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My Idea for an Apple Living Room Experience

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The question for the past few years has been simple: who’s going to make it into the living room first. The market is growing, features are being added, but no clear victor has been declared.

I think I may have come upon a conclusion that appeases almost everyone. Bear with me, it’s a bit loopy. I plan on purchasing an Apple TV, 40 gig (to save money at first). Then by hacking it, get it to run OS X. Understandably a bit slower then most Macs, the Apple TV will at least be able to run core applications within the OS.

Then I plan on re-installing the Apple TV software as a separate application. Not only will my Apple TV function as a both, since it’s running OS X, I can plug in my Miglia HD USB Tuner. I can use my MacBook to set up programming over the web, and have Migila default to record shows in the Apple TV format. Then have it automatically delete after viewing or save as necessary.

To get around the different subsystems, including launching applications I might need a heavier remote application. I suggest checking out Remote Buddy. The app will breath new life into your Apple remote. Not only can you launch applications, you’ll be able to function without a keyboard and mouse for most other uses within your computers platform. Here’s some extra Apple remote tips just in case. But now you’ll be able to access iTunes or iPhote, stream content, or just check out the weather using Dashboard. With Perian and OS X installed, DivX will be a cinch to install, not to mention upgrading your hard drive should be pretty straight forward.

Not only will that help get you the shows you want, but since besides YouTube, the Apple TV is a bit lacking in streaming content from the web, you’ll now be able to access Hulu right from your big screen. To make accessing Hulu even easier, you can save it as an “application” using Fluid. If you haven’t heard of Fluid, it takes your favorite web apps and creates an independent, executable application for it, icons and everything. Hell you can even Cover Flow through your RSS from your TV. No muss no fuss.

If anyone has already considered this or has tried it out, I’d love to hear about it, please comment below.

23 Responses to “My Idea for an Apple Living Room Experience”

  1. Just adding a “here-here!” for the Mini. Your ATV idea is just asking for trouble — hacking a very closed/limited system to work a certain way … a system that might not have enough power and/or might break with the next software update. When making a ‘cost’ decision, you *have* to keep that in mind.

    With a mini, you are paying more for a system designed to do just about anything without being hacked. You’ll be customizing a relatively open system instead of ‘breaking’ a pretty closed system.

    I have a mini hooked up to my HDTV and just use Front Row to interface with everything I’ve loaded into iTunes. It is wonderful, and I have the side benefit of a real computer to use in the living room should I want to do so. I love it, no hacking or voided warranties, should serve me for a few years.

    Keep an eye on refurb minis in the apple store to save some bucks!

  2. davedownunder

    been trying to do exactly the same thing for a while. havent taken the plunge yet as didnt want to completely toast my working ATV. from the research I have done it does look possible but that the ATV is very slow and may not be up to the job of grabbing the content with the eyetv stick. Please, please follow up on progress of this as I am reluctant to purchase a Mac mini at this stage (which seems to be the easiest way to achieve this)

  3. Arvin Dang

    I think it’s kind of coincidental, but Lifehacker just posted something about Mac Mini’s as an entertainment center, so I thought I’d post here as well:

    They cover some of the things you guys have all said in the comments. Seems almost collective that the Mac Mini should be it. How many of you actually use Elgato EyeTV or something similar? Or is it mainly on demand content (just download what you watch?)

  4. Like many others here I would stay away from the AppleTV for what you are trying to accomplish. Just not enough guts. I have a MacMini plugged directly into my plasma TV with a DVI – HDMI cable, and optical audio running through my surround sound system. As a stand alone this system worked great for quite awhile until my libraries started to get bigger and I was starting to run 1080p resolution images. The MacMini just doesn’t have the graphics ability to draw that many pixels. I now have a MacPro (yes it is more expensive, but using it helps me pay my bills) that holds all my content. I then mount my iTunes hard drive on my Mini which is still connected to my TV. Now Im not limited on space for my content and just use FrontRow to access everything. It’s good, not great, but does everything I really need it to do. As far as running my 1080p content I’m just about to buy a new graphics card so I can power everything off my Pro. (both stock DVI ports are connected to Cinema Displays)

    Long answer but I just don’t think AppleTV has the power…

  5. First of all, the software should work properly. Anyone who tried to watch a movie with subtitles in Leopard’s Front Row would agree.. The fact that this is still not fixed is outrageous and very un-Apple-like..

    You can find a post on my blog about this issue with instructions to downgrade to Tiger’s Front Row…

  6. Arvin Dang

    I love the Mac Mini, don’t get me wrong. I agree that it’s a solid entertainment fixture, but like NT says, it really came down to cost and working with the ATV if possible.

    A lot of good feedback was given though, I hadn’t heard of PyeTV before and I’m interested in using it a bit more. I’ll see if any refurb Mac Mini’s come out soon, or maybe I’ll just stick with an ATV and push content to it (recording on my Macbook and copy it over).

    Out of curiosity, since you all seem to either use XBMC or a Mac Mini what do you think Apple could possibly change in order to fulfill this market? It seems like we can already create what we need, so why would they need to provide anything new? I’ve always been vocal in my ideal hopes for a subscription rental model with new tv shows, and the ability to watch a vast source of archived material, which Hulu is now beginning to take up. But what else do you guys want to see in devices?

  7. Just to clarify why I recommended getting a Mini over the ATV. Yes the ATV is cheaper, but the processes Arvin was looking to go through are risky (warranty will be void) and as he described his process it made it sound like he wanted to use it as more than just a “movie” player.

    I recommend the Mini because it has higher specs, can play HD content, is more likely to last longer and with Tiger it can use the ATV interface.

  8. @Arvin: if you have all your content in iTunes, then I guess an ATV would do… Especially, if you aren’t looking to do 1080p .mkv. But you might wanna keep in mind that most content you are going to get in the near future will most probably need the extra horsepower and the ATV will be commisioned to the bedroom then.. ;)

  9. The biggest hurdle I had hacking my AppleTV was building the patchstick. The good news is that with a patchstick, you can hack the AppleTV without cracking the case and voiding the warranty.

    I didn’t replace the menu on the ATV, but I did add Perian. I have a 1TB NAS that I mount via NFS where I keep about 300GB of TV shows that I download via RSS feed / torrent. I also have a 500GB time capsule, so I have the benefit of N speed wireless.

    I used to run an old-school Xbox with XBMC to view all my videos on the big screen downstairs. The ATV beats it hands-down.

    A mini is overkill unless you -*must*- browse on the TV, which I don’t. I have a macbook pro for browsing and such. If you just want something that will hook-up and play your recorded videos, the ATV is the best option. I haven’t considered adding an HDTV tuner to it, although that would be pretty cool. If it had cablecard and downloadable schedules, I could ditch the DVR I’m renting from the cable co.

    Post a follow-up when you pull the trigger. I’m curious.

  10. alangenh

    My living room has a 1st gen macbook hooked up to an external hard drive and my TV. It is powerful enough to download multimedia and keep it all organized. It is plugged into my cable modem too, and sharing internet with the rest of the house, since my very old airport base station stopped working. This actually gives me fewer problems than I’d anticipated.

    I like Sofa Control over Remote Buddy; that’s what I purchased and it’s working great for me. I use that for most interaction with it; I don’t use Front Row often.

  11. @Arvin: Any particular reason not to go go with the ATV?

    Well, you want to hack ATV to install OSX, Perian, plug USB tuner. With a Mac Mini you don’t need this. Mini starts at 80 gig drive, faster processor enables you to play 1080p HD content. Even you can install ATV4mac and you have ATV in a Mac. Mini is easier to upgrade than ATV.

    ATV is slimmer and cheaper, yes, but I think that this difference is worth.

  12. Sachin Patel

    Don’t forget that the Apple TV software still can’t run on Leopard, so you’d need to install Tiger on it. Unless it’s been updated, that is.

  13. Why don’t you just get a Microsoft Media Center machine, tt comes with Vista Home Premium. Plug in a tuner card and a IR remote. You’re done. MCE’s features are pretty decent. It’s a matured product. Without starting a flame war, why go through all this trouble to do something that has already been done?

  14. Guys- can we deal with what the author actually wrote instead of just telling him to buy a mini? I think it was made pretty clear in the article that he was buying an ATV to save money. The cheapest mini is triple the price- we’re not talking about an incremental difference.

    That said, all my research about hacking an ATV leads me to believe that it is dicey at best…difficult even for extreme nerds. Have others heard differently?

  15. If you are going to go through all that you might as well get a Mac Mini. It’ll stand you in better stead and have a longer life for the way you plan to use it.

    I’d also take a look at pyetv for using EyeTV through FrontRow.

  16. @muzo, Merrin: I’ve used xbmc and I actually have it set up on my xbox already, but most of my content is delivered through iTunes (e.g. all my videos are handbraked or isquinted and iTunes ready). I was considering the Mac Mini, but ideally I was hoping to save a few hundred by getting the ATV. Plus I was going for a slimmer set up, and I really don’t need the DVD drive either.

    Any particular reason not to go go with the ATV? Or is it just because it has a slower processor?

  17. You might wanna scratch that AppleTV idea and get a Mac Mini in order to be able to play HD content on it..

    You should definitely take a look at OSXBMC, especially with the Aeon or Xtv skins. The iTunes and iPhoto integration aren’t done yet, but there is a simple plugin which enables you to launch XBMC via Frontrow.

    Remote Buddy is a kick ass application, especially for a vast library of 15000 tracks in iTunes. Scrolling to, say, Zwicker with Front Row takes a while, but you can just jump to letter Z using the iPhone interface of Remote Buddy. And you can do this from the other room ;)

    I’ve been running this setup for a while now and it is ace.