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Using Time Capsule as a Media Drive

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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.

48 Responses to “Using Time Capsule as a Media Drive”

  1. Marco Bes

    How can you also move your existing playlists across? Would this do the trick?

    “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.”

  2. Richard Ellis McCallum

    Hi, I’ve had my Time Capsule set up exactly as this since I first bought my TC when they first came out. It’s all worked flawlessly ever since but after installing Snow leopard I can no longer get the TC to mount on my desktop as a hard drive and iTunes keeps losing it as my library preference.

    It still works intermittently and is now mounted as a ‘Sharepoint’ but scheduling a back up from the TC to an external attached to the USB socket is a definite no-no. That means I can no longer back up my 40000+ music library and now I’m looking at buying another ‘proper’ NAS server…



  3. Great tutorial for the iTunes part!

    However, I cannot make it work with iPhoto. Every time, I tried to drag the iPhoto Library to my Time Capsule disk, I get an error message after copying 18MB saying:

    “The Finder can’t complete the operation because some data in “Rebuilt Library 2” can’t be read or written. (Error code -36)”.

    I tried to rebuild my iPhoto Library using iPhoto Library Manager, but it did not help. Any ideas?


  4. I followed your instructions, and for the most part works great. One minor issue I keep running into, when I purchase music via iTunes, a new folder gets created on my mac for iTunes music and the purchased items are stored there. I constantly have to move them. Workaround? Thanks!!

  5. Daniel Kelleher

    I am running an older macbook and the hard drive is almost full of music and photos etc. Can’t afford a new macbook so looking to use TC as the drive to store everything on. This tutorial indicates that it will work. As I am bit of a novice at these things I have a question. Once I have done all of the above do i need to do anything about “deleting” material from the macbook or does the above mean my hard drive will finally be free!? Sorry if this is a dumb question but i really am a complete novice at this stuff

  6. Nick Babenko

    This is a great solution. I’ve been using it for a while now but I’m having some issues with it now, not sure what’s causing it but it crashes my iTunes when I play a song, I always open a new folder on my Time Capsule, to ensure it’s running, even though I never needed to but 9 times out of 10 iTunes doesn’t seem to like what’s happening. Also, when it does play it skips frequently so I can’t get a full song. I’ve tried so many fixes but none of them fix the issues I’m having.

    I agree that Apple should release some sort of media device to store music, videos and photos. It would make things so much easier, especially if Apple made it, it would work seamlessly.


    Hi folks, ihad use the tutorial and all works fine but i have a question. I think that this tutorial made TC works without Macbook, i mean when i show the movies or tv shows on my apple tv i need that my macbook it is on with itunes run cos if i turn off the itunes the apple tv dont find the media folder of TC. i dont know if thats fine cos i was thinking that i can put all my media in TC and dont use the macbook.

  8. Will this work for more than one user? Like can I dump all of my and my wives music onto the TC then make both our iTunes directories that folder?

    Merry X-mas and a happy new year

  9. I have the media files on my TC. I can access Shared movies and photos on my AppleTv but, can not access my music. Have consoladated them /share marked and every other thing but still no music…ideas???
    The itunes is on a PC serving as a home server of sorts.

    If I access my MBP from A Tv i can use all three movies, photos and music. But I want the family to have access when I travel.

  10. To answer the questions from Blaine and Chris, both AppleTV and AirTunes require access to an iTunes library in order tosync/stream content. Although the media files themselves can exist on an TimeCapsule/network drive, as things stand, the iTunes library itself must be open on a networked computer before either the AppleTV or the AirTunes device can access the media files. We’ll just have to cross our fingers and hope Apple brings out some form of advanced ‘iTunes media server’, allowing passive streaming and syncing of media files to any networked device.

  11. This is all really useful! I wonder if someone might help answer a question…

    I currently use AirTunes to play music from my MacBook Pro. I’d like to use a setup like this to play music stored on a Time Capsule on my stereo via AirTunes. However, it seems that the only way I could do this is to continue to play it through my MBP; the pain about that is that it requires the MBP to be open. Is there any way to circumvent the MBP? Perhaps by controlling it using the iPhone remote app?

    Thanks in advance!

  12. to make this a bit clearer…I want to use the tc as the source not my mbp. If it needs itunes then I want the xp to be used so the system can be used all the time not just when I’m on the lan.

  13. I have a mixedture of mbp & xp desk computers on my lan. I have a TC 1 tb, Apple TV and want to store movies on the tc and access them via appleTV at home and…thru SlingBox while traveling. I created a file on the TC and placed movies in there…but appleTV won’t access them…it uses itunes on my mbp. I tried to redirect the xp machines itunes and it does not see the TC on the lan.
    Any ideas?

  14. I also created this set up for my iTunes library. One thing I can’t figure out though is increasing the download speeds. Downloading a movie from iTunes store is slow slow, especially with wireless security on. How do I solve this without turning off wireless security and even with it off it’s slower then my older router was?

  15. I Am Thinking Of Getting A TC In The New Year As We Did Have A Windows File Server, We Have A XP Laptop, My MacBook And My Old Vista Laptop (That Was The Server), But Having Looked At Our Set Up On Which Has ~6.5TB Of Storage If I Got A Time Capsule Then I Could Link All Of The External Hard Drives (6 1TB And 1 750GB) To It Via 1/2 USB Hubs Then I Could Also Share Our Printers. At The Moment Though All Of Our Storage Is Linked To My Mac As The Vista Laptop Is Way Too Slow. Also I Have Used Time Machine And It Is Brilliant And A TC Would Solve All My Problems And Look Cool On My Desk. I Would Also Use It To Host Our Local Intranet.


    Apple Mac Boy!
    (Aged 14)

    If You Are Wondering Why I Do All Of This Then It Is Because My Parents Are USELESS At It All!

  16. Good writeup. I actually did this a while ago too with a little different setup. i have a Time Capsule with a Drobo attached via the USB port. While the TC handles all Time Machine backups, I store all of my photos and music on the Drobo.

    My wife and I access the Drobo from separate computers, letting us listen to music just fine.

    One question I had for you is that we are using iPhoto for the photo part, and when we bring up iPhoto, the loading of images is super slow to the computer. Is it faster wih Aperture, or do you think it’s a bottleneck with my Drobo rather than having everything on the TC.

  17. @ 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.

    • 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

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. brianicus

    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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. hkiphone

    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?

  25. 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?

    • 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?