Mac Media Center Guide

Mac Media Center Guide

 

Now before I start getting flamed for being an Apple fanboy, let me preface this by saying that I am.  I just dig the products, what can I say?  Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get down to business.  I use a late model Mac Mini at home for my media center.  It is the generation before they slimmed down and because all nice and aluminum-y; but this thing performs miracles in my eyes.  The Mac mini is just so small and pretty looking, it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb like some home built HTPC cases do.  It has enough connectivity options for me that make it my all-in-one home server, media center, and gaming box.  If you are looking to buy a new one, check out this deal on the newest model Mac Mini  Let’s dig a little bit into what I have my Mac Media Center doing. (this guide can be accomplished
also on Mac Pros, Macbooks, and Macbook Pro’s)

Functions

  • Obtain my content automatically via Sick Beard, Couch Potato, and Headphones.
  • Process that content automatically making it available for playback without any interaction from me telling my media center what video each file is.
  • Playback that content locally on my HDTV in full 1080p with 5.1 surround sound.
  • Stream that content to other Mac’s on my network.
  • Stream music over iTunes to my local computers.
  • Stream that content to my iPhone (as well as Android and iPad)
  • Host an FTP server to be able to interact with the files while away from home.

With a Mac Mini as the hardware, running OSX 10.6 I am able to accomplish all of this simply and elegantly.  First let’s start out with the hardware.

As mentioned this is a 2009 Mac Mini which still works great accomplishing all the tasks I expect it to.  Here is a list of key features why this works extremely well as an HTPC.

  • Built in IR receiver to receive commands from a harmony remote. (I THOROUGHLY RECOMMEND THESE REMOTES, in fact.. I swear by them.)
  • With one simple adapter, Mini-DVI can be HDMI (with no audio unfortunately), DVI, or VGA.
  • Plenty of USB ports for any add-ons such as Xbox 360 controller adapter, etc.
  • The headphone jack is actually capable of being SPDIF meaning with a mini toslink to toslink adapter, you  can actually use the 5.1 audio directly from your Mac Mini.
  • Plenty of processing power and memory to be able to handle unpar/unraring my content, as well as plenty of video power to play it back in full 1080p with no hiccups.
  • QUIET!
  • Firewire 800 port to connect to storage devices.
  • Wireless N (dual band) as well as Gigabit ethernet built in.

Newer iterations of Mac Mini’s actually have built in HDMI (with audio) as well as further upgrades to processing power, etc to be even more efficient for you.

Notice this also has a built in SD card slot for showing off photographs as well, directly from your digital camera.

 

The Software

As mentioned, I’m running a plain jane install of OSX on my Mac mini.  After subscribing to a Usenet provider, I simply follow the guides for installing SABnzbd, SickbeardCouchpotato, and Headphones.  Point SAB at my external storage device for TV, Movies, Apps, etc.  The only category of SAB I change up is the music category.  I load up iTunes and change my iTunes music directory to my external storage (so we don’t have to worry about space anytime soon) and point SAB to the “Automatically add to iTunes” folder within my newly established iTunes library folder.  For me the path looked like this “/Volumes/Storage/Music/Automatically add to iTunes”.  Don’t forget you can drag and drop the folder into the text field in SAB to have your Mac automatically generate you the full path (Gotta love it).  This way now, when headphones grabs a new album, it goes directly to my iTunes library for categorization.  Turn on sharing in the iTunes preferences and you are now sharing out your library, along with any new albums that are grabbed.

Once this is all setup, I go and download Plex and install it on my Mac.  I then just point my Plex Media manager at the folder on my storage for Movies and TV shows and let it do it’s thing.  Once that is complete I correct some metadata errors and we are good to go.  (GUIDE ON THIS TO COME, Plex install initially can be a bit tedious if you already have content).  Then I go back into my Sick Beard and Couch Potato, tell them to update my Plex library when they are done grabbing content (check posts on these apps for guides how to do so) and let it roll.  Once this is all done, let it start downloading new content and populating Plex.

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