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Using a Dedicated Home Media Server

Sharing digital media between the various computers in a house is a great thing. It allows family members to each have their own photo, music, and video collections and to choose what is made available to everyone. However, there are some limitations to this approach. If one person’s computer is turned off or in sleep mode, or if they don’t have the appropriate iLife applications running, that computer’s content becomes unavailable.

Other issues with multiple collections include the fact that the locations where specific songs, videos, or photos are stored can become confusing. This can turn finding specific playlists, home movies, or the latest episodes of The Daily Show into a virtual scavenger hunt. More importantly, it makes backing up the contents of all those libraries equally difficult and could end up with one person deleting files while assuming that they are also stored someplace else. Finally, it can result in the same files being stored on multiple computers, wasting valuable hard drive space.

The solution to this problem is the ultimate home media project: setting up a dedicated home media server that will act as the primary repository of all your family’s digital media. This approach works well when creating a home media network in which content will be shared across several computers. It will also have an advantage with Apple’s iTV because you will have a single source of content streamed to the iTV. For either computer or iTV access, this approach also gives you a single set of libraries and files to organize, making keeping track of and backing up your media content much easier.

The process of setting up a home media server is actually extremely simple and it can be done very cost-effectively. Obviously, the first thing you need is a Mac that will be the server. This can be any Mac that can run Mac OS X Tiger and iLife ’06, which gives you a broad choice of Mac models going back as far as six years. Specifically, you need a Mac with a Power PC G4 processor and DVD drive.

If you want to set up a Mac media server and don’t have an extra Mac to use as a server, you can find a great many deals on eBay that can do the trick. iBooks and PowerBooks that are being sold because they no longer have a functioning screen or keyboard but do have video out capabilities work well. Other good options are older iMacs, eMacs, and Power Mac G4 computers—all of which are relatively inexpensive. These prospects are also good for being used as media computers within your network.

Regardless of the Mac model you opt to use as a server, make sure that it has a good amount of RAM in it (512MB minimum) and as large a hard drive as possible. The ease of installing one or more large hard drives makes an older Power Mac G4 a particularly attractive option. However, you can upgrade the internal hard drives of most Macs and you can opt for external FireWire or USB 2.0 drives as well (USB 2.0 drive will obviously require a Mac that supports USB 2.0).

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