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Programming idea: "MacTV"


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kaidomac

 
Member Since: Jan 18, 2006
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I'm planning on learning Flash later this year and I was thinking about starting a little project dubbed "MacTV", which would basically be a souped-up version of Front Row. I think Front Row is pretty cool, but it lacks a few nice features like TV recording, better access to audio, etc. This idea started from an idea I had for a simple Mac Mini-based media center. The recipe is as follows:

-Mac Mini (1.42ghz, 1gb ram, combo drive, Airport, Bluetooth)
-Pioneer DVR-K05L DVD burner (8x, dual-layer)
-Hitach 7200rpm 100gb 2.5" hard drive
-Front Row Enabler
-Griffin Technology AirClickUSB remote control
-Apple DVI to Video Adapter (s-video or composite output)

This is a simple media center that would let you watch iTunes movies, listen to iTunes music, watch DVD movies, and watch iPhoto slideshows. The added benefit is that it's tiny. This is a great solution for a dorm-room or apartment-based home theater - add on a standard CRT TV set (tube or flat-panel) and plug the Mini into the s-video and stereo RCA inputs or add some computer speakers and voila, instant miniature media center. BTW, iTunes movies look just fine on a normal 4:3 non-HD television, with the exception of certain dark scenes (like the night scenes in the first episode of Lost, Season 1 - you get a lot of posterization, like purple and black blocks in the background). Engadget has a nice shot of what I'm thinking of.

I'm just going to ramble about some ideas I had for the rest of the post, so feel free to read on...

Then I got to thinking about other things. How would you load additional content, like new music or purchased iTunes videos, to the "Mini Media Center" from another computer? How could you control this without needing a keyboard or mouse? And, most importantly, how coud you integrate TiVo-like functionality? TV recording would be a must if you're really going to blow $700+ on a Mini for your media hub. So I added a couple other pieces to the recipe:

-EyeTV or Hauppauge recording hardware/software
-Better remote (Keyspan IR remote, ATi TV Wonder, etc.)
-miniStack Firewire hard drive (matches the Mac Mini, use it to save TV recordings - up too 500gb per drive)

The main problem is that so far I haven't found any TV recording software that will work on a TV screen and be legible. 800x600 on a standard television set from my PC laptop is somewhat readable, but there's no way I could easily manipulate a computer monitor-based interface for recording TV. Additionally, the software that is currently available, such as EyeTV 2, doesn't integrated everything like Front Row does (music, movies, photos). Thus task #1 becomes "design a unified user interface".

There are some other design considerations here. First, that the Mini will not play or record high-definition material. From what I've read, the Mini isn't quite powerful enough for that yet. Second, that the Mini will not be hooked up to a high-definition television set. I'm sure you can imagine the quality of a standard broadcast cable TV recording on a 42" high-definition plasma TV through s-video. Ugh. Another thing to consider is that the Intel-based Minis are most likely on the way, and possibly with an improved media center front end, supposedly code-named Kaleidoscope. If that happens, then this whole project would be pointless. I'd be a happy man though, especially if it really had a 3.5" hard drive!

A couple other things I'd really like are (1) a UPS (battery) similar to the miniStack, so you could toss it under your Mini and still have power-outage prevention, and (2) a miniStack-style TV recorder. I think it'd be neat to add a few of those building blocks to the Mini and have a sweet system...think of a Mac Mini stacked on top of a 500gb miniStack on top of a dual-tuner Mini-clone box on top of a UPS Mini-clone box. That'd be pretty sweet. There are other issues as well, such as how the Mini would switch television stations for recording if you're using a cable box and how you could get a universal remote such as the Logitech Harmony series to work with both the Mini and your home theater equipment.

My favorite way of starting projects is to work from end to beginning. By that I mean, define the vision first, then work backwards to get there. Assuming that I had to use current hardware, I think this is the route I would go:

-20"/24"/27"/32" non-HD 4:3 television with s-video input
-Mac Mini (1.42ghz, 1gb ram, combo drive, Airport, Bluetooth)
-Pioneer DVR-K05L DVD burner (8x, dual-layer)
-Hitach 7200rpm 100gb 2.5" hard drive
-Apple DVI to Video Adapter (for s-video output)
-M-Audio Transit (USB soundcard with optical output for surround-sound)
-Receiver with optical input, 5 speakers, subwoofer
-EyeTV or Happauge recording hardware
-Cable TV without a cable box

Here is what I would want it to do:

1. Have a cool, easy interface like Front Row
2. Have two methods of accessing music: either by text selection, but using a better system than Front Row currently uses, or by using CoverFlow, which is like the Best Thing Ever
3. Break it into the following categories: Music, Movies, Photos. Maybe even cut out Photos, as I don't know how useful that would actually be. From there, break it down into like Movies > Watch TV, Record TV, watch recorded TV, watch a DVD, watch an iTunes movie. Either that or break the main categories into Music, TV, DVD, Movies, and Photos. Or even make it user-customizable.
4. Be able to access everything - easily - through a remote, no keyboard or mouse required
5. Have the following functionality:
Music:
-import a CD
-transfer music from another computer to the Mini (maybe a "Sync" mode)
-play music (individually, by artist, by genre, etc.)
-play random selection (completely random or by favorites)
-burn a CD
DVDs:
-play DVDs
-maybe record DVDs by ripping to an easily-playable format. imo it's better just to leave it on the discs, too much of a waste of time and good hard drive space
iTunes movies:
-play full-screen
Television:
-watch TV
-record TV
-wake up Mini from sleep to record TV
-Burn DVDs with selected recorded shows
-Record entire seasons (no more having to stay up late to watch "My Name is Earl"!)
Photos:
-import photos
-watch slideshows with music
-view pictures
Misc:
-Launch screensaver after a period of inactivity so as not to burn-in TV
Basically, I want to be able to sit down on my couch, turn on my TV, wake up my computer, and watch a DVD, listen to music, or see photos. I don't wait a pain-in-the-neck system. I don't want 500 features that I'll never use. I think the whole iLife idea is great; when I got my first Mac (a G4 Cube) a couple months ago, I thought it was fantastic that I could import photos from my camera, click a button, and I got an instant cool slideshow complete with nice music. So this project would basically be building a better Front Row.

Anyway, going back to programming: I was thinking Flash would be a nice way to do this, but I don't know if Flash can interface with iTunes, provide a full-screen interface, etc. I am not familiar with programming Macs at all. So programmers, what would be a good route to go with this?
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mr g5

 
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On my pc I have the ATi TV Wonder remote and it is a combo of a mouse and keyboard. You can type like you do with a cell phone you can use on botton for clicking on things and you can move the mouse. I can aslo program certain bottons to do certain things, like I have on bottom set to shut down my computer.

to solve you mouse, keyborad problem I would get this.

I have this

http://www.ati.com/products/tvwonderelite/index.html

I don't know if you can get anything like this for a mac but all the reveiws say this is better than a Hauppauge.

This also comes with Power cinema 3.0, this software has a dvr in it and it is very easy nagigate with the ATi TV Wonder remote.

ATI also makes a HDTV tv tuner that you might want to look into.
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kaidomac

 
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I don't think I will ever buy an ATi tuner again. I used to have the ATi TV Wonder Pro (PCI card & remote) for my PC. Hated it. The software was horrible, no third-party media center apps supported the card, and it required the CPU to do the encoding/recording, which even my old 1.4ghz Athlon struggled to do without stuttering. The only good thing that came out of that package was the remote, which was wonderful. The only thing I didn't like about the remote was that the video controls were on the bottom, which made pressing play, pause, etc., not intuitive because you had you move your hand to the bottom while still holding the big remote. The Remote Wonder II solved that problem by putting those controls in the middle, where they are much more easily accessible. Since the Mac Mini doesn't have any room internally for a tuner, you'd have to get either a Firewire or USB model. EyeTV and Hauppauge both offer options for this.
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EDIT-XTREEM

 
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do you plan on selling this project once your done?

Mac Pro (Early 2009) 8 Core 2.26 GHz, 6 GB Ram, 640 GB Drive. Dell 2408WFP.
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EDIT-XTREEM

 
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Do you have a site for it?

Mac Pro (Early 2009) 8 Core 2.26 GHz, 6 GB Ram, 640 GB Drive. Dell 2408WFP.
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kaidomac

 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by EDIT-XTREEM
do you plan on selling this project once your done?
No, nearly all of my projects are freeware. Partly because I don't want to deal with the hassle of running an e-business and partly because I like the richness that comes from open-source projects - there is so much more that a group of programmers can add to a project like this than I can alone.

As for the website, no, I don't currently have a site for it, but I will when I actually start coding. My first priority is to learn OS X inside out, then I'll worry about studying programming. Programming on OS X looks way more fun than programming on Windows
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kaidomac

 
Member Since: Jan 18, 2006
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Found a couple similar projects:

http://www.equinux.com/us/products/m...ral/index.html

http://www.itheaterproject.com/
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init6
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Rumors are flying that Apple is going to be releasing something very similar in the near future as well.
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kaidomac

 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by init6
Rumors are flying that Apple is going to be releasing something very similar in the near future as well.
I sure hope so. I've started saving up for a Mac Mini as a set-top box, but if they come out with an Intel Mini using a 3.5" hard drive, I'll be all over that instead. I just blew my life savings on an iMac Core Duo, so it will be awhile before I can cough up the funds for a Mac Mini anyway lol. Here is what I would like to see in the next-gen Mini:

Dubbed the "Mini Core Solo":
Intel Core Duo chip
3.5" SATA hard drive (500gb, whoo-hoo!)
Slotload slimline dual-layer internal DVD burner with LightScribe
Integrated TV tuner (using Elgato, Plextor, or Happauge technology)
2gb ram (sodimms - laptop ram, to conserve space)
Dual DVI output (hook up your LCD for using as a computer and your TV for watching videos with the Apple video adapter)
Stereo/digital audio output (hook up to a surround-sound system)
Apple Remote 2 (Firefly-style)
Front Row 2 (more like SageTV, but not as complex)
Built-in IR blaster (for changing the channel on cable boxes)

I think that would make a pretty sweet setup and it wouldn't be impossible to do. The slotload LightScribe drives aren't available yet though, only trayload, and the dual DVI output could be skipped if needed. The digital audio output would be a cinch to do (the new iMacs already have that feature) and the Core Solo chip would cut costs. A 250gb drive could be the base option (like $100 on Newegg for a nice one right now). They could even add on a card reader for importing photos. If Apple doesn't release a good media center interface soon, I'll have to begin seriously working on one.

Then they just need to add a built-in iSight with some kind of wide-angle lens so you can call Grandma using "iChat A/V"
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