rigging a used G4 as a media centre
January 10, 2007 5:39 AM   Subscribe

I am going to rebuild a used G4 as a media centre and have a few questions for anyone who might have done this

My main concern is component output to analog TV. I'm unclear as to what is really necessary, and best, to make this work well. Is it just cables I need, or actually a conversion box, or perhaps a PCI video card?


- I plan to add a USB2.0 card for syncing with my iPod ($80?) and possibly to hook up to some Elgato device; although PVR capabilities aren't that necessary so this is optional (optional $150 - 200)
- am leaning towards a Keyspan Express as remote control; will enable Front Row on the box to make control easy for family: $60
- will get bluetooth adapter and keyboard/mouse, to surf from the sofa: $100
- will probably eventually accelerate the box with a 1.8GHz Giga card, they work pretty well: $250

So, for roughly $500 (plus output video cost) I'd have a customized entertainment box complete with large HD etc etc

Anyone have thoughts on the output, or my specs/plans?
posted by iTristan to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
For only a little more (2-300) you can get an Mac Mini and an AppleTV...
posted by Gungho at 6:59 AM on January 10, 2007

OK that may have been a bit brief, but I am always one to not upgrade a Mac. The resale value of the G4 is somewhere between 200 and 300, add the 500 you were planning to spend upgrading, and there you go...Mac Mini $599, AppleTv 299. So why bother with the headache of upgrading the G4 and patching together what comes preloaded on the Mini?
posted by Gungho at 7:01 AM on January 10, 2007

Caution: Apple TV (as I read it) will ONLY play media that is handled by iTunes. Thus, you can't just stream any old videos to it-- has to be in iPod/iTunes format. That seems to eliminate its use in a PVR until and unless someone make the hack that allows you to stream any video through the iTV to the tube.

I was pretty disappointed in this since I've long wanted to digitize my entire DVD collection and use a computer to play the DVDs. Guess I'm looking at a Mac Mini + a huge external HD for that. iTV won't do it.
posted by GregW at 7:34 AM on January 10, 2007

For output to analog TV I use something like this: KWORLD KW PCTV VGA Interface PC to TV Converter. This isn't the exact one I have, I no longer remember which it was. I spent about $85 on mine I think, this one is in the $40s.

I used an old DVD remote control, but I'm using linux and I managed to get one of the linux infared-serial implementations to work with it, once I built a IR-capture box. The keyspan thingy looks pretty neat and usable, so I think going with that is fine.

If bluetooth keyboards/mice are as cheap as the older type of wireless ones (which are some kind of RF, don't know what) then that's fine. Otherwise I'd just go with whatever is wireless and cheapest.

Don't accelerate the box unless it needs it. My media PC is a seriously underpowered machine: 400Mhz celeron that someone threw out. You need surprisingly little horsepower to play movies and such, provided you have a video card that can do a lot of the work (and I'd suspect that the mac does). In linux's case I just had to use a video card that had good xview and/or opengl support (either one seems to be sufficient to do real-time video scaling, etc). The only time I wish I had more horsepower is when I have a lot of DVDs I want to rip - this thing takes forever (5 hours or so to do my 3-pass encoding).

I've been thinking that if I replace it, I might replace it with something like a Mac mini.

Oh, one other thought... I keep mine inside the entertainment center cabinet, which means I have to open the cabinet up to put in a DVD. We have a young son who iis fascinated by the interior of the cabinet so we make it deliberately difficult to get in there. I got tired of dealing with it so I found an old USB enclosure, put a DVD drive in it, and put the external dvd drive up with the rest of our home entertainment appliances. You might consider that if your media PC will be somewhere isolated.

Which is another point: my previous entertainment PC was waaaaaay too loud. In our old house, the laundry room was directly behind where the TV was, so I drilled a small hole in the wall, put some nice custom wall-plates over the hole, and fed the requisite wires through the hole (audio, video, serial for the remote). Then I could keep the computer in another room entirely, where it was completely silent.
posted by RustyBrooks at 7:45 AM on January 10, 2007

Best answer: For what it's worth, I have been using a Mac Mini and firewire storage to do what you're describing for ages. (First with a G4 Mini, then later with an Intel Mini.)

It is simple, works well, and it passes the wife test (not huge or ugly, reasonably simple to use.)
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 8:08 AM on January 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Since we're discussing the alternatives: You could instead buy a used Xbox (under $200 on craigslist) and install Xbox Media Centre. While you're at it, grab the Xbox DVD Remote ($20-ish) add-on, and you're off to the races.
posted by mrmcsurly at 9:58 AM on January 10, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks all - great input so far.

AppleTV curiously is predjudiced against regular 4:3 - otherwise I may seroiusly have considered it. I much prefer the wide-open nature of regular Front Row.

I think definitely I will stick to the "computer" model, as surfing from the sofa will be good as well. The Mini was originally my first choice, as maybe I will go back to that idea, given the number of peripherals I might need to make this plan work - and given the almost ridiculous speed you can get for what, $700CAD or something, considering it's just media files?

So, Tacos, your Mini output to your analog TV directly and easily with no adapters?
posted by iTristan at 12:15 PM on January 10, 2007

It's currently hooked up to a flat panel via DVI, but during testing I hooked it up to a portable TV using S-Video and a cheap ($10 or $20) adapter.

I was about to offer to mail you my adapter, but I can't find the sucker, can only find the DVI->VGA one.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 1:19 PM on January 10, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the thought Tacos, appreciate it.

I'm mostly grateful for the insight into your set up. I'll likely find a refurb on the Apple store, or wherever for the simplest Mac Mini set up to get me going.
posted by iTristan at 7:00 AM on January 11, 2007

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