Mac Mini Media Center Project (Part 4)

One big reason behind wanting to do this media center project was to reduce clutter. Having nearly five hundred DVDs take up a bit of space. Since I was going to be encoding all my DVD movies and TV shows and storing them digitally; what was I going to do with all the original DVD disks? I wanted to keep them. I knew that much. I just needed to come up with a better way to store them. I finally settled on a high capacity DVD Album.


Thanks to some help from a friend I was pointed to An online store where I could purchase a cheap 520 Capacity DVD Album. The DVD Album looked sturdy, so I ordered two of them. A lot of the DVDs I owned where spechal additions that contained two disks. I also know that my original count was off as to how many DVDs I owned because of the TV shows I had collected. I figured two of the 520 capacity DVD albums could hold 1040 DVDs. I not only would have enough from for my existing DVDs, but I would have plenty of room for growth in the future.

The DVD albums shipped and arrived in Juneau in less than a week. Once they got here I proceeded to take the pile of DVDs I had already encoded and start inserting them into the DVD album. When I was done I had freed up a lot of space that the DVDs where taking up and I did not hesitate to throw out the DVD cases they where in. I bought these DVDs for the movies on them and not for the cases they came in.

I have yet to quite fill up one whole album with DVDs. I am close though. I still have plenty of movies and TV shows to encode. When The first case is full I plan to store it under my bed.


As I encode movies on my Mac Mini I transfer them over to my Qnap Nas. I set up an alphabetical file structor inside two main categories (‘Movies’ and ‘TV Shows’) to save my encoded movies in.

Sometimes a movie that is encoded with Handbrake needs to be renamed. For whatever reason the file name is often wrong. It is important to make sure you name the encoded movie correctly because it will cut down on time you might have to spend on finding the correct movie meta data for which ever media center software you end up using.

(I will be talking more about media center software in a future post)

I would say that since I started this project I have encoded a little less than half the movies I own. This is a long process, but I can already see how it is going to pay off when I am done.

To Be Continued…

Mac Mini Media Center Project (Part 3)

After I filled up my Mac Mini’s hard drive with my encoded videos from my DVD collection there was not much more I could do till I ordered the Qnap NAS. This would be the most expensive peace of my Media Center setup.

Qnap NAS

After reading about NAS solutions online and talking about it with friends who have experience with such devices I proceded to order a four bay Qnap NAS TS 459 Pro+ Turbo NAS with five, 2 Terabyte Western Digital Caviar Black hard drives. The spare hard drive is incase one of the other harddrives fail.

I ordered both the Qnap NAS and the Western Digital hardrives from Newegg. I have had good experiences ordering products from them in the past and this was no different.

Both the hardrives and the Qnap arrived well packaged on a Friday. It was Martin Luther King weekend and I had all three days to work on this project.

The first thing I did was head to a local Electronics store and picked up this APC Battery Backup, and this Apple Airport Wireless Extreme Base Station. I spent a lot of money on this equipment and I don’t trust it to Juneau’s dirty electricity.

From unboxing everything to final setup only took me an hour. Which was great! I think it speaks volumes on how easy setting up a Qnap NAS. It also left me with a three day weekend to enjoy.

Following the easy to read directions for the Qnap, I took out four of my five harddrives totaling 8 Terabytes worth of storage and inserted them into the Qnap Unit.  I plugged in my APC Battery backup and plugged the Qnap and the Apple Airport into it, then plugged an ethernet cable from the Qnap to the Airport and turned it all on. By default the Qnap wanted to set up it’s self as a RAID 5. The unit supports other RAID options, but I chose to go with it’s suggested default of RAID 5. It took the Qnap maybe twenty minutes to partiton the harddrives and set its self up as a Raid 5 server.


RAID 5 means is that event hough I loaded up 8 Terabytes of harddrive storage, I would have 6 Terabytes of usable storage. If I have understood what I have read the data I store on the Qnap is more or less available on two of the harddrives at any one time. The point of this is that one harddrive of the four can fail and I wont necessarily lose any data. Should that happen I would just follow the easy to read directions it came with regarding how to replace the failed hard drive. The Qnap system will rebuild it’s self and all will be right in the world again.


Let me stress to anyone who does a project like this or owns a computer in general, please back up your data. I still do backups. Things I keep on the Qnap that I can’t afford to lose, things like photos, home videos, and documents I still back up off of the Qnap on to another hard drive monthly.

With the Qnap up and running I first went into the settings and enabled Time Machine backups. Again, this was a simple process that only took a couple of minutes. Before long every computer in my house (that would be 5) where backing up wirelessly to the Qnap Nas.

Next I went into the settings enabled APC Protection. Should my house lose power for longer then to minutes the Qnap Nas which would be running off the APC battery at this point would shut down after 2 minutes if the power is not restored.

Finally I setup a shares and users accounts on the Qnap NAS. This allows me to store the encoded movies I had on the Mac Mini on the Qnap. After transferring over the movies I was able to start encoding more of them again.


At the time of this post I have had the Qnap Nas for a little over three weeks now with no real complaints. I was able to set the whole thing up in under an hour and it’s been very easy to use. I do recommend the Qnap, but also know I have no bases for compression. This is the first NAS I have ever setup.

The Qnap is capable of doing much more then it currently is. I really want to explore the tons of options it has. I do need to compete this first task before I start playing with it more. I have to finish encoding my DVDs first, then I will go back and see what other Qnap options I might like to play with.

I have discovered that the Qnap and iPhoto 11 do not get along well togetherl. This is because of the format of the hardrives in the Qnap. iPhoto 11 requires HFS+ formatted hardrives to run correctly. Qnap does not support that format (yet). My workaround for this has been to use a separate external hardrive for iPhoto 11 which I also backup. I could keep all the photos and iPhoto 11 on my main computer’s harddrive, but I have so many photos  that the space it requires is very large for me. At this point it just makes sense to keep it on a separate external drive.

In my next post I am going to be talking a little bit about file and media organization.

To Be Continued…

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.


  • 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.


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.


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…

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.

The Time I Got Inside Apple’s Headquarters

Back in September of 2003 I was working with my dad in Cupertino, California selling oriental rugs. We where staying in a condo apartment just a few blocks from Apple’s Headquarters. On one of my days off I decided to apply for a job at Apple and check out the company store. Below is a blog post I wrote on September 4 2003 about my experience from an older version of my blog that is no longer on-line. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did rereading it.

Labor Day Weekend was busy for my dad and I. We had a lot of people coming in to our store to pick up rugs. We sold some very pretty Bokhara rugs. These are rugs that are very shiny and soft to the touch. The wool that is used for them comes from the neck and chest of sheep because it is softer.

Ok, so this rug thing is rubbing off on me a little.

But it was a good weekend. Dad used to be a cook so when we come home from work around 8:30pm he starts cooking dinner and I will put on my jeans and a t-shirt and watch some Futurama. All in all things are going well. I miss Washington state and my friends., but I am having fun here to.

Yesterday fucking rocked thought! After I woke up I got dressed and headed across the street to one of the Apple offices and I dropped off my resume. It was a very quick process. but then I headed down a few more blocks to the Apple headquarters.

Let me tell you this place was elite. For one, all around the perimeter of the Apple Head Quarters where guards. If you took one step off the sidewalk in the direction of the Apple campus you would find your self face-to-face with one of the Apple guards and asked to show your badge. When you’re not able to present one, such as in my case you are asked to “please step back on the sidewalk”.

So I did as I was asked. Even though at this point I am just so happy to be this close to the main Head Quarters, getting shot by am Apple guard would just be plain cool.

So I walked around the campus. The street name is “1 infinite loop”. I came to the campus store. Which is for normal people to enter. So I went in and took a couple of pictures of the place. It was cool.

What made it a cooler than normal was that today was the first day that any of the Apple stores had the new G5’s to show to it’s customers. As I was checking out the new G5 so where Apple employees. I over heard one guy talking about the locking feature on the back of the case.

This is just plain cool how they did this don’t you think? I don’t get to see this kind of stuff in the prototype department. But you would think I would? Nope I have to wait for it to come out just like everyone else to see these little extras they add on.

I found out that this is also the only Apple store that sells Apple branded merchandise like Shirts, pens, caps, jackets, notebooks, etc. So I picked up a few little things. I asked the guy at the cash register if their was any way to get in to the main Apple building or get a tour. He told me no. I asked if it was ok to at least continue you my walk around the campus. He said yes. So I took my bag and started walking around.

Not long after I started, a man comes up from behind me.

“Hello” he says

“How you doing?” I ask.

“You still want that tour?” He asked me

“What? Really? Sure!” I say.

“Then come here” and I follow him up to one of the doors and he lets me in and gets me a visitors badge that I put it on my shirt. We went straight though another set of doors and where outside again. This time on the Apple Campus grounds. People are walking everywhere. Some are going from one office to another. Other people are having lunch, others where playing volleyball, some where even playing Frisbee.

We had a seat at the nearest bench and he told me what he did at Apple. Lets just leave it at, he works on hardware. I don’t want to get anyone in trouble since what he did for me, getting me in Apple was bending the rules a bit.

After that he took me to the main lobby where Apple employees sit and talk about work. This was a cool building. It is three stories with trees inside of it. On one wall you could see there Grammy award as well as their to Emmy awards for fire wire. their was also a free snack kitchen. On the other side you could see offices and some nice chairs people could sit and talk.

At this point I asked him if he ever sees Steve Jobs around the area. He told me that normally around this time you can find him in the cafeteria if he is even here today. He also told me that if I wanted to that I could take some pictures. I took one picture of the Emmy award but then sat back down to talk with him. We talked about what he did their and how restricted the place was. That he could not be in a different department than his own without good resin. Which is understandable. “They get in your face if you don’t have a real resin to be in a different department then your own”

At this point he told me that he had to get back to his office. But he told me it would be O.K. for me to just hang out in the inner lobby for a little bit. Just not to try and go anywhere other than leaving when I was done. I told him thank you so much. That this was so cool and that i really appreciated it. He just smiled and said, “Hey, i understand. I remember what it was like for me the first time I came in here”. And with that he left.

I sat down in one of the couches and looked around for about 10 minutes. I pulled out my camera and took three pictures before a security guard asked me to stop because they had a no photo policy. I was surprised he did not kick me out because I was by myself.

Another 5 minutes passed and I called my Friend Lyle. “Dude I’m inside Apple Computers!!!!” We talked for a few minutes and then I tried calling a few other friends but none of them where home.

Another 5 minutes passed… and then it happened. Steve Jobs himself walked in the main doors along with Jonathan Ive. They both looked at me for a second but continued walking past me talking, lost in their own conversation. They got on an Elevator opposite of me and took it to the third floor and walked cross the bridge to the side of the building I was sitting on.

I then noticed that the security was starting to really eye me down and they where getting ready to do something about me being their all alone. So with that I did not want to push my luck. I got up and left. But I was still questioned about how I got in and why I was their in the first place.

It was just fucking cool! It made my week that is for sure.

The only sad thing in all of this is that I have misplaced my USB camera cable. So until I find it again I will not be able to post any of the pictures I took. If i can’t find it soon I will go get a new cable.

Well as you can tell I did eventually find the USB cable to my camera and I was able to post the photos. It was quite an exciting experience for me to get inside Apple’s headquarters. One I will never forget.