Lueg Tech

Bill Lueg’s Tech Blog

Mac Home Media Center

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As a parting deal from my last assignment, I acquired an older Mac Mini in hopes of making a media server/DVR/DVD player. It has a 1.66GHz Core Duo with 2GBs of RAM and a 320GB hard drive running Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard). Out of the box, the computer has a program called Front Row which allows you to play anything in iTunes, iPhoto or the DVD player. It also has a simple infra-red remote. It’s a pretty sweet little machine that sits unassumingly and quietly anywhere you might want to put it. On top of that, it supports Dolby Digital 5.1 without modification, though you do need to change a few settings which we’ll get into shortly. All you need is an optical TOS-link cable that has a 1/8″ jack fitting on one end. Any store that sells home theater equipment has them. I happen to have one from my old MiniDisc player (we’ve come a long way since then!). It will be interesting to see if it passes DTS 5.1 stereo as well.

I already have a TiVo DVR, but I’m selling that. To replace it, I’m going to install an Elgato EyeTV 250 tuner which will include their EyeTV 3.0 software which will let me record and watch HD programming.

The only thing that this set-up won’t do is play Blu-ray Discs. It’s sort of a bummer that I can’t do one stop for everything, but it’s not that big a deal. At this point, I’ve already installed the computer and attached it to my 1080p TV and my receiver and I can say that it looks marvelous. The Mac OS comes up nicely and Front Row really makes my DVDs, downloaded TV shows and video podcasts look marvelous. Oh, and it’s actually a decent computer too that displays very well on a 1080p TV. 720p TVs work, but you might think your display is a little pinched as it is actually lower in resolution than a MacBook’s built-in display.

DVDs played through Apple’s DVD Player look great upscaled to my HDTV. My Samsung BD player does a less than stellar job of this so there you go.

To get video to your HDTV, you’ll need a DVI-HDMI adapter unless your TV already has a DVI port built in (most don’t). From the adapter, just plug it into an unused port. I did a lot of fiddling with the color controls on the Mac to get it to look right. Do this at your own risk.

To get sound, use the above-mentioned TOS-Link cable and plug it into your stereo receiver. At this point, it will only give you Dobly Surround (2.0 stereo). To get Dolby Digital 5.1, do the following: Open System Preferences and click on Sound. Click the Output tab and make sure that Digital Out is showing under devices. You will no longer be able to adjust volume or other sound properties from your Mac and that’s okay. You will be doing that from your receiver now. So there will be no need to check “Show volume in menubar.”

soundprefpane1

Now, open DVD player without a DVD in the slot, select Preferences from the DVD Player menu and click on Disc Setup. Under Audio, select Digital Out – Built-in Output. I disabled Dolby dynamic range compression because I like a wide range of volume on my movies. Gun shots should be loud and startling compared to the actors’ normal tone of voice. But you can check that if your nerves aren’t up to it.

dvdprefpane1

Now you can put a Dolby Digital 5.1 DVD in. Play the movie and voila! You should see it indicated on your receiver and you should have glorious directional surround sound with discrete subwoofer channel.

In my next installment, we’ll be talking about streaming video from internet sources like Netflix and Hulu. And then finally I’ll be hooking up a tuner to one of the four USB ports on the Mac for DVR functionality. I’m very happy so far with how well suited the Mac Mini is to home media tasks. The built-in BlueTooth that lets you put your keyboard and mouse out in the room and 802.11g networking (in this older one–newer ones have 802.11n) make this puppy very easy to employ as your entertainment system workhorse. If Apple will get off the stick and put Blu-ray drives in these machines, they’ll have an amazing system on their hands.

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Written by walueg

February 25, 2009 at 7:54 am

Posted in technology

One Response

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  1. Good stuff, keep writing!

    Larry Huffman

    February 25, 2009 at 1:32 pm


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