Ever since we got the mac mini as a wedding gift, I've been missing my old bachelorette setup in San Diego where I had my old mac mini and an old modified Xbox with media player and would switch to movie media mode via my TV input switching. The hookup and configuration (copying XML files via SFTP!) was a little old skool but, the interface was so nice! It also didn't help that here in Orlando when I would go over to Special K and the princess' house, they would pull up their Xbox360 media interface for Netflix -- an interface that put my Netflix that ran via a Safari browser with Silverlight plugin to shame. Also, VLC for my AVI files never quite played the movies to a polished full screen -- I could always tell it was played through an app on the side because I could see there were some border issues in the full screen. So, the other day, I finally figured out how to extend the Front Row app that came with my Leopard OS to display and play my AVI movie files! How?! Don't worry, I'll tell you. :) It doesn't change my Netflix playing experience but, it's definitely an improvement when it comes to my stored movie files. Here are the basic steps to converting your mac mini into an Apple TV -like media center:
• Make sure you have Front Row installed: Front Row is basically Mac's Media Center. Newer versions of the Mac OS (v10.7 "Lion" and higher) don't come with Front Row since they now sell the Apple TV and they are providing the same basic functionality. Mac OS v10.5 ("Leopard") is ideal since it comes with Front Row v.2 which includes the new features introduced with the Apple TV (except for the YouTube viewer -- for which I'm looking into the Understudy plugin). To test if you have Front Row installed on your Mac OS, press the command key and Esc key at the same time -- this launches Front Row. If Front Row doesn't launch after 10 seconds, you can install it here or here.
• Make sure your iTunes can see your media files: Front Row reads files that are added (not necessarily copied, thank goodness) to iTunes. My media files are primarily ripped DVDs in AVI file format stored on an external dual bay HDD that is connected via FireWire 800/1394b to my mac mini. Therefore, my iTunes cannot read my media files as-is (mainly, because they are AVIs). If you experience the same, then read the next two steps...
• Make sure your QuickTime can play your media files: iTunes can only add movie files that QuickTime can play and that are in the proper iTunes-friendly format (generally MOV or MP4). So, make sure to test your media files in QuickTime. I quickly found that my AVI files would error when opened with QuickTime. If you experience the same, I suggest installing Perian - The swiss-army knife of QuickTime video components. This solved my error, video and audio issues with all of my AVI movie files.
• Make sure your media files are in an iTunes-friendly format: Once you verified proper play of the AVI files in QuickTime, you'll need to convert them to MOV or MP4 for iTunes to add them to the library. This is simple but time-consuming. Open each AVI file with QuickTime and go to "File" -> "Save As"; make sure the Format is set to "Movie" and click "Save". QuickTime will process the AVI file into a MOV file. I verified that the new MOV files played in both QuickTime and iTunes.
• Add the media files to iTunes: Now that you've converted your AVI files to MOV, you can add them to your iTunes library. You can just locate the root folder in Finder for all your MOV files and drag and drop the root media folder into iTunes, it'll add all iTunes-readable media files in the subfolders for you.
• Launch Front Row and verify your new media collection: Press the command key and Esc key at the same time, arrow up and down to ensure the "Movies" menu item is selected and press Enter to drill in and play the new media you just made available in a polished-full screen home theater mode! Et voilà.. C'est ça!
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