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One nearly free alternative to buying an Apple TV Apps
I didn't want to spend £200 on an Apple TV, and after some work, I was able to get much the same result for the price of a cable and adapter (about £20).

I have connected my G5 iMac directly to my 32" HD TV via the mini-VGA output. (Newer Macs have the mini-DVI connectors.) Sound is connected from the audio-out directly to my TV's PC audio-in connection. My Mac did not have a screen spanning mode, so I downloaded Screen Spanning Doctor, which solved that problem.

Then for the software. I downloaded the latest version of iTheater. This is a Front Row alternative that allows you to choose what screen to use, and enables playback of DVD, Video_TS folders, iTunes, iPhoto images, and even weather info. It's Universal and free.

[robg adds: I thought this might make for some interesting conversation on other alternatives to Apple TV. I hadn't heard of iTheater before reading this post, and I haven't tested it. Alternatives that I'm aware of today include Media Central and XHub. Neither are free, however, and I haven't tested these, either. Am I missing any other Front Row alternatives?]
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One nearly free alternative to buying an Apple TV | 23 comments | Create New Account
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One nearly free alternative to buying an Apple TV
Authored by: deadkarma on Oct 24, '07 08:08:02AM
All the modern macs have optical out on the audio ports.

I don't know if G5 iMacs have them though.

With the right adapter (http://www.amazon.com/TOSLINK-TO-OPTICAL-MINI-ADAPTER/dp/B0002MQGRM) you can watch your DVDs in 5.1 surround sound.

I currently use a mac mini and VLC as my media center :) ... iTheater looks promising, I'll check it out, thanks for the info.




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Limitations of optical out and 5.1 sound channels
Authored by: makip on Oct 26, '07 08:01:05PM
Looks like it doesn't quite work that way, unfortunately.
I remember reading in the documentation the Handbrake video encoding program, that there are limitations in QuickTime and the Mac OS Core Audio system that prevent sending 5.1 discrete channels over the optical out. Its possible with some analogue devices but not the mac's optical connection.

Refer to point 3 on page http://handbrake.m0k.org/trac/wiki/SurroundSoundGuide

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CenterStage
Authored by: RickoKid on Oct 24, '07 08:09:54AM
Another free alternative is Center Stage.

Last time I used it it was pretty rough, but that was a while ago and after quick look at the website it looks pretty promising ...

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One nearly free alternative to buying an Apple TV
Authored by: vandergus on Oct 24, '07 08:12:36AM

Thanks for the software recommendations. I've been trying to do something like this for a while with a script and little app called cscreen (based on another post from here actually). I could never quite get Front Row to behave properly though.

On extra thing I was trying to do was use my wiimote to control Front Row using Darwin Remote. That part worked great. Darwin Remote allows you to map any key combination to the buttons so it is fully customizable. I could assign hotkeys to wiimote buttons to start programs. I didn't even have to have my mac in my living room because the wiimote uses bluetooth. I could even turn on my Wii (to activate the IR sensor bar) and use my wiimote as a mouse/pointer on my TV.

Can't wait to try this out with the new ScreenSpanner and iTheater



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iPhone as remote
Authored by: dan55304 on Oct 26, '07 09:43:01AM

I use my mac mini as an Apple TV connected to via HDMI. I use my iPhone and RemoteBuddy to play music and movies. Since it's wi-fi, it works everywhere in the house. No range or line of site issues. Pretty dang cool.



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Alternative to buying an Apple TV
Authored by: kencohen on Oct 24, '07 08:29:29AM

I've been thinking of doing the same thing with my G5 iMac, but I didn't know what software I would need, so this is a great help.

Question 1: What if anything do you do for a remote control? Does the one Apple ships work (I've never used it or Front Row).

Question 2: Do you know what the limits on cable length are?

Thanks.



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One nearly free alternative to buying an Apple TV
Authored by: metafeather on Oct 24, '07 09:19:18AM
I've been doing this for quite a while with a G5 iMac and it works very well, as well as being girlfriend friendly.

For remote control I found it easier to get a second Bluetooth Mightly Mouse so as to have right-click access to menus and the scroll wheel - OS X will support multiple mice and so one sits on the coffe table and the other next to the machine.

For software I have used iVideo ( http://www.waterfallsw.com/ivideo/ $20 ) as:

1. it will import any movie file Quicktime supports (inc Divx, Ogg, etc), including off an external hard-disk

2. You can set which screen and which Player to launch the file with

3. Using keywords its easy to mark what you have/havent watched as well as add other info (DVDRip, TV Show, etc). Also has ratings, comments fields etc.

4. Create playlists (inc Smart playlists) - "5 star, unwatched, TV Shows" gives you your own TV channel :)

I'm very happy with it as it was around before iTunes supported video, however there has not been much development activity for quite a while.

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One nearly free alternative to buying an Apple TV
Authored by: gregjsmith on Oct 24, '07 10:42:34AM

This is only "nearly free" if you consider that you already have the computer. If you add the cost of the computer, it costs considerably more than the AppleTV.



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One nearly free alternative to buying an Apple TV
Authored by: hypert on Oct 24, '07 11:00:05AM

I was thinking the same thing, but you also need a Mac (or a PC) to use Apple TV, so this can save a couple hundred bucks (or pounds?) by removing the need to Apple TV.

How does the screen resolution look? If your Mac is running something high-res like 1600x1200, what does that look like on a TV? I'd expect it to be unreadable. Running a Front-Row-like app drops the res to "normal" TV levels?

Not having an HD TV, I can't use Apple TV anyway. But, I'm more than happy w/ my Eyehome unit! Can't play iTunes protected stuff, plus most other files very nicely. Anyone else have a nice media receiver they use?



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One nearly free alternative to buying an Apple TV
Authored by: Federalist on Nov 06, '07 11:08:41AM

I looked into the EyeHome also. It sounded very good for playing content recorded in EyeTV, but was pretty limited otherwise. I don't think that it is even available anymore. I ended up getting a cheap old Xbox with XBMC installed. It's a fantastic SD media player, but it can't play true 720p video. I think it is limited to about 540p. Almost all my content is 480p or less (mostly less), so I didn't even bother getting the component video cables.



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One nearly free alternative to buying an Apple TV
Authored by: appleman_design on Oct 24, '07 11:49:17AM

there is also centerstage found @ macupdate.com
i have been using it since it was created and it does a great job...



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Computer next to TV?
Authored by: TF on Oct 24, '07 11:52:18AM

Does everyone have their computer sitting right next to their TV? How long can the VGA cable be? I remember looking into this once and found that the cable length was relatively short. You could buy a VGA repeater, but then you might as well just get an Apple TV.



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One nearly free alternative to buying an Apple TV
Authored by: holterzoff on Oct 24, '07 12:01:47PM

my macbook pro is always near the tv and i looked quite a view films with my wife via cable connection. Works great, i'm using quicktime with perian plugins or vlc. don't know why i should use apple tv when i cannot even view divx.....



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Leopard includes Front Row
Authored by: tji on Oct 24, '07 01:30:41PM

In the past, Front Row was only included on the newer Macs. Older Macs may now be able to use Front Row, when upgraded to Leopard.

I say *may* because officially only Macs with remote controls are supported for this feature. But, I'm hoping it will work on all Macs, and just leave the control options as an exercise for the user.



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Leopard includes Front Row
Authored by: ballardmac on Oct 25, '07 12:11:13AM

Yes, at least pre-release builds of Leopard included Front Row and worked on non IR-equipped Macs (e.g. my iBook G4 14/1.42GHz). I was really surprised to discover it.

I have posted this since robg indicated Apple has lifted their NDA restrictions on 10.5 (as of Wed, Oct 24 @ 6PM).



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MythTV
Authored by: tji on Oct 24, '07 01:40:30PM

Expanding the scope a little bit.. MythTV is an alternative.

It goes beyond the "Front Row" type usage, to include full PVR (Tivo) functionality. It is particularly nice for recording/viewing digital TV (HDTV) broadcasts. It's also well beyond most other PVRs, because it includes automatic commercial detection and skipping, as well as transcoding video to other formats, a WWW interface for scheduling and management of recorded programs, and a very versatile recording scheduler.


The challenge with MythTV is setting up the back-end server, where the TV tuners are connected, and the large amount of storage comes into play. It is possible to run the back-end on Mac OS X, but it usually runs in Linux. Mine is in a cheap-o whitebox Linux server, with a lot of cheap IDE disk space, hidden away in the basement out of sight. It also serves a ton of other purposes as a home Linux server. But, obviously, Linux can involve a bit of a learning curve.

My "Front-End" display device is a Mac Mini (1.66GHz Core Duo). It plays the 1080i or 720p HDTV programs recorded in MythTV, and they look great. MythTV also plays back video files of many different formats, including DVD VIDEO_TS archives. It also has support for music and photo playback. But, I prefer to use Front Row for those.



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One nearly free alternative to buying an Apple TV
Authored by: LV on Oct 24, '07 02:30:11PM

I've been doing the same thing with my PowerBook G4 for quite some time now. The only difference is I use video mirroring enabled in System Preferences/Displays. That way what you see on your screen shows up on your TV. I don't use Front Row but I don't see why this wouldn't work. I always use DVD Player but with this setup you can use any application and it will be mirrored in your TV. I also happen to have an Ethernet disk with content on it so all I have to do is connect to that disk through Airport and I can stream whatever I like. And, since it's a PowerBook it's easy enough to set it up next to the TV when I want to watch something.



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One nearly free alternative to buying an Apple TV
Authored by: snit on Oct 24, '07 02:56:26PM

I do much the same ... mini-DVI to DVI connector to my TV in the next room - als sound is already there because I use my computer as my stereo. The remote does not work from the living room but that is not a big deal.



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One nearly free alternative to buying an Apple TV
Authored by: ClunkClunk on Oct 24, '07 03:34:35PM

I have an iMac Core Duo with a broken screen that I picked up for $125. Removed the screen, remounted the IR sensor in a better place, and hooked it up to my TV. Works wonderfully. Now I just need a better TV.



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playing video playlists
Authored by: eugene_o on Oct 24, '07 09:15:42PM

I have yet to find a media center application that would allow to play video playlists from iTunes. The only thing that works is dragging iTunes window to the TV screen and switching to fullscreen mode.

When watching video podcasts I do not want to be selecting what to watch next every couple of minutes . Having one smart playlist with all episodes on random brings back what I like about TV: that it is non-interactive passive entertainment.



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One nearly free alternative to buying an Apple TV
Authored by: sbinner on Oct 24, '07 09:46:13PM

This is an interesting thread to me in many ways. Please bear w/ me as it is long-winded.
In my experience there are almost as many solutions to a non-AppleTV media center as there are Apple users.

I have been using my old Macs as media servers in my home and office for years now ( i am currently waiting for Apple to put out a 128MB video Mac Mini to act as a video server/media center for my home, and this will finally be my first ever Mac purchased for strictly media center purposes).

Whether for streaming music, streaming video, listening to music or watching video (and many other uses), many solutions have always been available that can easily be handled by old Macs. I am currently using an old B&W G3 with a G4 550mhz processor and a 64MB ATI video card w/ TV out which has easy TV out control in the ATI pref.pane. I have also replaced the power supply for one w/ a quiet fan... all those were done back in the day for workstation performance, not for media center upgrades, (those upgrades are very inexpensive atm). I am not using any surround sound adapters since i really don't care for the expense atm, however they are available.
The software i use:
1) Audio: baaack in the day, i used Audion for my music needs on any LAN, and some VNC software for remote control. I then used various other means such as Shoutcast (yes)... I now use iTunes which i enjoy (all wishlist features aside) and a couple of utils to expand iTunes' functionality.
2) Video: it used to be a real pain on Mac to enjoy divx/avi movies and i will not get into it here (if you remember those days, then /cry with joy that we are no longer there). For a while i streamed video to my Xbox from my Mac to watch on my TV. I messed around w/ Xine and a host of others when OSX first launched. Today i still use VLC in conjunction with Automator and some applescript-enabled folder actions for most of my video watching needs and SallingClicker on my Palm or Phone (i also have a wireless keyboard i sometimes use). I have Perian installed which is a QuickTime video codec solution, in case i want to use any of Apple's solutions to watch video, such as podcasts, trailers, etc, then use that same app to watch some other non-supported video.
As for Photos, web and other stuff, simply having a Mac output to my TV allows me to see whatever else i may want.

Suffice it to say that i have been playing around for a long time with media center solutions and while nothing perfect exists, i think its fun and fairly easy to mess around and come up w/ a solution that will work for you... not to mention the fact that if you enjoy a DIY approach rather than the OOTB solution, then you may also get more enjoyment out of using your home-grown solution.


Oh and err... GregjSmith wth are you talking about? You are browsing this website, so clearly you have a computer... use IT to act as your media center. ( i seriously doubt you would strictly have an iPhone and no computer to browse this site).
And the point of AppleTV is to work WITH your Mac, not as a standalone product.
Its a safe bet that osxhints readers definitely have a computer ( and most likely an Apple one at that) so your argument of having to buy a computer is moot. However, if you are one of those rare? users who throw away their computer after getting an iPhone, then i hope you enjoy the video downloads you can get and watch on the beautiful screen. Until the day comes when iPhone can wirelessly transmit to AppleTV i think most people will be using their computers for media center purposes... whether to AppleTV, some home-spun solution or using a nice free software package like iTheatre.



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AppleTV vs "full" Mac computer
Authored by: makip on Oct 26, '07 08:52:47PM

I strongly considered the AppleTV. Ultimately I thought the value wasnt there given its limitations. Not all the media I want to play works in itunes. Also compared to the apple tv, a full mac is capable of playing much higher bit-rate videos, and also up-scales the DVDs it plays. I couldnt workout why playing my DVDs looked so much worse on my DVD player until I realised the Mac mini I have as a media cenre was upscaling to the 1360x768 tv display its connected to.
Front Row isn't great it wont play all media formats either - I am keenly watching all these media centre applications.



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One nearly free alternative to buying an Apple TV
Authored by: Federalist on Nov 06, '07 01:40:06PM

AppleTV is a device made primarily to play videos purchased from iTunes on your TV. It can't record at all. It can't play most content you download from file sharing sites, digital cameras, nor TV tuners like EyeTV without tedious transcoding. So, the only things that qualify as true AppleTV alternatives would be a device from Apple (like the 5th gen iPod), or a computer running iTunes (that rules out Linux/MythTV and my Xbox).

I think that the closest thing to a nearly free AppleTV alternative is a 5th gen iPod with a $5 cable, if you happen to already own the iPod. It wont play true HD video, but iTunes doesn't sell any true HD video anyway.

If you don't have a 5th gen iPod, or you haven't bought a lot of video from iTunes, or if you have a lot of DivX, DVD, MPEG2, MPEG1, and/or WMV content, then a cheap old Xbox running XBMC is the best media player. I bought a couple of old Xboxen with XBMC installed and the DVD remote kits for $100 each. Component video cables cost extra, but I'm happy with the standard composite connection to my SD TVs. I already wired my house for Ethernet. A wireless adapter would cost extra.

If you also want TV tuners and recording like a DVR, then MythTV sounds nice, but a real Tivo has some advantages too. This doesn't really have anything to do with an AppleTV though.



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