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Make Your Own Mac Media Center

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Don't have a shiny new iMac G5? But you want to make a Mac the center of your home entertainment system? Don't despair. Instead of shelling out thousands for a system, use this guide to connect an existing Mac to your home stereo and television. Emory Christensen shows you why it's not as hard as you think.
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Back in the fall of 2005, Steve Jobs demonstrated a brand-new iMac with a couple of features that had home entertainment center-type folks sit up and take notice: the Apple Remote and FrontRow software. The combination made it easy to turn an iMac into something resembling a media PC. But what if you don’t want to buy a new iMac just to listen to iTunes on your home stereo or watch a DVD from the same device? With a little ingenuity and a spare Mac, you don’t have to.

One caveat before you start work—if you’re looking to record some TV shows and play a couple of DVD movies, you might be better off buying a DVR and a DVD player. On the other hand, if you have a mini or PowerBook (or some other Mac that can do video and audio out) just sitting around and you have that make-it-work spirit, why not go for it? If you have a Mac capable of DVD playback and video output, you already have the makings for a basic system.

How It Works

Putting a Mac at the center of a media system isn’t rocket science. Basically, you’ll be connecting your Mac’s video and audio outputs to a television and a stereo or home entertainment receiver (advanced points for bringing video and audio back in to your Mac).

If you have a stray Mac kicking around, you can form the basics of a media center by simply setting your Mac close to a home entertainment receiver or stereo, and buying a few cables. But, if you have the time and the drive, you can make your Mac the heart of a killer home entertainment center.

Here are the things you’ll absolutely need for a basic setup:

  • A Mac capable of DVD playback, video out, and audio out (this covers most newer Macs)
  • A large hard drive (or even two or three connected externally)
  • A television
  • A stereo or home theater receiver
    Figure 1

    Figure 1 A PowerBook G3 makes a decent basic core to a low-end home entertainment center. It can connect to an external FireWire hard drive for added storage, has wired and wireless networking abilities, has audio and video out, can play DVDs, and can run the latest version of Mac OS X (including the latest version of iTunes, as pictured here). Ours sits on a piano next to our stereo and television.

And, if you’re looking at an uber cool setup, you should consider the following:

  • ElGato EyeTV (for recording television)
  • Network (wired is better than wireless)
  • Bluetooth keyboard and mouse
  • Remote control
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