Multimedia entertainment just entered my living room

So, I bought my first Mac. Because I was looking for a new TV πŸ˜‰ It really changed our living room experience and the way friends and family visits turn out. Let me tell you how.

Basically it started of with my quest for a media center for my living room. I wanted a way to access music, TV, photo, and video in my living room without needing a lot of separate devices. I also wanted to be able manipulate the digital content as much as possible.

Then I read this blogpost (Dutch only) from Yme which lead to a dinner with Onno ter Wisscha at Yme’s place where Onno demonstrated his media center setup on his Apple Powerbook. Wow, I learned a lot that evening, thanks guys! We also also discussed the way to go if you chose a Windows setup

In short, I went for the Mac solution because the Windows solution lacked the following:

  1. No HD TV support in the Windows Media Center software, which comes prepackaged with Vista. It turns out that soon they will add support for HD TV.
  2. Getting all the codecs right before you can watch TV has to be done manually and is a real pain, according to Onno.
  3. The integration of hardware and software is not as seamless as with the Mac.

So, what setup did I chose? Here we go:

  1. The standard Apple iMac 24″: I also needed a HD TV and the screen of the Mac is full HD. Widescreen TV is 1920 X 1080 pixels and the Mac screen has a size of 1920 x 1200 so you end up with two small black areas in the top and bottom of the screen. No problem for me, but if you want to you can scale the view to use the full screen area. The 24″ screen size is enough for us but that could be a limitation for others. In that case you could go for a Mac Mini and hook it up to your gigantic HD TV screen.
  2. FireDTV C/CI digital receiver for cable. It comes with a remote control but I end up using the little white Mac remote 95% of the time, also because this device controls Apple’s Front Row software. More on this later.
  3. AlphaCrypt CAM to hold your digital TV smartcard and which you can put in the FireDTV receiver.
  4. EyeTV 3 software. This software is brilliant. It turns your PC into a TV. It enables you to use your PC as a hard disc recorder, share recorded video content over PC’s and other devices such as your iPhone etc., and let’s you access your content via a browser. Think about that for a second: it makes your content available from all over the world. I love it. It also offers you online EPG’s such as from TVTV but you can also use the one built in the cable signal by your provider. Buy the software here and get a discount of 20 euro.
  5. Obviously, you need to have a digital TV subscription. I use Dutch cable company Ziggo as a provider, which works fine. I heard UPC’s digital TV signal is encoded differently than other providers and it is not clear if that works as well. This info says it does but it is rather outdated. BTW digital terrestial, such as Digitenne in Holland, doesn’t work because the signal quality isn’t good enough.

Sounds difficult to assemble? Not at all. When all the components arrived I needed one hour to get the whole system working. It was just a matter of connecting the hardware parts the right way and setting up the EyeTV software by following their simple on-screen instructions.

Nowadays, all our visits from friends and family turn out in watching photo’s, video’s and music using Apple’s brilliant Front Row software, which comes standard with Apple’s OSX. And, using the same Apple remote control as for Front Row, we watch our EyeTV library that contains recorded TV shows and movies. BTW EyeTV is designed exactly like Front Row which makes the experience very seamless and it feels as if it is part of Front Row.

No drawbacks or limitations at all? Sure, for one, the basic unit is still a PC and not a TV. This makes using the device different than using just 1 remote control for a regular TV. You have to get used to that although I find it very easy to learn the tricks. But then again, if you use a separate hard disk recorder with your TV you get a second remote control. Secondly, if you record one TV channel you cannot watch another simultaneously which kind of sucks. The solution is buying two Fire DTV’s and hooking them up to the Mac. Maybe later… Finally, my iMac doesn’t have a Blu-ray disc drive.

Nonetheless, we’re sold on this solution, and it doesn’t look too bad either which makes the WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor – Onno, thanks :-)) higher as well πŸ˜‰

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18 comments

  1. Thanks Carp. I bought the 24″ iMac 2 months ago and was looking into the Slingbox as Media Center solution. But I did not purchase as UPC could not answer my prepurchase questions. Maybe I should buy the save solution as you – but not clear if UPC will work.

  2. Try Machouse in the Raadhuisstraat; last time I was there they had an iMac setup with digital TV from UPC. I played with it in EyeTV. Looked fine.

    Cheers,
    Stijn

  3. Hi Ronald, Great manual! Thanks for that! By any change, do you know whether this will work with multiple TV’s (read Macs). Or do you need this set-up for every single TV?

  4. @Martijn: I think you need an additional FireDTV per PC because the FireDTV also has an integrated FireWire Repeater. You don’t need an additional Cable signal because that one is connected to the first FireDTV. I’m not sure if this works so you might ask Digital Everywhere, the FireDTV vendor. Also be sure to check what the maximum distance between two FireDTV modules can be. I think the maximum lenght is 4,5 m for FireWire without an amplifier. If that’s the case, be sure to check what amplifier they would recommend because you want to be able to transmit HDTV signal without loss. Good luck – and let us know!

  5. Hi, anyone had any luck with the UPC setup on a Mac? I currently have the Elgato 250, but want to record digtal to my Mac, so I bought a 410 off Marktplaats (a mistake I know) now I have the FireDTVC, but I need a CAM, so could do with some advice before I drop another €100.

  6. Voor de mensen die nog twijfelden: de nieuwe MacMini is perfect!
    @Oscar: ja hij heeft ook Firewire (helaas met een ander stekkertje dan wat je bij de FireDTV krijgt, dus moest ik een extra snoertje aanschaffen)
    Heb hem nu onder de TV staan met de FireDTV er naast.
    Voor de mensen die een verzameling gedownloade films er op nahouden:
    Boxee is perfect om alles af te spelen.
    Met een paar klikken zoekt ie er zelfs de ondertiteling bij.

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