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Mac Mini Home Theater

Making the Mac Mini the Centerpiece of your Home Theater

iTunes HDCP ErrorRecently, I downloaded a high-def TV show through iTunes to watch on my Mac Mini Home Theater. Was this the seamless ‘on-demand’ experience I had hoped for… not exactly.

So, I’m a little late to the game and I decided to check out AMC’s Mad Men television show.  Thanks to Netflix, I worked through the three disks of Season 1 just in time to set up my DirecTV DVR to record the Season 2 marathon.  The next day, I sat down to start Season 2 and it began with a recap of Season 1… only during the recap I realized that I somehow must have missed an entire episode, specifically the season finale.  I had already returned the disk to Netflix, so my solution for an instant fix was to buy the episode off of iTunes.

Purchasing via iTunes

Anyone who has used iTunes for purchases before knows that it’s generally very easy to find what you’re looking for.  A quick search in the text field got my right where I wanted, but I could have easily browsed through the links and genres in the iTunes store interface to find my television show.

iTunes Search Results

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OpenRemote Logo

OpenRemote Logo

OpenRemote is an “Open Source community for Automation”.  They are trying provide a complete open source solution to control the variety of “closed protocals and stacks” from typical home automation companies.

More importantly, they may be the answer to my “One Remote to the Rule Them All” quest!  If you look at my recent article on Controlling The Mac Mini,  I mention that my biggest issue with iPhone apps is that they cannot easily control other components in my system (for example, turning on the TV, changing the volume on the receiver, etc.)  According to OpenRemote’s recent tweets, they have managed to do a simple “proof of concept” test using an iPhone, a Wifi network, and an IR blaster to launch FrontRow on a Mac.  Read on to find out why this is so exciting.

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You’ve gone through the effort of ripping all your CDs and DVDs, you’ve hooked up the Mac to your TV and Receiver, but how do you plan to control the computer now that you’re sitting on your couch?  Below are a few different suggestions for how to control your Mac Mini HTPC (home theater PC).  The “best” option really depends on your needs, but I’ll try to help guide you through the options.

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Airfoil Logo
Airfoil Logo

We’ve all been there… it’s Tuesday night, you’re in bed, your wife is asleep, but you’ve really got a hankering for some Iron Eagle.  Unfortunately, your wife doesn’t understand the integral part the rock ballads play in Doug Master’s intense training or daring rescue mission at the end of the film.  Enter Airfoil…

Airfoil is a software app that runs on a Windows or Mac computer which can send the audio from your computer to several other network devices, such as another computer, an iPhone or Airport Express device.  The interface is very simple.  You choose the application with the audio you want to send elsewhere, and then select the device you want to send it to.

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Roku Digital Video Player

Roku Digital Video Player

I realize this site is about the Mac Mini, but it’s good to keep our eye on what the competition is putting out there.  The Roku Digital Video Player has really stepped up the game with an affordable streaming video device with exceptional ease of use.  As a result, the Roku is getting some great reviews.

Currently, the Roku only streams content from Netflix’s On Demand service as well as rentals from Amazon’s Unboxed service.  However at $99, it’s an easy way to get the average person to start streaming video over the internet to their TV.

Obviously, the Mac Mini still has significant advantages over the Roku in terms of features, but if Roku can start streaming content from your local computers and eventually get upgraded for Hulu and YouTube feeds, it may become harder to justify the cost for a full Mac Mini.  Personally, I hope the Roku really takes off because competition is good stimulate innovation.

Send music to another room with Airport Express

Send music to another room with Airport Express

For most people familiar with the Apple product line, this post is restating the obvious.  For the rest of you:  The Airport Express lets you broadcast your iTunes library to any other room in your house over your wireless network.  I feel like the Airport Express has potential to do so many things, that Apple doesn’t do a good enough job toting it’s ability as a music streaming device.

I recently configured an Airport Express to stream music from a Mac Mini to a stereo receiver on a different floor of a house.  I wrote a review of the Airport Express setup and configuration, and without ruining the surprise, it took quite a bit of patience.

For ideas on how to maximize the Airport Express in your network, click the link to read more.

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M_ymc500blI just came across a new Yamaha product that promises to simplify your home theater.  The new newHD line up acts as the central hub for your audio video components and is controlled by a much simpler remote control — specifically a “20 button remote”.

From the online demo, the interface looks very similar in concept to Apple’s Front Row interface.  In practice, it looks like Yamaha is taking all the logic from the Harmony Remote controls, and using the neoHD as the control center, where the the neoHD sends IR commands to the different components attached to itself.

In addition, the device comes in 5.1 and 2.1 configurations, so it appears that this is the natural step to replacing your AV Receiver.  Everything is already going into the receiver now for HDMI switching, up-conversion, and sound processing, so it is a natural progression for Yamaha to take this next step and put a more polished interface.  I currently use Yamaha’s RX-V1800 receiver (which I love) but my biggest gripe with it is the lack of any sort of on-screen interface when using a High definition source.  The neoHD definitely looks poised to address this issue, but looking at the back of the neoHD makes me question who the target audience is for this product.  The neoHD has the cheaper “spring” lock speaker binding terminals and the number of inputs is on the low side — yet the prices from the website tend to suggest that this will be priced above the “entry level consumer” level.

In any case, I’d love to give the neoHD a test drive and post impressions regarding the user interface, but until then, click on the more link to view the photo gallery.  The connection diagram shows an AppleTV as one of the possible devices, so it’s very likely that the neoHD will play nicely with the Mac Mini.

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When I was a kid, I would collect Star Wars figures and Hot Wheels — Now I try to rack up the ultimate home theater components.  Lunch.com has a new “List” feature which lets you create your list and then share it with your friends so you can compare what’s in your AV rack.

Check out my Home Theater List on Lunch.com

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Screenshot of Adam Carolla Plex Plugin

Screenshot of Adam Carolla Plex Plugin

Plex just continues to get better as more and more developers write apps and plugins to integrate with Plex. A relatively recent addition is a plugin for the Adam Carolla Podcast. For those not familiar with Adam Carolla, he is a longtime radio personality who got his start working the Jimmy Kimmel on KROQ’s morning radio show. He spent some 10 years with Dr. Drew on Love Lines and has had success on Comedy Central with The Man Show and Crank Yankers. After a recent retooling of an FM talk station, Carolla is now sharing his wisdom with a self-funded podcast. The content definitely earns an “M” for mature, but Carolla really shines in his self proclaimed “long format” interviews with an impressive batch of guests.

I typically listen to the Podcast in my car during my commute, but this Plex plugin makes it even easier to pull up the latest episodes of the Adam Carolla Podcast so you can broadcast it through your entire house.  Fans of the show as well as anyone interested in some fresh comedic anecdotes should definitely check this out.

Not sure where to start? Check out the new Quick Start Guide on the site. The article is meant to serve as an introduction to getting a Mac Mini Home Theater setup in your own home. More advanced articles will continue to show up on the site, but for those just getting their feet wet, here’s a great place to start.