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.



Is it still applicable if Time Capsule is shared by 2 computers for backups ?
Ex: computer number 1 and computer number 2 (both wants to backup)
If computer number 1 user wants to copy 1 file only is it possible to drag this file directly on Time Capsule reserved for computer 1. Is it necessary to partition ?

Allan Bo Christiansen

Hi there.. I have just tried some of you tricks and everything seems to work with Iphoto and Itunes. You just gotta be aware that you have you files at a backup in case something happens and NOT panic IF you think something is wrong. Then you will end up like I did at the first time, having the trouble by creating ALL my playlists again…

Besides that everything is great!

Steve Exeter

After a lengthy discussion with two different Mac “Geniuses” in store explaining exactly what set up I had and what I was hoping to achieve I was assured that the Time Capsule was fit for purpose. I wanted to move my 750gb and growing iTunes library off of a USB drive and have my PC download all new iTunes content direct to the Time Capsule and have it able to be streamed direct to my Apple TV. Aside from the fact you need to run a PC with iTunes open for the Apple TV to see the content on the Time Capsule the real problem here is the speed, it’s way too slow to managed the size of the data especially if you have a lot of HD content as I do. Really disappointed, first Apple experience I’ve had that truly sucked!

stuart mallows

Hi, I wondered if anyone could help me please, it does involve the Time Capsule 500gb, right, I have a 160gb apple tv at the moment with a atv flash patch, to use boxee etc. this also allows you to use an external source hard drive via the usb, anyway what I would like to do is to plug the TC 500gb into the apple tv, via a usb cable, and copy movies wireless to the TC 500gb and be able to play them throught the apple tv, sounds simple, I am unable to do this as everytime I turn the TC on it tries to back up with time machine, how can I turn the TC into a stand alone wireless hard drive without time machine kicking in, I have tried calling apple and they say I will need to go into a store, but the nearest store is 2hrs away and it’s a long way to go for someone to say sorry can’t help, can anyone please help, thank you Stu


Hiya, I used to do this when i lived back in NZ. This worked seamlessly and I was backing up to the Time Capsule and syncing the Apple TV to my library on the Time Capsule.

Since i’ve moved to Melbourne, Australia I can’t seem to replicate that set up.

Any suggestions how I can access the media on my Time Capsule? The network just won’t read the disk.
I’ve tried soft and hard resets and nothing seems to be happening



Bridget Hargrave

This might be a dumb question, but I chose the option to just change the location in preferences and consolidate. I tried moving the files myself but kept getting an error message that some files would not transfer. When it is done transferring all the files do I have to delete them from my macbook? In other words, it it actually transferring them to my TC, or just copying them?


One question still not answered anywhere… Can I use the same TC as a network drive still not loosing it’s backup (time machine) capabilities? Will the time machine drive still be accessible normally as a network drive or maybe I could make two partitions on the TC internal drive and then assign one partition for backup and use other as a network drive? Of course I know about connecting external HDD, but the question is about using internal drives only and not buying two time capsules…


This ha been a great read and answered many of my time capsule questions. the big one for me is in the original review/blog you said “As someone who likes to back up regularly, I use the aforementioned Lacie disk to regularly mirror the Time Capsule to” How do you do this? I know about the archive button in airport utility but that means copying the whole drive again. Is there a way of doing a smart update to copy only the files that have changed (in the way superduper does with wired drives)????????? I will Aperture = Wired Firewire. Imovie =Wired firewire. Finished FCP projects and movies = Time Capsule (streamed viewing on Mac or apple TV). Itunes x 2 library’s .. one on Time Capsule and one (smaller) on Macbook Pro. Time Capsule version synced to Apple TV. Anyway how to back Time capsule 2 TB without loosing it for 2 days (even with ethernet)

Tanks everyone


“Gigabit ethernet — while not as fast as USB…”

This statement is incorrect, USB can only go up to 480Mbps whereas Gigabit (as the name states) goes up to 1000Mbps.
As expected from these specs, I indeed see the same file copied twice faster to another computer other the gigabit network than to the attached USB2 drive.

Comments are closed.