leopard's built-in 'Screen Sharing' application):


Just like idea #1, only using Leopard's 'Screen Sharing.app' instead of SynergyKM

Using Leopard screen sharing is so...very...easy...not sure why you'd even bother with SynergyKM.

Quote:
...when compared to turning on my Laptop if it's shutdown at any given moment, then waiting for it to fully boot up before being able to access the mac mini via SynergyKM...

wait, you turn your Macbook Pro off? We have a Macbook and two Powerbooks in the house...I've kept the 12" around basically as our wireless remote controller...and I can't remember the last time any of these laptops actually were shut down. Seriously, months at least. Sleep, baby, sleep. It's one of those really nice Apple and OS X things...


Anyway, I think what might be a much larger concern, with respect to your proposed configuration, is that you're planning one mini and one aTV, in conjunction with two Denon AVRs, to somehow route/serve up all your HTPC content to the 4 TVs around your house. That isn't how most of us with computers typically approach the whole house A/V network thing--I don't think many here rely on AVRs to share multiple video sources to multiple zones--audio, yes, video, no. The more common approach is to have a Mac or aTV directly connected to every TV, this is what you might call the "media extender" approach. The content itself can reside anywhere, connected to any Mac, even on a mini tucked away headless in a closet, as long as it is on the network any other Mac or aTV can find it. But the standard thinking here is you need a sufficiently capable and powerful device AT each HDTV to receive and play back the content. So, before we go any further, am I correctly understanding your plan--i.e. switching and distributing the mini and aTV "as sources" through 2 Denon AVRs out to 4 TVs? If so, I think you'll ultimately be dissatisfied.


Some other questions, one aspect you might want to revisit, or flesh out a bit:

Quote:
EyeTV 250 DVR for LiveTV


I currently use an Elgato EyeTV 250 that I have connected to a cable box in my office (on a completely separate A/V system than my apartment's primary A/V system), but I'd like to figure out a way to incorporate the EyeTV into my home's primary A/V Media Center instead. I do have an old TiVo Series2 located in my A/V system rack, which I could theoretically replace with this EyeTV.

are you recording analog cable with the 250? Is the Series 2 your only other DVR? And what's the difference between the "primary" media center and the separate office system??? Are you not presently watching and/or recording high def via cable? How many of the 4 TVs around the house are HDTVs?

Quote:
how would I go about outputting HD from the Mac-Mini? Will the Mac-Mini be able to provide HD output to my 50" Plasma?

Most of us would have the Mac mini and/or aTV directly connected to our best HDTV, in your case the 50" plasma.


You'll be outputting everything from the mini at whatever resolution you connected to your plasma at, hopefully at its native resolution--which you say is 1366x768? You'll go DVI or VGA out of the mini, you'll have to see which you get to work, depends on what inputs that HDTV has. Most of us wouldn't bother trying to send video through those Denons--even if they were capable of HDMI switching--and would make direct video connections to displays. But this gets back to the general issue--trying to send and switch video sources through your AVR versus connecting your Mac and aTVs directly to displays.

Quote:
but what about when I start ripping Blu-Ray, or when I download some HD content...Will the Mac-Mini be able to output the HD resolution required to get true-HD quality on a screen as large as 50"?

how do you plan on ripping Blu-Ray, do you have PCs and Windows software like AnyDVD and PowerDVD in the house that'll be part of this as well? The only HD content you'll be downloading legally will be on the aTV, not the mini or your MBP yet I'm afraid...now, as far as your 2.0 C2D mini being able to play back high def, I'd say it has enough oomph to do quite well with 1080i ATSC and QAM recordings if you do upgrade your 250 tuner to something like the HDHomerun or 250+. Much past that bit rate, if such content were to make its way onto the mini, that would be pushing it. Even after upgrading the mini to a faster 7200 internal drive and effectively maxxing the RAM to 3GB, a 2.0 is still held back by the GMA950 and this seems right at the cusp of where people start to wish they had a little more coordinated/accelerated muscle under the hood.

Quote:
How can I integrate both my Mac-Mini and my AppleTV into the MediaCenter? Would this require using two separate A/V inputs on my receivers and treating these two components as completely separate devices?

They are separate devices...but...this also goes back to the receiver as hub/distributor issue: even if you had HDMI-switching capable AVRs, you'd be very lucky if you managed to get your mini to sync to a single digital display on the other side going though the AVR first. There's often a lot of pain and additional hardware required to pull this off--first, getting a properly sized desktop and second, retaining it when you switch away and back. Hell, you'll be lucky to connect your Mini directly to that plasma and get 1366x768 native res going DVI to HDMI. Have you tried connecting your MBP to the plasma? Did it do 1366x768 right out of the box?

Quote:
Can anyone think of a way in which I can avoid having (approximately) 3 completely separate MediaCenter GUIs

As far as integrating/merging Front Row of the Mini and the aTV into one mega-Mediacenter GUI, I'm not aware of a way...

Quote:
is there any way to somehow either replace (or integrate) FrontRow with EyeTV's GUI?

This can be done...back in the day, El Gato released a software update which inserted EyeTV into Front Row as a menu item. This must have pissed Apple off and it was quickly yanked. Good news is an independent developer released something called the PyeTV plugin which puts EyeTV back in Front Row as a menu item, so check that out. Been using it for a few months, and really like having Front Row and EyeTV readily controllable via the Apple remote.


Where is the 50" plasma, by the way?
 
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