Neil Turner's Blog

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Mac Mini Media Centre: Software

It’s Monday, so it’s time for part three of the Mac Mini Media Centre project entries – the software, or what makes the user interface look different to a normal computer. Remember that I’m currently in France and that this entry was written a few weeks ago.
There are several media centre applications available for Macs under a variety of licenses: open source, free and commercial. All of them have various advantages and disadvantages, but my aim is to choose one that fulfils most or all of the requirements that I set out in week 1.

Plex and Boxee

I’m mentioning these 2 because they’re both quite popular, but unfortunately neither are available for older PowerPC-based Macs; only the newer Intel ones. One of my aims is to reuse my existing Mac Mini so these are out of the question.

Front Row

Front Row is Apple’s own media centre application, which shipped on all new Macs from 2006 onwards and was made available to all Macs with Leopard; my Mac Mini falls into the latter category. It used to be quite basic but can now play content from iTunes, photos from iPhoto and DVDs. It can also play content from other machines that share their libraries using iTunes’ protocol across a network. It doesn’t support TV adaptors and can’t be tuned to internet TV channels, although it does support podcasts.

MediaCentral

MediaCentral is a commercial media centre for Macs by the same people as the TubeStick, and as I was one of the early buyers of the TubeStick I got a free license for this. It’s more customisable than Front Row, and does most of the things Front Row can do except the network support. It does support internet TV but doesn’t appear to integrate with the BBC iPlayer, which is a shame. You can use it to watch stuff on YouTube, however. Naturally it integrates with the TubeStick so it can be used for watching TV and it also has support for internet radio, something that can be done with iTunes and Front Row but not very gracefully in my experience. If it provided network support, this would probably be perfect, but it’s not quite there.

XBMC

XBMC stands for XBox Media Centre, as it was originally developed for Microsoft’s XBox but can be run other platforms too. It supports a wide range of media and can play back DVDs, but has poor iTunes integration meaning having to maintain a separate music library. The Mac version also can’t stream from other computers very well. There’s no integration with TV adaptors either.

MythTV

I had a look at creating a MythTV system but it looks rather too complicated – it’s mostly available in source code form only and I’d prefer something pre-packaged. While I could probably tailor a MythTV system to achieve everything I want, I don’t think I have the time or the know-how to do it.
Based on this, it’s likely that I will go with MediaCentral as the software but I may give Front Row a fair shot too, especially if I decide not to go with digital TV integration.

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