Things were simpler when you would have a stack of VHS tapes that you recorded yourself next to your VCR. There was no YouTube(s GOOG) or Facebook(s FB) and the internet was far away from your television set. Fast forward 10 years and not only are there no longer any tapes, but almost every viewing solution out there just assumes that you want to share all of your video files on the internet for the whole world to see. So what if you just want to view them in your own house on your own HDTV? The following is a guide to some of the techniques you can use when you just want to watch one of your home movies in the privacy of your own home using the Apple TV, a Mac or an iOS device.(s AAPL)
Using your Apple TV
If your home is fully equipped with Apple products, the easiest way to watch home movies privately is by using an Apple TV. There are several options to display your home movies on your Apple TV, it just depends on which Apple device you happen to have your movies on.
From your iOS device: With point and shoot cameras dropping in sales by 30 percent in recent months, more people are using their iPhones to capture all of their personal moments on video. Provided you are running iOS 4.3 or greater, when the video files are still on your iPhone, you can view them directly on the AppleTV using AirPlay. Simply turn on your Apple TV, tap on the AirPlay icon and select which AppleTV you want to view your videos on.
Directly from your Mac: If you do not have an iPhone, and you have been off loading your video files from your digital camera directly to your Mac, you can still use AirPlay from your Mac to watch your videos on your Apple TV. Macs running OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion can also stream their entire screens directly to an Apple TV using AirPlay Mirroring.
If you do not have a newer generation AirPlay-capable Mac (mid-2011 or newer), you still have two choices. The first is an app in the Mac App Store called HUDTube ($4.99, Mac). This is the only video player app in the Mac App Store that supports streaming to an Apple TV using AirPlay. With HudTube, you simply drag and drop the video file you want to view, and select the Apple TV you wish to stream to.
The second solution for your Mac is to use a product called Air Parrot ($9.99, Mac). This product brings the same AirPlay streaming capabilities to older Macs. One nice feature that Air Parrot has that Apple’s own AirPlay Mirroring does not is the ability to select just one app window. This feature is called “App Mirroring.” As an example, with App Mirroring you can display just the QuickTime Player rather then your entire desktop.
Home Sharing from iTunes: You can also use iTunes on your Mac to stream your home movies to your Apple TV. Beginning with version 10.1 of iTunes, you have been able to share your video files alongside your photos with Home Sharing. Home Sharing is a way to share your entire iTunes Library on your local network to all of your Apple devices. It is easy to enable, but does require that you have an iTunes account. Keep in mind that all Home Sharing will be limited to devices that are configured with that account.
Once you have Home Sharing enabled in iTunes, from iTune’s File menu go back to Home Sharing menu item and click on “Choose Photos to Share with AppleTV.” Here you can select either an iPhoto Library, an Aperture Library, or any other folder on your Mac containing photos and videos you want to share. Just be sure to check “Include Videos” when you first set this up.
To watch your shared movies, you must also enable Home Sharing on your Apple TV. Now you will be able to select any one of the movies you shared by accessing them from the “Computer” icon on the home menu of your Apple TV. Even thought they are videos, they will be listed under “Photos” of your computer’s Home Sharing library. Keep in mind that this Home Sharing solution is limited to your devices connected to your home network.
Direct connection with cables
If you do not have an Apple TV connected to your HDTV, the next best thing is to use a cable to connect your Apple device directly to your HDTV. How you connect to the HDTV will depend on which Apple product you have and the type of connectors your television supports. For the most recent Macs that come equipped with either a mini display port or Thunderbolt, there is the Belkin Mini DisplayPort to HDMI Adapter for $34.95 which will allow you to connect your Mac to an HDTV using an HDMI connection.
For your iPhone, iPod touch and iPad that still has the older 30-pin connector, you can use the Apple Composite AV Cable for $39. While this is not an HDMI solution, it does connect to a wider variety of home theater equipment. There are also the Lightning Digital AV Adapter for $49 that works with the iPhone 5 and latest version of the iPad that come with the new Lightning connector. Each of these solutions will allow you to play back your movies from your Apple device directly to your HDTV.
Copy files to USB thumb drive
If your Mac is not near your home theater equipment, or you just don’t want to mess with cables every time you want to watch a home movie, you may be able to watch your video files from a USB thumb drive. Many of todays home theater appliances come equipped with a USB port. The challenge here is getting your home videos into a format that your device can display. To convert mine, I have always used Handbrake (Free, Mac). Handbrake is capable of reading in a wide variety of video formats and can export to the industry standard H.264.
If you are looking for a solution that works just as well, but is available through the Mac App Store, then try Smart Converter Pro ($4.99, Mac). Like Handbrake, Smart Converter Pro can convert all of your home movies in a batch process. Unlike Handbrake, it can also encode your home movies to DivX, a popular video format that a lot of older home theater equipment still supports. Once you have your home movies in the format that you need, simply copy them over to your USB thumb drive and plug it into your home theater equipment.
Host your own UPnP/DLNA media server
Another option is to host your own Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) or Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) media server from your Mac. Most smart HDTVs, Blu-ray Disc players, Roku and popular game consoles like the XBox(s MSFT) and Playstation(s SNE) all can play videos served up by a UPnP/DLNA server. The problem with this solution historically has been finding a media server solution that your home theater appliance works well with. This sounds complicated but it really is not. It is basically the same thing that iTunes does via AirPlay to the Apple TV outlined above. Just think of UPnP/DLNA as AirPlay for the rest of the home theater market.
For the Mac, there are two popular media server solutions that are UPnP/DLNA compliant. The first is Plex Media Server (Free, Mac). Plex has been around for a while now and has done a great job of ensuring that its solution works well on a wide variety of devices. Once installed, there are tutorials and instructions to help publish your local video files over your home network.
The second solution that does not have nearly all of the features the Plex has — but does a great job at serving up a folder full of home movies — is Serviio (Free, Mac). Both solutions are easy to set up and will provide access to your home movies to almost any UPnP/DLNA compliant device attached to your home network.
There are several options available to you when it comes to watching home movies at home. Not every solution requires that you use only Apple products to record and watch your home movies. Each one offers its own benefits, from being able to play back your recently recorded videos directly from your iPhone, to storing years of home movies on your Mac and being able to bring them up any time you want to view them.