How to set up a Mac mini media center

Trot again to the 16th century and nook famed prognosticating monk Nostradamus, and it is reasonably most likely that once posed the query: “Will the ones residing within the 12 months 2013 be in a position to name up any media programming they prefer from a unmarried field?” he’d reply with an enthusiastic “Mais oui!”

Sadly, we all know handiest too neatly the place this one sits within the cleric’s win/loss column. Progress has been made, by means of cable and satellite tv for pc services and products that ship a trillion channels plus on-demand programming, in addition to set-top containers that experience get entry to to on-line song and video services and products. But without equal goal–watching precisely what you wish to have to watch when you wish to have to watch it–remains elusive.

In seek of a answer, some other folks have grew to become to probably the most robust media instrument of their home–their laptop. Not handiest can it play in the neighborhood saved song, video, and slideshows, however it might additionally deliver you any media discovered at the Internet, adding streaming TV programming, films, and song.

But sitting in entrance of a laptop monitor–regardless of its resolution–can be restricting. It makes for a less-than-satisfying group-viewing revel in, and it is laborious to shake the sensation that you are, neatly, sitting in entrance of a laptop. What many people need is a instrument as clever as a laptop however one that is at domestic in the lounge, hooked up to a big-screen TV. Turns out that Apple produces a instrument becoming that individual invoice: the Mac mini.

Small, now not obscenely pricey, and able to gaining access to media in the neighborhood in addition to on-line, the Mac mini has a lot going for it. But is it the very best answer for the ones nervous to lower the media wire? I spent a month with one to to find out.

Read subsequent: How to set up an iPhone | How to set up an iPad | How to set up a Mac | How to set up an Apple TV | How to set up an Apple Watch

About the field

I selected the $599 base-model Mac mini for my media experiment, in large part according to its value and function. That mini contains a 2.Five GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of reminiscence, a 500GB laborious pressure, and the Intel HD Graphics 4000 chipset constructed into the motherboard. For every other $200 you’ll be able to acquire a Mac mini with a i7 processor and a 1TB laborious pressure. I selected to save that $200 since the base-model’s processor is rapid sufficient for a media server, and since, whilst garage is vital for this sort of use, an exterior laborious pressure gives extra space for much less cash.

Today’s Mac mini gives different benefits as a media server. It sports activities an HDMI port, which permits you to jack the pc immediately into your TV or HDMI-compatible AV receiver. It contains an SDXC card slot for immediately gaining access to the photographs saved on a digicam’s reminiscence card. Unlike maximum of as of late’s Macs it nonetheless keeps a FireWire 800 port (despite the fact that it additionally has a Thunderbolt port). It contains 4 USB three ports for plugging in more garage instruments and media peripherals. The mini has an IR receiver and springs with Apple’s far off, so it may be managed from the sofa. It carries a gigabit ethernet port, for when wi-fi is not rapid sufficient. And its helps virtual audio out and in.

Dealing with discs

What the mini does not have–and hasn’t had for a couple of iterations–is a detachable media pressure. If you continue to rely on DVDs and CDs then you will be frustrated that there is no slot within the entrance of the mini in your discs. However, exterior USB detachable media drives are affordable and so they function similar to an inner drive–allowing you to play films and set up disc-based device. You can to find such drives for round $30 which can be each bit as excellent as Apple’s $79 USB SuperDrive.

Those drives don’t, then again, play Blu-ray discs, a generation that Apple hasn’t ever supported. Although you’ll be able to upload an exterior Blu-ray participant for less than $100, and forged device is to be had for burning knowledge to those discs, the device important to play Blu-ray films is not extraordinarily excellent. In this example you are at an advantage the use of a separate Blu-ray participant that is plugged immediately into your TV or AV receiver. (Or glomming on to a replica of the virtual obtain that is usally introduced with as of late’s Blu-ray discs and including that replicate to the mini’s iTunes library.)

Scarcity of garage

Media–movies and TV displays, in particular–can take up a lot of cupboard space. Your reasonable HD film bought from the iTunes Store consumes 3GB of garage, whilst hour-long HD TV episodes are available at slightly below 2GB. Add fairly tough song and picture libraries, and the mini’s 500GB of garage could be used up in subsequent to no time.

One manner to paintings round that is to depart your purchases within the cloud and obtain or move simply that content material that you just want to view or concentrate to (the use of iTunes within the Cloud for video and iTunes Match for song). When you are completed with it, delete it. While this gives you extra cupboard space, you could have to wait whilst the content material downloads or streams plus, if in case you have a knowledge cap in your Internet utilization, it will reason you to burn thru that cap sooner than the month is out.

Because you can need to save that bandwidth for such things as Netflix, Pandora, HBO Go, Hulu, YouTube, and Amazon Instant Video, you are at an advantage attaching an exterior laborious pressure to the mini and storing your individual media on it. Shop round and you’ll be able to to find 2TB USB laborious drives for a little over $100. Once you may have hooked up that tough pressure to your Mac, it is a straight forward subject to designate it as iTunes’ garage vacation spot.

The keep watch over conundrum

While a laptop would be a terrific media participant, one component has historically stood in the way in which of each media rack bearing one thing just like the Mac mini: Convenient keep watch over. We can manipulate AV receivers, disc gamers, high-definition TVs, and recreation consoles with out transferring our keisters from the sofa, but if we call to mind controlling a laptop we all-too-often flip to a keyboard and a mouse or trackpad.

Before those had been frequently to be had in wi-fi shape, incorporating a laptop into a media cupboard screamed “kludge!” It pressured you off the sofa and to the ground the place you would faucet away on tethered enter instruments to find the media you sought after.

You can, after all, keep watch over some media programs with the $19 Apple Remote, nevertheless it does not permit you to set up the Mac’s complete interface. A more sensible choice is Bluetooth enter devices–keyboards, mice, and trackpads.

What makes such controls much more applicable is one thing that permits you to gang in combination an Apple Wireless Keyboard ($69) and Magic Trackpad (additionally $69) into a unmarried unit. If you are at hand within the workshop, you’ll be able to most certainly cobble in combination a controller tray, however for $30, Twelve South supplies the extra chic MagicWand, a rounded half-cylinder (now not proven within the symbol below–it’s below the cylindrical peak fringe of the keyboard and trackpad) that incorporates the battery finish of either one of those Apple wi-fi instruments. When positioned snuggly in combination, the 2 enter instruments develop into one unit, which can be utilized in your lap.

Turning to iOS

If those instruments nonetheless appear too cumbersome, you could as a substitute make a choice to use your iPhone, iPod contact, or iPad as a controller. One of a number of apps can flip your iOS instrument into each a wi-fi keyboard and trackpad.

For instance, each Evan Schoenberg’s $5 Rowmote Pro and Edovia’s $5 TouchPad flip your iOS instrument into a digital keyboard and trackpad. Paired with the mini, those apps permit you to keep watch over its interface a lot as you could with a actual wi-fi keyboard and trackpad.

If as a substitute you wish to have to faucet in your iPad as though it was once the Mac’s display, you’ll be able to make a choice a VNC app such because the $25 iTeleport, $10 Splashtop Remote Desktop, or $20 Screens. These apps replicate the Mac’s interface to your iOS instrument and make allowance you to keep watch over your laptop remotely. Each of them calls for that you just set up and run loose server device at the Mac, which permits the iOS shopper to make the relationship and undertaking your Mac’s display to your iOS instrument.

Add a media participant

Remote keep watch over is unquestionably one primary problem of the use of a laptop as a media instrument. The different is making that keep watch over family-friendly. While you, because the techie of the extended family, might really feel completely at domestic with the machine you may have set up, different members of the family would possibly not contact it as a result of they to find it too difficult. For this reason why you will have to simplify the interface up to conceivable.

At one time it’s essential do that with Apple’s Front Row generation, which allowed you to impose an Apple TV-like interface in your Mac. While it did make surfing media more straightforward, it was once virtually solely restricted to the media to your iTunes library. Apple gave the impression to have little interest in opening it up to streaming media from different firms.

Thankfully, third-party builders are extra open-minded about this sort of factor. Currently there are a couple of media-center programs that you’ll be able to use to keep watch over now not handiest your in the neighborhood saved song, pictures, and movies, but additionally Internet-based media streams: XBMC and Plex.

XBMC is an open-source media participant and leisure hub. Plex is an utility and interface constructed on XBMC’s generation. Of the 2, I to find Plex more straightforward to use thank you to its slick interface and the convenience with which you’ll be able to upload now not handiest native media, but additionally Internet streaming services and products reminiscent of Hulu, The Daily Show, PBS, YouTube, Vimeo, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Pandora, Shoutcast, and Spotify.

Using Plex together with your native media method configuring the separate Plex Media Server. This is a loose utility and one that is not tricky to configure. You make a choice the type of media you want to upload after which inform Plex the place it is saved. It will be sure that it sounds as if within the Plex participant.

Once you may have added the streaming media channels you want in addition to the song, films, and photographs saved in your Mac (or a native community server), you’ll be able to navigate to them simply the use of the Apple Remote, a keyboard, or one of the vital iOS apps I discussed. The Plex interface consumes all of the display, making it appear to be you are operating with a devoted media participant reasonably than a laptop.

Regrettably, Plex cannot play all of the media you may want to get entry to. For instance, it would possibly not play copy-protected media reminiscent of the films and TV displays you may have bought from the iTunes Store. It additionally lacks on-demand content material reminiscent of HBO Go or a cable or satellite tv for pc carrier’s catalog of streaming films and TV displays that may be performed in a laptop’s Web browser.

Simplifying the interface

If you wish to have to play such media, you should depart Plex, which is able to reason a downside for the relatives as a result of they are now faced with a laptop interface, which less-savvy customers might to find confounding. There are some straight forward (and not-so-simple) issues you’ll be able to do to make the revel in more straightforward for them.

The first is to position aliases of programs and websites they’re going to need to talk over with at the desktop. For instance, you may dangle down theandkeys and drag iTunes from the Applications folder to the desktop, thus developing an alias. If you would like to watch HBO Go, release Safari, commute to www.hbogo.com, after which drag the icon from the deal with box to the desktop to create a Web location report that, when double-clicked, launches your browser and takes you immediately to that web page. Alternatively you’ll be able to create a folder stuffed with aliases and drag them to the dock. Instruct your family members to click on in this folder after which click on at the web page or utility they need to release.

(Some readers will surprise why you would want to use HBO Go in a browser you probably have to be an HBO subscriber so as to get entry to HBO Go and subsequently can watch it in your cable or satellite tv for pc receiver. The unhappy truth is that now not all cable and satellite tv for pc suppliers be offering HBO Go. DirecTV, for instance, does raise some HBO content material on call for, however now not your complete HBO Go carrier. Those other folks should use the iOS app or a Web browser to experience this content material.)

Automating the one-button means

You could make this procedure even more straightforward via offering one-button get entry to to programs and internet sites. The method for doing that is Automator. This is how you would do it with the HBO Go site.

Launch Automator, and within the workflow chooser that looks, make a choice Service. Configure the pop-up menus on the peak of the workflow to learn Service receives no enter in any utility. Now drag the Web location report for HBO Go to the workflow space. A Get Specified Finder Items motion shall be added that comprises the Web location report. Select the Files & Folders library, and from it drag the Open Finder Items motion to the workflow space. Make positive that its pop-up menu reads Open with default utility.

To take a look at the workflow, simply click on the Run button on the peak of the window. Safari will release and take you to HBO Go. If you may have already visited, signed in, and had Safari have in mind your password, you can nonetheless want to click on Sign In and input the e-mail deal with for the cable or satellite tv for pc carrier you utilize; the web page calls for that you just check in each and every time you talk over with.

Save and title the carrier (HBO Go has a sure ring to it). Launch System Preferences, make a choice Keyboard, click on the Keyboard Shortcuts tab, and make a choice Services. Your HBO Go carrier will seem close to the ground of the listing below the General heading. Select it and click on Add Shortcut. Now assign a keyboard shortcut to the carrier. You can cause this shortcut from a stressed or unwired keyboard or an iOS app.

Repeat this procedure for different internet sites you would like to make simply available, assigning a other keyboard shortcut for each and every web page. Now all you and your relatives wishes to do is to have in mind which keys release the internet sites they would like to get entry to.

Cord in any case lower?

Regrettably, a ways too little has modified at the content material entrance. Television networks, massive and small, hang jealously to their programming. You cannot move TV the way in which you’ll be able to get entry to it from a cable or satellite tv for pc field. Thanks to on-line sports activities subscriptions services and products like MLB.TV, NBA Game Time, and NHL GameCenter, you’ll be able to move are living baseball, basketball, and hockey video games, however those are handiest out-of-market video games (that means you’ll be able to’t watch your house staff when they are taking part in at domestic). And many different well-liked sports–including soccer, golfing, and soccer–aren’t persistently to be had. Special are living occasions just like the Oscars broadcast or election protection also are unavailable. And top rate channel content material from HBO and Showtime is to be had provided that you have already got an current subscription, which calls for that cable or satellite tv for pc field whose wire you are nervous to lower.

Elgato continues to be offering a manner to get are living TV into your Mac by means of its $150 EyeTV Hybrid–a TV tuner on a USB stick. With this instrument you’ll be able to each show and document unscrambled cable TV in addition to virtual over-the-air declares (antenna required). While this solves the are living occasions factor for many of us, it does not grant get entry to to the majority of cable programming.

Given those obstacles, the Mac mini, just like the Apple TV, Roku, Xbox, and numerous different set-top containers, stays a media accent, despite the fact that yet one more robust than those devoted instruments. While it falls wanting a cable or satellite tv for pc field (entire with DVR) or true à l. a. carte programming, it stays a profitable addition to the AV cupboard of the technically-inclined.

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