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Building a Media Center

12 May 2010

I took a crack at building myself a media center. My goals were,
- Easy to use / Reliable: No crashing, regular admin and controllable with a remote
- Performs as many of the following as possible (in rough priority order): TV, Netflix, Hulu, DVD, DVR, iTunes, WiFi Router, BitTorrent.
- Minimize the number of boxes I need and minimize power usage
- Cheapish
Click on for my approach.

My solution ended up providing: Wifi router, DVD, iTunes music & photos, Netflix streaming, Hulu

My solution ended up using,
- VIZIO 42" LCD HDTV ($800 from Costco)
- Mac Mini 2.1 (1.83 GHz Core 2 Duo, 1GB RAM, 80GB HDD) ($400 from Craigslist)
- VGA cable (From
- Stereo cable (From
- Front Row (included in Mini)
- Understudy Front Row plugin
- Front Row shutdown plug-in
- Hulu Desktop
- iTunes
- Waterproof ipfw GUI
- Apple Remote

Setting up the Mac Mini

  1. Connect Mini to TV with DVI>VGA cable and stereo jack

  2. Plug the mini directly into my cable modem

  3. Re-install OS X Leopard and apply all the updates

  4. Turn on the built in 'application' firewall

  5. Turn on Connection sharing and share the Airport (WiFi) connection, turning on encryption. Realize that you can't configure the sharing after you have turned it on

  6. Discover that Connection Sharing doesnt seem to persist across reboots. Use this fix

  7. Install 'Waterproof' a GUI to configure the packet filtering firewall (separate from the application firewall) and configure it to block all new session traffic in from eth0 (cable modem port) Set the rules to load on boot

  8. Install Microsoft Silverlight (for Netflix)

  9. Sign in to Netflix

  10. Sign into Hulu and set quality default to high

  11. Install Hulu desktop

  12. Install Shutdown from Frontrow so you can shutdown with the remote

  13. Install Understudy for Netflix and Hulu access from front row.

  14. Load all my music into iTunes (NB: Make sure source and destination iTunes are the same version if you want to copy across the library file and maintain your ratings / listen counts. Need to search/replace to update the file paths in the library)

  15. Log into Apple so iTunes can download album art
  16. Load all my photos into iPhoto

  17. Also installed Plex and Boxee but not impressed with either of them although I do use them for other Internet video streams - e.g. Daily Show

Next Steps
- Add A feed for a YouTube playlist
- Better audio? Audio is only stereo (although most of my sources are only stereo but this will probably change soon) Early 2009 Minis have Mini Display port -this might support audio
- Bittorrent client?
- DVR? Using El Gato
- Dual displays: Switch between TV and a monitor for computing tasks
- More USB ports: Mac Mini Early 2009 has a 5th. e.g. For syncing ipod

my other sites:
- New York Running
- ISOGA Heavy Metal Band!
- Vacations in France!

- simon's scene
- mark's musings

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- Against Bottled Water
- Recovering Disk Space in Windows
- Sun Ray Deployment at IS195
- Running Route Database - Update
- Pics from Mike's Bike Trip
- Central Park Moonlight Cycle
- Kristin Plater's Next Show...
- Kristin Plater Plays the Alphabet Lounge
- Your Chance to Influence US Energy Policy!
- Practical NY Energy Tips - PCs
- Missing the Point
- Practical NY Energy Tips - Lighting
- Making the Switch to Firefox
- Belize to Gutemala and Back Again
- Diving in Cancun
- Today...
- Peru and Belize!
- PC Fix Up Tips

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