iTunes and Boxee?
January 2, 2012 5:02 AM   Subscribe

I want a media enabled living room - have I got the right setup?

My goal: To access my iTunes library via my TV and iPhone - AND - access a USB HDD full of video content on my TV.

Don't want: Having a PC/laptop switched on all the time, or to use my PS3 with it's noisy fans. I don't have a huge place so I don't want electronics turned on generating heat and noise all the time.

If I moved my iTunes library to a NAS drive, I should be able to use it as normal with my iPhone and iPod, and also use iTunes Match.

I was also looking at a Boxee for playing the USB HDD of content - and I think this will also be able to see the music library on the NAS but I can't find a definitive answer.

Would this be a nice userfriendly setup?
posted by anonaccount to Technology (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My only suggestion is to get a solution that allows you to do what you need to do using a remote control. What I use is a computer and Windows Media Center, and everything can be done with its remote. 1000x more useful and usable than the previous solution of having to use a keyboard to alt-tab to the right player for the content I wanted to play.
posted by gjc at 5:32 AM on January 2, 2012

If you don't want fan noise and excessive heat, get a Mac mini. No fans, and it might feel warm to the touch. Further, it will fit into your iTunes setup nicely. You can use your iPhone as a remote and/or mouse/keyboard. You can also run Boxee from the mini.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:06 AM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't have a Boxee, but I'm pretty sure that you have to install a piece of client software on each device from which you want to stream content. So, I think you'd be streaming NAS -> laptop -> Boxee, which seems inefficient and not what you want.

Your PS3 should be able to stream video content without going into full-on fan mode. Mine's pretty quiet when doing anything but playing disc-based games.
posted by mkultra at 6:52 AM on January 2, 2012

If you want to get a NAS, get a Synology, which can serve up content to an Apple TV. If you convert all your video content using handbrake, the Apple TV will be able to use it.

The boxee should be able to read the content from the NAS. Have you gone to the boxee forums? They're pretty helpful.

You may also want to look at the WD TV box, they are supposedly pretty nice.

Are there other features of Boxee that you're interested in?
posted by reddot at 7:23 AM on January 2, 2012

Also, if you use iTunes match, my understanding is that you're only able to use audio content from iTunes match and not from your local iTunes library.
posted by reddot at 7:24 AM on January 2, 2012

I've been playing around with this, and so far have not found the utopia of electronic media where everything is easily accessible.

Most of the setups out there that do what you want expect you to have a computer hosting the media somewhere in your house. It doesn't need to be attached to the TV, necessarily—if your regular computer is always on, that would do. I have seen living-room boxes with internal hard drives that act as their own media players, but as far as I can tell, these are not popular, probably for good reason (I'm imagining they're hell to interact with).

If you have a computer somewhere in your house that can act as a media server, you could get an AppleTV and hook that up in your living room. This can only get media off the Internet (from Youtube, Vimeo, Netflix or the iTunes store), or from iTunes on your computer. That means that your videos need to be imported into iTunes, which may require a hack or format conversion, if they're not in a "native" format. You can also stream media from your iPhone to the AppleTV directly, and you can use your iPhone as an iTunes remote.

I've got a Mac Mini in the living room. I'm not 100% happy with this—power consumption isn't much of an issue when it's asleep, and it's quiet, but there's a lot more administrative overhead, and getting it to work with my remote control has been more trouble than it's worth. I use a piece of software called airserver that lets me stream from my desktop Mac using Airplay. The benefit to having a full-fledged computer is greater flexibility, but I'm not sure it's worth it. It also outputs 1080p, fwiw. The AppleTV outputs 720p, I think.

Apparently the Roku 2 XS, which seems like a pretty nice product, can have a USB drive hooked up to it and play videos off of that. Limitation is that the videos need to be in the H.264 format, which might require you to transcode them first, but it is less capable when it comes to media files elsewhere on your LAN. It can connect to a lot of online video sources that the AppleTV cannot.

One thing that I've found is really nice having a piece of Apple hardware hooked up to the TV is Airplay. I can browse through Youtube videos on my iPhone and have them play on the TV. Feels like living in the future.
posted by adamrice at 7:26 AM on January 2, 2012

Ive been a WD TV Live/Plus/Hub evangelist recently. Locally attached USB HD works best for me, but it can access media servers on your LAN, wirelessly even for some of the models. Connects to your TV via HDMI or lower rca..
posted by edman at 7:51 AM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

The latest AppleTVs can be jailbroken very easily (you just need a microUSB cable). AppleTVs have builtin AirPlay streaming from iTunes without jailbreaking, but jailbreaking yields a wealth of new features. Given that AppleTVs are only $100, you can splurge on Firecore aTV Flash black for $30 to allow you to play whatever you like off your network or external harddrive. Installation was even easier than what they describe on their website; aTV Flash detected my jailbroken AppleTV over the network and installed the software automatically.

After jailbreaking my AppleTV the other day, I tested it by streaming a full-HD movie over SMB and 802.11n. The AppleTV had no hiccups, which surprised me given how inexpensive the hardware is.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 8:15 AM on January 2, 2012

The AppleTV doesn't output video at 1080p, so I went for a PC with XBMC instead.
posted by JonB at 8:31 AM on January 2, 2012

Response by poster: "allow you to play whatever you like off your network or external harddrive"

Really? I thought the processor in the Apple TV was only good for a very specific (iTunes) format video.

If the Apple TV can be hacked to play a variety of formats from an external drive then it's problem solved (as Music would come from iTunes match).
posted by anonaccount at 8:36 AM on January 2, 2012

Really? I thought the processor in the Apple TV was only good for a very specific (iTunes) format video.

Well, I can tell you that I had no problem playing my movies off my NAS once I installed aTV Flash. If you look at the aTV Flash website, it lists a bunch of formats that can be played by the AppleTV once it is jailbroken.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 8:44 AM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: This is a thread asking for the same thing as what I am after:

This, and other threads say USB drives are a no-no. Were you storing them on a NAS maybe?
posted by anonaccount at 8:54 AM on January 2, 2012

I see the link I posted regarding external harddrives applies to the first generation AppleTVs; that's too bad. Yes, I was playing them from my NAS, over SMB; that is, the AppleTV was decoding the media files, not the NAS. So, if you don't mind hooking the HDD up to your NAS and sharing the drive over SMB or AFP, the AppleTV is a fine option.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 9:04 AM on January 2, 2012

Another vote for AppleTV, jailbroken, with XBMC installed and attached to NAS. As long as you don't want 1080p.
posted by drpynchon at 10:58 AM on January 2, 2012

Western Digital Media players are fantastic. I have an older model, but maybe you could make a set up of hosting your files on an NAS and combining that with a Western Digital. The new ones have wifi, no moving parts and easy peasy to work with.
Basically you'd have a set up like this.

Attached NAS, store your media files.
Western Digital, connect to a receiver and to the tv (audio when you want it, tv when you want it)
Set up the NAS to allow access to the idevice (don't have apple, but I assume you should be able to ftp, of stream, probably with some app. This is why I use android, it does whatever I want it to).

Therefore you have no running computer, just an NAS and a western digital.
posted by handbanana at 12:04 PM on January 2, 2012

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