Mac Mini Media Center Project (Part 1)

My TV and DVDs Before Starting the Mac Mini Media Center Project

I own a lot of DVDs. We are talking nearly 500 at last count. It’s sick, I know. Sifting through them all to find the one movie I want to watch has become such a chore that I would rather just fire up my Playstation 3 (PS3) to access my Netflix account and stream something then dig for a DVD of a movie I actually want to watch. So, I have decided that the solution to my conundrum is to setup a Media Center PC. More specifically a Mac Mini media center attached to my T.V. with an interface that even my mother could use.

WHAT DO I WANT THE END RESULT TO BE?

  • An uncluttered home theater.
  • A small computer hooked up to my T.V.
  • Access to all my media and the internet.
  • The ability to back up all my computers
  • A new storage solution for my physical media.
  • An interface so easy my mother can use it.

RESEARCH

Like any project you should do research into it first. Which is what I did. With google as my guide I sought out other peoples experience with setting up a Mac Media Center. Here are a list of some sites I found that where helpful to me.

I also spoke with friends of mine who had done similar projects. It always helps to read, write, and talk to people about ideas you have. It helps flush out the details of what is trying to be accomplish.

All of these sites listed above where very helpful to me, but none where setup quite the way I wanted. Most of these talked about just using the Mac Mini or the Mac Mini with an external hard drive attached and honestly that probably is the solution for 90% of you out there. But I was looking for a setup with a little bit more free hard drive space for me to use. Particularly because I have several computers in my house and I want them all to be able to back up wirelessly to on location. I also enjoy editing home movies and having a place to store the massive video files I work with is important to me. I think I have come up with a solution that works as you will see.

LOGISTICS

One pressing question I had from the get go is; How much hard drive space am I going to need? 500 DVDs is a lot of movies and T.V. shows. So how can I get an idea of how much hard drive space I am going to need?

Most people building a Media Center PC are doing so to encode their DVDs onto a hard drive. If you where just to copy the DVD over to your hard drive your looking at something that takes up anywhere from 2 to 8 gigs of hard drive space. When you encode a DVD onto your hard drive you have the option of removing all the special features, menus, audio commentary, subtitles, and non-english audio tracks leaving you with just the movie. What this means is no more waiting through previews, FBI Warnings or other types of bullshit that is preventing you from watching the movie you want to watch. You just get the movie and your left with a much more manageable file size.

Handbrake Application Icon

One free peace of software I read about and that everyone pretty much agreed is the best DVD encoding tool is called HandBrake. Before dropping a single penny on my media center I could preform tests to make sure the video is going to look great and be a manageable file size. I downloaded Handbrake and picked a DVD off my shelf at random and encoded it. Using only HandBrake’s presets I found that encoding under the “High Profile” preset rendered out a 1.5 GB file. Playback of the DVD and the encoded movie showed hardly any noticeable difference. It certainly looked a lot better then any Netflix movie I had streamed in the past. If I take the 1.5 GB as an average and multiply that by 500 (the number of DVDs I own) The end result is 750 GB. A very manageable figure.

It’s a very manageable figure till you miss calculate TV shows like I did.

At the time of this post I have encoded several movies and TV shows using Handbrake. Something I over looked is that the average movie is anywhere from 1 and a half to 2 hours, give or take per DVD. Now lets take E.R. on DVD. The DVD for E.R. holds 4 episodes at about 1 hour each. You have 24 episodes a season and that is roughly 24 hours of video which ends up being a little under 1 gig an episode. It adds up! It was something I over looked when I did my initial estimation of how much hard drive space I would need. Don’t let that catch you off guard like it did me. Do the math right so you know how much hard drive space you are going to need to hold your DVD collection.

To Be Continued…

A Quote On Writing

For me, it is a cause of some upset that more Anglophones don’t enjoy language. Music is enjoyable it seems, so are dance and other, athletic forms of movement. People seem to be able to find sensual and sensuous pleasure in almost anything but words these days. Words, it seems belong to other people, anyone who expresses themselves with originality, delight and verbal freshness is more likely to be mocked, distrusted or disliked than welcomed. The free and happy use of words appears to be considered elitist or pretentious. Sadly, desperately sadly, the only people who seem to bother with language in public today bother with it in quite the wrong way. They write letters to broadcasters and newspapers in which they are rude and haughty about other people’s usage and in which they show off their own superior ‘knowledge’ of how language should be. I hate that, and I particularly hate the fact that so many of these pedants assume that I’m on their side. When asked to join in a “let’s persuade this supermarket chain to get rid of their ‘five items or less’ sign” I never join in. Yes, I am aware of the technical distinction between ‘less’ and ‘fewer’, and between ‘uninterested’ and ‘disinterested’ and ‘infer’ and ‘imply’, but none of these are of importance to me. ‘None of these are of importance,’ I wrote there, you’ll notice – the old pedantic me would have insisted on “none of them is of importance”. Well I’m glad to say I’ve outgrown that silly approach to language. Oscar Wilde, and there have been few greater and more complete lords of language in the past thousand years, once included with a manuscript he was delivering to his publishers a compliment slip in which he had scribbled the injunction: “I’ll leave you to tidy up the woulds and shoulds, wills and shalls, thats and whiches.” Which gives us all encouragement to feel less guilty, don’t you think?

There are all kinds of pedants around with more time to read and imitate Lynne Truss and John Humphrys than to write poems, love-letters, novels and stories it seems. They whip out their Sharpies and take away and add apostrophes from public signs, shake their heads at prepositions which end sentences and mutter at split infinitives and misspellings, but do they bubble and froth and slobber and cream with joy at language? Do they ever let the tripping of the tips of their tongues against the tops of their teeth transport them to giddy euphoric bliss? Do they ever yoke impossible words together for the sound-sex of it? Do they use language to seduce, charm, excite, please, affirm and tickle those they talk to? Do they? I doubt it. They’re too farting busy sneering at a greengrocer’s less than perfect use of the apostrophe. Well sod them to Hades. They think they’re guardians of language. They’re no more guardians of language than the Kennel Club is the guardian of dogkind.

I found this quote on the Stephen Fry website.

Home Theater PC Plans

I have plans to set up a HOME THEATER PC for my place and my head has been spinning about the right way to tackle this project. I have been searching blogs and consulting with friends on the best options and setups I could have.

My drive to take on such a project was a result of my mothers last visit to my place. In the evenings she liked to watch movies. That is it’s self is not something hard to do. However, when you have a collection of over 400+ DVDs it can be not only daunting, but intimidating to find a movie and watch it. So I wanted to get all my movies digitized in a way that someone could turn on my TV, scroll through my collection of movies, pick one and play it.

For this I have chosen to go the Apple Mac Mini route. I plan to pick up a Mac Mini and hook it up to my tv and start encoding all my movies.

For someone with 200 movies or so this would be a perfect solution. However I have 400 movies. So I started to look into additional storage options. I believe I am going to go with a NAS storage server setup with enough extra space so I can continue to grow my movie collection, but also allow all the computers in the house to be backed up to the NAS.

I am still working out the details of everything, but when I am done I am planing on having quite the blog post about my setup.

My Dad, Netflix and Foreign Films

Farsi
Farsi

My dad came up to Juneau to visit recently. He came at a good time because we have been having some amazing weather up here. Mid to high 70s with very little overcast or rain. We are  having a good spring and summer this year that’s for sure.

While he was here we did all the normal sight seeing stuff like visiting the Mendenhall Glacier, Eating at the Twisted Fish, Checking out the Shrine of St. Therese, ect.

One of the unexpected things we got to do was to watch some Persian movies in Farsi. I discovered that Netflix has a great foreign selection. I was able to do a Google search for some movies in Farsi that won some awards and queued them up to stream to my PlayStation 3 so we were all able to watch the movies on my television.

All the Farsi movies I found on Netflix where subtitled in English so we where all able to follow along with the movies.

Christopher Nolan’s Joker

Heath Ledger as the Joker
Brad Dourif as Luther Lee Boggs

I know this post is coming out of left field, but this is  an idea I have had floating around in my head for a while. In the last Batman movie (Batman: The Dark Knight) the Joker lived. But the actor Heath Ledger past away. Now I highly doubt that the next Batman movie will have the Joker in it. Which is sad because the battle between batman and the joker has always been and on going one. But should they decide to bring  the character back in the next film  think the actor Brad Dourif is the best possible replacement. Brad played a character on the X-files once, named Luther Lee Boggs and I think based this roll proves he is the best replacement for Heath Ledger as the Joker.

That’s just my two cents from left field.

5 Dungeon Masters

Dungeons & Dragons Logo

Wizards of the Coast recently posted three videos about 5 Dungeon Masters located either in Seattle or New York. The following videos are from that page. I like to post videos about Dungeons & Dragons because I think it helps people who have not played the game get a better idea of what all the fuss is about. So enjoy!