As someone with a large media collection (around 550GB), I’m always looking for inventive new ways to store, backup and stream all my content. One of my main annoyances with simply storing media on an external drive is that you obviously need to have the device […]

Time Capsule as A Media Drive

As someone with a large media collection (around 550GB), I’m always looking for inventive new ways to store, backup and stream all my content.

One of my main annoyances with simply storing media on an external drive is that you obviously need to have the device physically plugged in. My Lacie Drive worked well, but was bulky, heavy and impractical for watching media anywhere other than at my desk.

When Time Capsule was released, my first thought was that it could make a great way to store content on a network disk and stream music/video to iTunes, and photos to Aperture. This would allow me to access all my media from anywhere around the house — freeing me from the confines of a desk.

This guide will take you through that very process and explain what works well and what simply won’t.

A note on performance

The first thing to consider is how performance will be impacted. At present, your external drive will have a fast USB or Firewire connection, which poses no problems for streaming video (a fairly intensive operation). There are a few things to consider and words of caution with moving this to a networked device.

  • Will you be wired or wireless? — If you have a few wired network points around your house, performance should be just fine. Gigabit ethernet — while not as fast as USB or Firewire — can easily support streaming video and other operations at the same time. Wireless works brilliantly for music, but depending upon reception can cause some ‘jumpy’ video performance. If you have an excellent signal there shouldn’t be a problem.
  • Do you have 802.11n? — This is the latest standard for wireless. All new Apple machines have support for it, but it may be worth checking if yours does. It can help to mitigate some of the issues with wirelessly streaming video.
  • What do you use the external drive for? — If you store applications or large amounts of frequently used data (such as Photoshop files or large database files), you’ll probably benefit from a wired network connection.
  • Do you have an Apple TV? — If you want to stream media to your Apple TV, you’ll need to ensure that your Mac is connected to the Time Capsule via an ethernet wire. Otherwise the video is being sent from the Time Capsule to your Mac wirelessly, then again wirelessly to the Apple TV — a recipe for disaster!

Setting up iTunes

Setting up iTunes

If you’ve decided to go ahead, the first thing to set up is iTunes. You’ll need to create a folder on your Time Capsule to store all your iTunes content (I use ‘Media’). Proceed to connect the Time Capsule to your Mac via an ethernet cable and copy the whole content of your current iTunes folder across. This could take anywhere from 5 minutes to 20+ hours depending upon how many gigabytes need to be transferred.

Once this process has completed, you need to open iTunes and change the folder of your music library (Preferences > Advanced). iTunes will spend some time attempting to re-organize and point to the folder, but this process rarely works. Instead, you’ll need to ‘Consolidate’ your library:

Consolidate iTunes Library

Once this process has completed, you should (all being well) have a functioning wireless iTunes library. Go for a trip around your house and see how it performs!

Setting up Photos

Aperture and Time Capsule

My photo application of choice is Aperture, and I’ve found that it works fairly well through a network drive. Startup time is a little slower but, once the application is running, performance is great. Set up is as a simple as copying your Aperture library to the Time Capsule, heading into preferences and updating Aperture’s location. Upon launching the application again you’ll be working from the remote copy. Easy!

If you use iPhoto for managing digital photos the process is equally simple:

  1. Quit iPhoto if it is open.
  2. Open your Pictures folder. Drag the iPhoto Library folder to your Time Capsule.
  3. Hold down the Option key on the keyboard and open iPhoto. Keep the Option key held down until you are prompted to create or choose an iPhoto library.
  4. Click Choose Library.
  5. Locate and select the iPhoto library on the Time Capsule.

You’ll be able to edit your holiday snaps and frustrate your family with a lengthy slideshow from anywhere in the house!

iMovie… Not Just Yet

At present, iMovie isn’t able to work from a network drive. It is a limitation imposed by Apple, probably rightly so, as the application wouldn’t work without a very fast connection to the data it is working from. Scrubbing through video is a very intensive process and, without a USB or Firewire connection, iMovie would likely be unusable.

Backup Implications & Conclusion

As someone who likes to back up regularly, I use the aforementioned Lacie disk to regularly mirror the Time Capsule to. This has the advantage of backing up both my media library and Time Machine backup files at the same time.

If you give this walkthrough a try, please do let me know how it goes. I’m really interested to hear how you find the performance of wired vs. wireless connections, and any other applications which benefit from having a centrally stored library.

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  1. I use a hybrid solution to store part of my library on my Time Capsule. I have my music and movies on my 250Gb MacBook HDD and my TV shows on the Time Capsule. I transfer my TV shows to the Time Capsule and uncheck the ‘Copy Files to iTunes Music Library’ in Advanced Preferences prior to importing the shows to my library.

    This way I still get most of my library when I’m on the move, and the rest available within wi-fi range.

    One downside to this is that sometimes iTunes needs prompting to find the files, particularly when syncing with iPhone/AppleTV. iTunes will often report that the file cannot be synced because it cannot be found, depsite the path name being correct, and displays an ‘!’ marke next to the file. Clicking ‘Get Info’ will force iTunes to see the file, but this can take a long time for multiple files. Does anyone have a solution to this?

    1. I want to leave my music on my MacBook, and store my TV shows and Movies on my Time Capsule because my start up disk is full. If I delete them from my hard drive, but then import it back with ‘copy files to iTunes Music Library’ unchecked so I can watch everything on my AppleTV, will that still free up the space on my HDD like i need it to? Or does that defeat the purpose of deleting the files in the first place because I am just putting them back?

  2. Wow, this is EXACTLY what I’ve been thinking of – sourcing digital media from the Time Capsule remotely.
    But what does the Consolidate function really do? What happens if you Don’t do that?

  3. Consolidate library enforces the ‘Keep iTunes Library Organised’ and ‘Copy files to iTunes music library’ options. If both are checked, iTunes will go through every file and make sure it exists in the designated directory structure.

    If you want to move your whole library, you can skip the step of copying the files yourself, and just let iTunes do it by choosing your new location in Prefs, and then selecting Consolidate Library. iTunes will copy all of the files from the previous location and update its library entries to reflect this.

  4. I actually did this exact setup about 6 months ago when I got my time capsule, it works well except for the problem that GJD brought up, which happens to me almost every time I shut down my MBP. When I start up again iTunes cant find any of my media files. If I start a Time Machine Backup first or just try to browse my time machine in finder, then open iTunes it works fine. It’s as if iTunes is incapable of establishing that network connection to the time capsule but it that connection is already established then it works fine. If anyone has any way to fix this it would be greatly appreciated.

  5. Great tutorial! I do something similar, but not the same. I have a 1TB NAS setup that I have all of my media files. I have iTunes set to NOT consolidate or copy files into my iTunes library. I add all of my songs to the library, and it finds them on the NAS over samba. Wired or wireless, it works just fine!

    On my AppleTV, I just use ATVFiles to mount the NAS shares, and Perian to handle the .avi files/codecs. I have uTorrent running on an old XP system that downloads my favorite TV shows via RSS feeds and sorts them out on the NAS.

    I have my wife’s macbook setup the same way. We can both make changes to our iTunes libraries at the same time, with no ill effects. The only drawback is that when I download new music, I have to move it to the NAS manually, and add it back into iTunes.

    I still think Apple should come out with a media consolidation device. Nice tutorial! I have a TimeCapsule as well that I use specifically to backup all our macs. It’s drive is full (500GB) and I don’t have it backed up (I know .. bad idea).

    The NAS is RAID 5, so I keep anything important out there, and with 1TB, I have plenty of space. I am currently looking at adding another 3-4TB to that puppy as well now that 1TB drives are so cheap. Right now, it has 4 320GB drives running software RAID under Linux. I have the parts to rebuild it with hardware RAID5, but I haven’t run out of room yet.

  6. My setup is a lot like DJFelix’s. I keep all my music/movies on my Drobo that hangs off a server that lives in my basement. Every machine (PC, Mac, tv, linux, etc) in the house has access to it via AFP/CIFS/NFS. Just copy your stuff to said Drobo, drag-n-drop to iTunes, and boom. As long as when I get home my MB mounts the right share in the right mountpoint, iTunes doesn’t know the difference.

    @DJFelix – Get a Drobo and hang it off the TimeCap. You can jam a TON of storage into it (up to 4TB, but that’s with disks available today). and you don’t have to deal with all the fuss of rebuilding a (HW|SW) RAID5. You’d have plenty of room to backup your TimeCap.

  7. I’d do it if I didn’t travel so much. For now, though, I keep big movie files on the Time Capsule. Then, before going on another trip, I copy the ones I want to watch over to iTunes on my MBP and delete others from my MBP. I could get a portable HD instead (or use extra space on my 120GB iPod… hmm..), but this is serving my purposes for now.

  8. @Michael: drag’n’drop the timecapsule volume to your “Login Items” and mac will automount the TC at startup.

    1. How do I do that? In Finder? I couldn´t find the “Login Items” you mentioned….Could you plz explain me?

  9. This is ridiculous, I just bought a time capsule to store all of my video which has successfully filled up my hard drive only to discover that Apple has disabled storage for imvovie events on external HD/server. Extremely disappointed and annoyed. If anyone one knows an efficient workaround I would be grateful.

  10. @ ronanc —

    Try this: Copy the iMovie Events folder to the Time Capsule, and rename the original to something else to “hide” it from iMovie (I called mine “iMovie Events Original” to test this tip). Go to the copy on the TC and make an alias, then drag that alias back to your computer and rename it “iMovie Events”.

    iMovie will “open” the alias, which directs it to the folder on the TC.

    I first heard of this tip as a way to store movies and other files on an external HD (including a TC) and make them playable through Front Row. Turns out that it works with iMovie, too.

    1. I bought the 1tb timecapsule and when I try to save anything to it, it states is it read only and will not allow the transfers… how can I make it NOT a backup, but a HD that I can save all my media files to? Sorry – VERY new mac user and frustrated with my purchase

    2. Does this work with iTunes also, because then the whole tutorial would not be needed…

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