Maccast 2011.12.06 – Mac Home Theater

Written by: Adam Christianson

Categories: Mac Media Center, Podcast

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MC20111206SP.mp3 [25.1MB 00:51:59 64kbps]

HDTV PodcastA podcast about all things Macintosh. For Mac geeks, by Mac geeks. A special episode of the Maccast where we catch up with Ara Dererian of the HDTV Podcast. It’s been a while since we chatted with Ara and his Mac Mini based Mac Home Theater set up has evolved. Now the system is Apple TV 2 based on the client side, so we’ll get an update on that and discuss how he makes all this stuff work.

HDTV Podcast
Apple TV 2
Mac Mini

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There are 6 comments on Maccast 2011.12.06 – Mac Home Theater:

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  1. Dave | Dec 06 2011 - 10:50

    Whew! I also set up a little HTPC system with a Mac Mini but made a few different choices. It was fun to see how another HT geek built his HTPC.

    As Yogi said, our similarities are different. I settled on Plex to power the HTPC rather than iTunes or Front Row but I also use Handbrake to gradually convert my DVD library to mpeg-4/H264. I am in no rush. Plex integrates nicely with iTunes if you choose to use iTunes content in your media library but you are not dependent on it at all. It’s just one of several resources.

    I learned that one advantage that Plex has is that I do only one Handbrake encoding per movie. And it is the “high quality” encoding for the HDTV. I choose Handbrake parameters so that no loss of quality can be detected, which means a pretty high bitrate. In some cases, I find that I need to turn on the Deinterlace filter to eliminate “jaggies” (This is especially true when Handbraking old Tivo’d shows (480i) from cable). I don’t accept jaggies and I don’t accept any pixelation.

    The one encoding works for all devices. OK, the setup is this. The Mac Mini is wired to the HDTV but it also streams via wi-fi to any iOS device within reach. You just need to log in with your username and password, just like a shared volume. There is no monkeying around with Apple IDs or iTunes Sharing rules. Its just your wi-fi setup; mine is an Apple “Extreme” wireless router. And Plex can play back a movie on the HDTV and also stream another movie to an iOS device at the same time (in case someone in the household doesn’t care for your choice of movies!) It’s a server!

    Adam, there’s no problem digitizing the extras from a “Special Edition” dvd; of course, I need to encode each extra as a separate file. I label them differently (e.g. “MovieName (BTS)”, “MovieName (Deleted scene)”, “MovieName (Director’s commentary)”, etc.). The separate files are listed in the Plex guide under the names I give them. I want to forget about the disks themselves so I encode everything I want.

    BTW, the iOS Plex app, which is the only cost in the Plex system, does triple duty. It is a wi-fi remote control, a display for your (searchable) Plex movie library, and a playback device. The use case is that you choose a movie from the movie library and then decide to either play it on the HDTV or on the device you’re holding. On the iPad, this is terrific; when you add an mpeg-4/H264 to a folder that the Plex Server knows about, it automatically adds the movie to your library, downloads info on the movie, populates the info fields, and adds the cover art. Once its all set up, the system really leaves iTunes in the dust.

    I think the process and setup are way too complicated for normal people but perfect for geeks. Apple is right about normal people, but I like Plex. Draw your own conclusions.

  2. Heiko | Dec 07 2011 - 07:17

    Adam, Ara,

    I listened to the show. It was a good start. I got really excited when you guys started talking about blu-ray ripping. Unfortunately it ended up being a cliffhanger. So please, please, please, please do the follow up show on blu-ray ripping.


  3. blake | Dec 07 2011 - 02:51

    Another tip. I use the “Universal” rip setting on Handbrake and the quality on my AppleTV2’s is still as good or better than when I play it on the DVD player and it will play on my iPhone and iPad as well without any additional converting. Also, rember when using Handbrake to first play the DVD on the default DVD player on your mac. Then, when the movie is playing, look under “Go” and “Track” to see which track is really playing. Make a note of that track and after Handbrake loads the DVD in to rip make sure that you select that track to rip. Some newer DVD’s have up to 99 fake tracks with different time stamps and if you or Handbrake pick the wrong one the scenes in the movie will be shuffled and out of order. For example, Star Trek and Super 8 are that way.

  4. Andie | Dec 07 2011 - 03:14

    A great MacCast once again, something I’d been looking into for a little while. I have 2 AppleTV2’s in the house now. I only use my MacBook Pro as the computer in the house and use iPhone/iPad2 for more casual stuff. Because I didn’t want to clog up my hard drive with movies I’ve been storing them on my Time Capsule & another NAS drive. I added these to iTunes as referenced files (option + drag & drop) rather than storing them in the library. I’ve been using RipIt to both rip and compress my DVD collection.

    With my MacBook Pro open and running iTunes I could stream the movies from the Time Capsule over WiFi but for some reason I found that iTunes kept losing the links to the movies and I often had to re-establish the link again using Get Info before I could pull/push the movie to the AppleTV. Bit of a pain to have to keep waking my laptop and fix connections just to watch a movie which kept confusing my family. I’d been looking into buying a Mac Mini as a media server, just like you were talking about in the show, but reluctant about the £500+ price tag.

    Then I saw an article about FireCore’s aTV Flash (black). I was hesitant about the £20 cost but it promised quite a few extra features (browser, XBMC, weather) that it can add to the AppleTV. There was just one I was interested in, the media player it adds can play video directly from a NAS drive – no computer, no iTunes. Apparently it also plays a lot more formats but everything I ripped is m4v/mov anyway. The app does have to jailbreak the ATV to install the software, but it only took me 30 mins to do two AppleTV’s, it wasn’t much hassle and it’s not something I’d tried before.

    All I can say is it works very, very well. It feels like an ideal set-up, just the Time Capsule that’s always on anyway and the Apple TV, taking quite a bit out of the equation. Course I can still access my iTunes library when I want too for other stuff.

    I’ve got one ATV in the living room which has a network cable directly to the Time Capsule and another upstairs connecting directly to the NAS over WiFi, both working beautifully.

    You can add specific folders on the NAS as ‘favourites’ and it just adds a direct link under a new ‘Media’ menu that comes up immediately on the homescreen right next to ‘Computer’, so it’s just a couple of clicks to start a movie.

    You can organise your folders/menu items as you want, so I’ve got Movies, TV, Family Videos and Concerts all split out and right on the homescreen. Oh, and all of this is indistinguishable from the rest of the navigation.

    This shows the AppleTV is more than capable of streaming direct from a NAS without iTunes, I hope they build it straight into the next version of the OS so you don’t need the jailbreak & third party software to do it.

  5. Nate | Dec 13 2011 - 07:04

    Good episode, but it included some incorrect information. It is definitely possible to create a single high quality encode that works on all (newer) devices — iPhone 4, iPad2, AppleTV v2 — with no problem. I’ve worked with the Handbrake devs and community to create presets that allow you to do just this. The negative is that the HD encodes (from HD-DVD, Bluray, etc) take up more space on portable devices, but that was a trade-off that I was willing to make in order to satisfy my requirement of having one encode that works everywhere.

    I’ve got a blog post in mind to outline my current iTunes-centric environment and workflows… perhaps I’ll work on this and post a link when it is ready. Looking forward to the next episode as this is an area that has interested me for a few years now; I’ve ripped (and re-ripped) hundreds of DVDs and HD-DVD/Blurays along with my iTunes TV Show purchases to completely cut the cord.

  6. joeYYY | Dec 13 2011 - 04:49


    Great show with very interesting information on using the AppleTV for a home theater system.

    One thing that wasn’t covered was the ability to greatly expand the content selection that is available on the AppleTV when using AirPlay/AirPlay Mirroring and the iPad 2. This iOS5 feature allows you to steam video content from the iPad to the AppleTV.

    With this feature I can stream video content for many iPad apps that include video stream such as the almost all the TV network’s iPAD apps and even Hulu Plus.

    This works great for me.

    It is important to note that Airplay Mirroring, the ability to mirror the screen of the iPad (or the iPhone), is only supported on the iPad 2 (or the iPhone 4s) and not the iPad 1 (or any previous iPhone model).