Shared media and backup for 3 macbooks
February 26, 2012 3:00 PM   Subscribe

In my house, we have three macbooks and one external hard drive full of media. Please help me figure out a system for sharing the hard drive, setting up a media server, and wireless backup.

Right now we have 3 macbooks and an external hard drive full of pictures, videos, and music. Possibly also relevant: We have a non-networked HDTV (that we currently plug said external hard drive into via USB to watch movies) and an AppleTV (but this gets very little use as few of our files are in .mp4 format).

I want (Necessary):

1. All 3 macbooks to have wireless access to a shared external hard drive.
2. All 3 macbooks wirelessly and automagically backed up.
3. The external hard drive backed up.

I would REALLY like (I could live without it, but it is important to me):

4. Ability to keep the media hard drive plugged into my TV using the USB

I would like (Not necessary, but would be nice):

5. itunes where the music is so that it can be a media server
6. UPnP so that I can steam music to networked players (I don't actually have any networked players now so this is just planning for the future)

What I've considered:

A. Time Capsule - Probably the easiest for 1 and 2, but won't do 3, 4, 5, or 6.

B. Networked hard drive connected to TV (and use Time Machine to back up the macbooks onto it as well) - Meets 1, 2, 4, 5, 6. But how to back up the media files that are only on the networked hard drive? (Crashplan?)

C. Networked hard drive connected to TV plus Time Capsule (same as above but with macbooks backing up onto Time Capsule instead of onto the networked hard drive) - Meets 1, 2, 4, 5, 6. But how to back up the networked hard drive? (Crashplan?)

D. Mac Mini for 4, 5, 6 plus Time Capsule or Crashplan for 1, 2, 3.

E. WD TV Live for 4, 5, 6 plus Time Capsule or Crashplan for 1, 2, 3.

This is the point where I start to get confused and overwhelmed with all the options. What is the most simple option available for me? I am fine with taking the time to set everything up, but don't want to be troubleshooting or doing maintenance frequently.
posted by Nickel to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
The simple solution to me isn't going to hit all of your points due to your tv situation but will cover most of everything else.
Get an old pentium 4 computer with a gig of ram and throw on freenas. It handles all of the backups and streaming perfectly. I would put the machine to work (presuming its xp, or even linux can be sufficient if you are comfortable) to change all video files into mp4 (or if some else knows, jailbreak the apple tv to play other formats).

Not the fastest, most direct, but it would be better for what you want to do overall.
posted by handbanana at 3:47 PM on February 26, 2012

My pick (and plan, when I have the money): Mac Mini + additional hard drives.

The Mac Mini has an HDMI out and can replace the Apple TV.

In my office (3 iMacs + mac Mini) I have a 2TB hard drive plugged into the mini that's used for Time Machine for the whole network. You need to change some settings on the client computers (warning: involves using the Terminal) but then the networked drive shows up in the time machine system preference and is much, much cheaper than buying a Time Capsule.
posted by modernserf at 3:49 PM on February 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

How troublesome would it be to convert your existing media so it can stream via the AppleTV? That would simplify your problem significantly.

I'm also planning to buy a Mac Mini and plug an external hard drive into it, then set that drive up as the home directory for iTunes. That way all the MacBooks in my house will be able to share to and from that, unifying the mess of separate iTunes accounts. I already have a Time Capsule which handles backups nicely.
posted by Joh at 4:28 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you are into jail breaking, you can put XMBC on the ATV. I think you can then hook up the HD to the ATV and access the ATV's instance of XMBC via DNLA and UPnP clients (including XMBC) on the MacBooks. It may also be possible to jailbreak the ATV and put Boxee on it.

How are you currently getting wifi to the MacBooks? Can't you run Ethernet from your router or whatever to the ATV? If so, wouldn't the ATV be in the local ip space and therefore easily accessible?

Boxee is far more polished than XBMC but XBMC is a vital freeware project with many active developers and consequently has more potential features available if you are intrepid enough to hack your way through a lightly documented open source project. I tend to prefer Boxee due to the superior UI but am using XMBC on a G4 Mini ( Boxee has no PPC support).

This whole topic is totally overwhelming. Avsforum is likewise totally overwhelming but I tell you, the answers are in there.

Setting aside the backup question, I think the setup above should get you where you need to go. I have our media assets on an external drive hooked up to a mini running boxee, and we use the boxee iPad client and the eyetv iPad client to access the video assets. Audio is centralized in iTunes and played back in a variety of locations via AirPlay and AirFoil.

I just finished dusting off some unused and moribund hardware, including a ten year old projector I dumpstered and an original g4 Mac mini and without an overly egregious amount of hassle was able to add all of that together to the local media sphere. I definitely could not have done that the first time I started hacking into this stuff.
posted by mwhybark at 5:49 PM on February 26, 2012

What device provides wireless? An Airport Express or Airport Extreme has a USB connector that will give access to an external hard drive to any device that can access the router.
posted by megatherium at 6:19 PM on February 26, 2012

Response by poster: To answer some questions: I currently have an AT&T combined modem/router to get wifi.

I was looking into the Airport Express/Extreme but then noticed that Time Capsule can do the same shared drive but adds the Time Machine functionality.

I thought it wouldn't, but it tuns out that converting all my .avi files to .mp4 (handbrake) IS annoying enough that I hacked my TV to play the .avi files via USB.

I'll be looking into the XMBC hack.

Thanks for the answers so far. Keep them coming.
posted by Nickel at 7:42 PM on February 26, 2012

Time Machine doesn't require a time capsule. Airport Extreme does the sharing automatically, and has support for USB hubs.
posted by oceanjesse at 10:46 PM on February 26, 2012

Response by poster: I've considered it, but it looks like Time Machine is "iffy" on Airport Extreme because it's not supported?
posted by Nickel at 11:40 PM on February 26, 2012

Quick update:

I need up buying a used Apple TV 2 and jailbreaking it via FireCore and seas0npass. This greatly simplified the process and got the ATV to run the current release of XBMC, which has a realtime eyetv playback module in active community development and of course permits access to my local DNLA/UPnP resources.

My rickety G4 Mac mini was not up to movie playback at 1024x768, thus the new HW.

However, there are DHCP issues with the ATV2 and my non-HDCP-compliant projector. I have hacked and hacked at it, but HDCP is very hard to get around, in part because there seems to be a mandate against discussing it online. HDCP prevents playback of my stream via the ATV and also the use of iOS' recently introduced video-mirroring capability. Especially in the case of video -mirroring (I can't playback content I created on my own on the iPad via the feature) I think it's absurd.

That said, XBMC on the ATV works very well indeed. It is somewhat bumpy in terms of configuration but it is those very bumps that end up enabling a superior playback environment - nearly every playback parameter is configurable on a media-stream-by-media-stream basis.

Feel free to drop me a line.
posted by mwhybark at 1:16 PM on April 26, 2012

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