My Mac Mini HTPC saga: software & configurations

Now that I’ve done the whole hardware upgrade and full, clean install of Mac OS X 10.6, I have to start all over again (this time with a little practice under my belt) on getting all the stuff assembled for a well-oiled home theatre machine.

Plex, Boxee, EyeTV, VLC, Transmission, Silverlight, MacTheRipper

Lots of software, so little attention span. 🙂

Plex

  • As my chosen media front-end, I intend to do as much as possible from here, and only veer into the other apps I’m using when necessary
  • I choose to install the following apps: Hulu, Apple Movie Trailers, South Park, Netflix, The Daily Show, Pandora, PBS, Picasa Web, Trailer Addict, YouTube

Boxee

  • I hear this is the only way to get full streaming of the CBS TV shows in a 10’ UI experience (rather than fire up Safari/Firefox and click away directly)
  • So I logged into Boxee.tv, downloaded the Mac OS X alpha of Boxee (which is simply yet another XBMC fork/port) and started looking at the “Applications” – Videos > CBS > Full Episodes shows listings for How I Met Your Mother (which I watch) but not for The Big Bang Theory (which I *slavishly* watch)

CBS: Fail.

EyeTV

  • Once I decided to definitely get a tuner (more on that in another blog article), the overwhelming number of times I’ve heard Elgato’s products recommended (not just their tuner, but their pretty great EyeTV software app to manage the tuner) was the clincher
  • The trickiest part was upgrading EyeTV from 3.0.x to 3.2 (which just came out a few days ago).  It turns out that on systems running Mac OS X 10.6, EyeTV 3.0.x won’t even launch – Apple in the infinite wisdom intentionally put a “block” in place so that it won’t start.
  • It turns out there’s an “under the covers” way to bypass such Mac OS X “blocks”, by launching the application’s actual binary file, rather than using the “user friendly shortcut” that is presented in the Applications folder (and which I, like most Mac users, seem to happily use until something prevents us from getting in the easy way).
  • I found an article at Elgato’s site that outlined the process: http://support.elgato.com/index.php?_m=knowledgebase&_a=viewarticle&kbarticleid=3628
  • Once I got EyeTV 3.0.x (I think it was 3.0.3 that shipped with my EyeTV 250 Plus tuner) running, I was able to use the EyeTV “Check for Updates” menu option to get the 3.2 download and be back working like a charm.

VLC Media Player

  • I remembered that VLC was the easiest way to get access to all the significant codecs, and have a nice media player in the background in case any of the rest of ‘em weren’t working out for me.
  • Downloaded, installed, and already confirmed that VLC can play VOB files that were copied directly off a DVD (for backup purposes, naturally – who wants to scratch their only copy of Robot Chicken?)

Transmission BitTorrent client

  • Ever since hearing about PeerGuardian for Windows (a piece of software that prevents your computer from connecting to “blacklisted” IP addresses – e.g. those servers setup by the RIAA, government agencies and others to track what you’re doing with your downloads and other torrent-like activity), I’ve been dreading the conversion over to my Mac Mini
  • Then somehow today, my searches through Lifehacker’s archives for “p2p file sharing ‘mac os x’” turned up an article from 2008 on Transmission – a BitTorrent client for Mac OS X and Linux.
  • It turns out that the friendly and nice folks at Transmission have integrated the PeerGuardian functionality into their app, including automatic downloads of the Bluetack blocklists
  • That’s enough for me – I’ve already got Transmission installed and slurping down some great media for later watching.

Silverlight 3.0 (for Netflix)

  • Silverlight is necessary for playing the Netflix Instant Watch streaming movies, and it doesn’t seem to get installed “in the background” by Plex, Boxee or any of the other media-front-end apps that provide a Netflix wrapper
  • Makes sense now that I think about it, but I can’t say I wasn’t disappointed by the fact that the Mac software community hasn’t made all this stuff entirely hidden from my relatively novice eyes.

MacTheRipper

Great little app for making backup copies of your DVDs onto a local hard drive.  Essential in this day and age.

Issue: Mac OS X 10.6 intercepts all Apple Remote commands

As of OS X 10.6, the operating system itself intercepts all Apple Remote commands, and cannot be overridden by application-specific configurations (as was apparently the case with Plex and probably others in the past).  Instead, hitting the Menu button on the Apple Remote will always bring up Front Row; hitting the volume buttons will always change the system-wide volume, and other irritating effects (for an HTPC user who’s using third-party HTPC-oriented software) are seen as well.

While there’s no supported, by-design way in OS X to disable this “feature”, there are some known workarounds – which I’ve implemented:

http://forums.plexapp.com/index.php?showtopic=8658

  • edited the /System/Library/LaunchAgents/com.apple.RemoteUI.plist file (after making a copy of the file in the same directory, in case I later want to revert back to the original settings)
  • deleted the /System/Library/LoginPlugins/BezelServices.loginPlugin (after making a copy of the file – ibid)

http://www.tech-recipes.com/rx/2754/os_x_edit_file_using_textedit_as_root_superuser/

I had to use this article’s cluefulness to allow me to interactively edit the RemoteUI.plist file using TextEdit.

http://support.apple.com/kb/TA25121

I also got bit by the “blank admin password” problem – wasn’t able to fire up sudo when my current account had a blank password.  So I changed it, did the sudo-enabled edit, and changed the password back.

Next Steps…

Wondering – do I really *need* a TV tuner, to enjoy the world’s best offerings of TV and other media?

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