Using Time Capsule as a Media Drive

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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