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Need some help/advice on a home theater/computer setup


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fleurya

 
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So one of my goals when I finished grad school was to design a kicin' home theater setup complete with an HTPC. I'm hoping some folks can help make some good decisions before spending a lot of money. I already have a A/V receiver and speakers and I'm planning on getting a 65" rear projection HDTV for max picture for the $$. A will also either have Insight cable or satellite TV.

I pretty much plan on getting a Mac Mini as my HTPC with EyeTV to use to watch my cable/satellite TV with DVR capability, possibly Netflix/iTunes video rentals, and share my iTunes and ripped DVD library over a network connection with my computer at my desk. (Bootcamp for Netflix until they get Mac capability) I'm wondering if Windows with MCE would be a better choice.
- What do you think is the best for HTPC?
- Could I still share my iTunes and ripped DVD's with Windows and OS X?
- Could I still play my ripped DVD's video.ts files in Windows?
- I understand Mac Mini can't do surround sound, so if there a way to get surround sound from a Mini?
- Does the EyeTV work with cable/satellite or just over the air programming? Is there something similar that works with cable/satellite?

I want to be able to share all of my media resources with my MBP at my desk upstairs.
- Would this be possible with this setup?
- Elgato says EyeTV can share a video source as long as you have an EyeTV for each computer, but is this necessary? Is there another way?


Any help you can offer, tips/tricks, additional info, or other sources for this kind of info would be appreciated.

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umang7888

 
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You can share your files between Mac OSX & windows using SMB in Mac OSX.

You can also play your Video_TS directories in Windows using VLC player...

For surrondsound you can get an external soundcard....

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Lifeisabeach

 
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Actually the Mini does have an optical-out jack... you need an adapter to use a standard TOSLINK optical cable with it.

I'm planning on pimping out my home theater also since I finally got an HDTV. I just want to comment on those rear projection TVs though. While they are a great deal for the money, the biggest problem with them is narrow viewing angle they afford. I was seriously considering Samsung's rear projection, but they just look awful if you stand off a bit to the side. I think it'd be a great choice for a narrow living room, but if you have a wide one, I'd seriously consider something else.

Ok... that aside... since you'd be set for surround sound with the Mini using the adapter, I don't see the point in using a Windows-based solution. What I'm not sure about though is the EyeTV device. Offhand, it looks to me it only is used for local broadcast channels. I'm at work and their website isn't working properly for me at the moment so I'm not able to fully look into that. If that's true, then your options for using the Mini in place of a set top box for DVR is very limited and dependent on your provider. Speaking for myself, I have Time-Warner cable. Since their HDTV channels are considered "premium" content, a programmable set top box is required, and currently their service only supports one box... a Scientific Atlanta model with TW's custom firmware. It's also buggy, if you use HDMI, but that's a rant for another day! So... while I would personally love to have a Mac (or PC if need be) serve as a DVR for my cable service, it simply isn't an option.
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fleurya

 
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I have a feeling EyeTV does not work for anything but over the air television. I glanced at the site which talks a lot about over the air, but seems completely silent about cable or satellite. I suppose that means it's not possible. Maybe someone who already has it can chime in.

Without that capability, I'm thinking Apple TV may be all I need to do what I need after all. Here's a rundown of what I would like:

- Record TV (sounds like this will not be an option for either ATV or Mini)
- rip DVD's/play video.ts (can rip on my MBP, but can ATV play them like Front Row?)
- play iTunes content
- share video/music/photos with MBP stored on a networked drive
- play Netflix instant movies (I'm not even sure on this one, may be on ATV soon anyway)
- play iTunes movies (get HD movies with ATV only anyway, right?)

Other than having regular computer capabilities in my living room, which I don't necessarily need, are there any other advantages to having a Mini instead of an ATV in terms of home entertainment?

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bobtomay

 
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Am currently looking at doing the same thing. I also want to have a central iTunes server in that HTPC, that multiple users would be able to sync their iPhones and iPods from their own machines. Also need to be able to stream to the video and music to another TV via a PS3.

The research I have started so far - am still torn between getting a mini or just getting a copy of Vista to throw on my old windows machine to try it out. I really don't want another Win box, especially with Vista. That's why I bought my first Mac to begin with.

But,

Surround sound - While Mac's have an optical out, it is stereo only. The sound card in Mac's do not have 5.1 capability. For this, you will have to get an external USB sound card to attach to the mini. There are several available. Just off-hand I've seen Griffin, M-audio, Zalman and a couple of others.

Attaching your satellite to a computer - any computer, until this month could only be done via composite and s-video. This is the case with the EyeTV also. Hauppage just came out with a new model this month with a component input. I have been using a computer for DVR functionalilty since '99. This is the first device I have seen in that time that will allow any input above 480 into a computer from an external source. And it will accept 720p and 1080i. All the software that comes with it is Win only, and no real reviews yet. Only a few regurgitating the sales info and specs.

There are a couple of programs out there that will share video - but from what I have found so far, Elgato's EyeConnect looks to be the premium of the bunch at this time.

for iLife suite integrations with PS3 try Nullriver
Centerstage - although no news out of them since last Nov.
Twonkymedia
Here's a great site with a lot of link's to the available software for serving up your media

There are a couple of decent how-to's out there - thought I bookmarked 'em, but apparently not. Most of the stuff out there is from '05 and prior - they're also pretty basic and not specific enough for what many of us want to do.

You may also want to do some reading here.

BTW, When I was looking I almost bought the high end Panny plasma for $5k on sale - Love my Toshiba 65" LCD rear projection - if you can find one it's got a great pic. And the extended warranties on rear projection TV's are worthwhile as long as they take care of replacing the bulb, which you'll need at least once before the warranty is up.

(If you like the speed of ripping DVD's in windows, having an ISO or a video_ts file ready to play, the ATV will not work for you. You'll have to spend hours re-encoding them all into a format the ATV can play.)

Still have a lot more research to do before I plunk my money down, but the ATV is def out of the picture for me. Netflix has also just put their first set top box on sale today. $100, currently streams your pick of 10,000 movies and TV shows instantly (on a good broadband connection that is). And included in your monthly DVD rental rate.

edit, again: Here is the Mac HTPC area.

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fleurya

 
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Thanks for the info. I'm thinking that I may go with Vista for an HTPC so I can get HD video through a TV tuner card and be able to record TV from cable/satellite. I'm still not sure if EyeTV can be used for anything but over the air TV.

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bobtomay

 
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EyeTV Hybrid and the 250 Plus can be used for anything (DVD, satellite, cable, VHS, Xbox, PS, etc.) that can be connected to a TV with either composite (the old RCA type plug) or S-video. This is the same for every Windows, Linux and Mac TV tuner card on the market. The only HD you will get through any of them is over-the air.

Except for the single Hauppage card I posted about above ($250), which just came out this month. For which, there is yet to be any confirmation that it will indeed enable you to record HD from an external source. It is already hard to get, and once the real reviews come out, and it does work, they won't be able to keep up with the demand for it.

And Gefen has one, ($1000) that has 4 HDMI connections, 1 component and will not allow the recording of anything with HDCP. Also, just out.

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fleurya

 
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Thanks again for the info. +virtual rep! (I'm getting the message that I need to spread some rep around)

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Lifeisabeach

 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bobtomay View Post
Surround sound - While Mac's have an optical out, it is stereo only. The sound card in Mac's do not have 5.1 capability. For this, you will have to get an external USB sound card to attach to the mini. There are several available. Just off-hand I've seen Griffin, M-audio, Zalman and a couple of others.
DOH! Looks like I read some bad/incomplete info on that when I said it could do it. Thanx for setting the record straight.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lifeisabeach View Post
DOH! Looks like I read some bad/incomplete info on that when I said it could do it. Thanx for setting the record straight.
Well 5.1, it's a pretty convoluted mess on the Mac side from all I can read about it. Getting it to pass 5.1 thru on all your media is a royal pain it looks like. Install Perian and do a little editing for some file types, but not others. VLC will passthru AC-3, but not Front Row or Quicktime... it's going to take me a bunch more reading to come up with a definitive answer on exactly what will and will not work.

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Lifeisabeach

 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bobtomay View Post
Well 5.1, it's a pretty convoluted mess on the Mac side from all I can read about it. Getting it to pass 5.1 thru on all your media is a royal pain it looks like. Install Perian and do a little editing for some file types, but not others. VLC will passthru AC-3, but not Front Row or Quicktime... it's going to take me a bunch more reading to come up with a definitive answer on exactly what will and will not work.
I did read one tip where you could get a Mac to pass through 5.1 when playing back DVDs. Might be useful for an HTPC if one wants to use a Mini in place of a regular DVD player (I for one wouldn't).
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fleurya

 
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Well, after some more research, I think I'm going to skip the HTPC after all in lieu of an Apple TV and convert all of my video using Handbrake and their ATV preset. The reason I'm going this route is because Slingbox can be used to control/view ATV remotely, and I will be doing a significant amount of travel. Here's what my setup will likely be:

- DirectTV with one of their receivers that doubles as a DVR
- Apple TV which I will use to stream all of my iTunes, iPhoto and movie content from a networked drive.
- Airport with wireless N for fast streaming.
- Bluray player
- 65" DLP rear projection TV (narrow viewing angle isn't an issue)
- Slingbox Pro to sling all of this media to my laptop, whether I'm at my desk upstairs or in a hotel room across the country

This is an optimal setup as I will need to do a lot of traveling for my job (70% of the time) and will allow me to access all of my media while away from home without taking it with me, and get a little more of money's worth out of my satellite service while away as well.

The only concerns I have now are: 1. does Handbrake conversion keep 5.1 sound so I will not lose it when converting to play on my home theater via ATV? And 2. can Apple TV access media on a networked drive, or does it have to actually be on a computer?

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