TV is Toast: Mac Mini Media Center

My friends and family are sick of hearing me espouse the virtues of the Mac mini media center I built last weekend, but the experiences since have made me realize that TV as we know it is going to be toast much quicker than I thought even two years ago.

Though I considered AppleTV as one solution, it’s too limiting as it’s Apple and iTunes-centric. Instead, I am using PlexApp, an open source media server forked from the XBox Media Center (XBMC). I’ve downloaded and am playing with Boxee as well, which is positioned as a social media TV platform so friends can see what each other is watching or has watched. 

Using this has profoundly shifted our use of our HDTV. From my watching of HD shows from Revision3 to Hulu shows as well as those from Joost. It’s been fun to get hooked on an old science fiction show with my son as well as my wife who discovered several shows she watched many years ago and is delighted to view again.

We can even bring up DVD’s I’ve backed up to the 1TB external drive which is also increasingly holding all the video I’ve shot over the years (and never pulled off the miniDV tapes). In addition, my multiple gigabytes of photos will end up there as well as all of our music.

iTunes? Yep. We can leverage all that it has to offer from movie rental or purchase to podcasts to music.

The best part is the ease with which developers can create plugins that bring other video sites to Plex. In the works are CBS and ABC ones and more.

Why is TV toast? Because even Comcast cable can’t compete with the on-demand capabilities (and MUCH better user interface than the embarrassingly bad one they offer) of apps like Plex and the ecosystem that has already exploded around it. Yes, they can try to slap us around with draconian measures like their 250GB cap to stave off the inevitable move away from what they offer, or do what I view as the smart thing: embrace these moves, help the development of Plex, Boxee, XBMC and others, and be the preferred delivery method for it all.

So I’ll keep moving along with what we’re doing and hope I’m not exceeding the cap. NOTE: I did ask recently — when on with Comcast’s executive resolution center — that even paying more for a business class account is still subject to that 250GB cap. Weird.

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  1. Ken Kennedy on March 31, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    Agreed, Steve. The innovation in this space right now is nothing short of remarkable. The XMBC project was a real wakeup call…it gave a lot of people ideas about how a rich media hardware widget could work. The XBox was really a perfect platform to start from; relatively inexpensive, standardized, powerful enough to do the job, and designed to work with TV outputs. Now the explosion of related projects (boxee and PlexApp both included) have begun, and are joined by devices like the Roku, which I have and LOVE. It amazes me that a $99 box can do what it does.

    There are a lot of opportunities for media companies, but they need to cooperate and riff off of great ideas; not try to crush what they don’t understand. Changes are coming, with or without them…I sincerely hope that enlightened companies come along for the ride!

  2. Maher Hakim on April 1, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    Maybe TV is dead, but the cable companies (i.e, comcast) are not. You are using cable for your Internet, aren’t you? Do you really have other options to get bandwidth to your home?

  3. Christopher Coulter on April 3, 2009 at 11:38 pm

    The lovable WDTV works too…Apple TV with XBMC still has a kick, and the ole-skueel modded Xbox, can’t ever give that up. Just the feature-heavy Popcorn Hour A-110/WN-100, gets my nod. And (tho iffy and geek setup heavy) OSX86 boxes can out-distance a Mac Mini. And then XBMC, Freevo, Myth, Entertainer and Elisa for Linux boxes, with the awesome GeeXboX distro. Lots of choices…

  4. Bing Crosby on April 19, 2009 at 11:58 pm

    Ken…FiOS. Welcome to the future.

  5. Jeff on June 12, 2009 at 8:57 pm

    I didn’t see a mention of a HD Tuner? Do you have any recommendations for an over the air digital tuner? I saw the Elgato solutions at the Mac online store, but the customer reviews made me think twice.

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About Steve Borsch

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.