Scott Penrose

Media Centre

Scott Penrose is a perl hacker with an interest in home automation. He has been playing with electronics since he was old enough to burn his fingers with a soldering iron.

I often get asked about my Media Centre. Mostly because it is simple... and not :-)

Little bits

Television

Samsung 46" side lit LED LCD TV - very low power

This TV is very nice. It has issues such as: not as good side viewing as my old TEAC plazma; dark screens cause the LEDs to go off, which looks odd on movie titles. But in general this is a beautiful screen, crisp colours, and great for everything we use on it.

The TV has USB drive input and an Ethernet connection that supports (FUPS ? XXX?) - but the TV requires video to be provided in a very strict format and resolution, which I can't provide. It is odd that the TV will play a variety of files off USB but not off the ethernet connection. So I don't use this feature yet. It is a shame, as my DroboShare has support for it, and it does allow me to at least look at my pictures.

Amplifier

I use a 1995 surround sound (Dolby) amplifier that I bought brand new back then. It has had a few speakers, but still runs great. All I really need (although often I have been tempted to buy a new one).

The HUB

Mac Mini Core 2 1.6GHz

The hub of the system is a Mac Mini Intel Core 2 1.6GHz made in 2006. It has 1GB of RAM and 160GB hard disk. It also has an Infrared receiver and Mac remote along with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. I believe the IR remote is key to a good system, but to allow management (rename of files, ripping etc) you also need a good mouse and keyboard, but you may be able to save money and use a wired mouse & keyboard.

What does it do ?

Non-software specific tasks that the Mac, Amp and TV do are as follows:

  • Music - iTunes - management and playing and remote access
  • Movies - watching of course
  • Ripping - Music CDs and Movie DVDs, that I own, to the network hard disk (local is a little small)
  • DVDs - Just watching DVDs
  • Pod Casts - mostly video pod casts (e.g. Geek Brief TV and The Guild)
  • Screen sharing photographs - access to Aperture for rating and viewing
  • Web browser - occasional use, e.g. Weather information

Some Technical Issues

Storage

A quick note on storage - I used to use local disk, then an attached USB, now I use a Drobo and DroboShare to allow for some level of protection and simpler network access. It also allows me to store the drives and units in a cupboard in another room to reduce noise.

Remote access to the network, even wireless (802.11G) for HD movies is fine. Mutliple users can be an issue, but Ethernet never has a problem.

Software

Boxee

I have lots of good things to say about Boxee, it is simply an excellent tool. Here is a short list:

  • Intuitive use of interface via a IR Remote (apple remote, or in my case a Universal remote)
  • Advanced video control
    • Zooming - our old videos have noise around the edges, just zoom in a little
    • Audio sync - some of our media is out, not sure why, but easy to fix in Boxee and it remembers the setting
  • Apps
    • Geek brief TV
    • The Guild
    • Kid Mango
    • You tube
    • ...

I do have an issue with Boxee apps. Why do I need a dedicated Boxee app to watch something like Geek brief TV - when I used to use Mrio, I would just enter the RSS URL, same with iTunes - why can't I just add feeds like that on Boxee?

Plexx

I no longe ruse Plexx.

Front row

Front row is a good start, but Boxee has everything Front Row has and 100 times more, so I generally don't use it - except Apple Trailers, which seem to be broken in Boxee.

Handbrake

Best tool to rip DVDs and more recently to transcode movies from other formats (used to use Quicktime, but Handbrake now seems to be better).

Tips:

  • If you are getting

iTunes

I avoided iTunes for so long, but now (last 2 years) I have taken the plunge to manage iTunes completely on my Media Centre. Used to manage music, rip CDs and even manage the files on our iPods and iPhones.

  • HTPC