Two years ago my wife and I decided to give up our DirecTV subscription. The reason was simple, we didn’t watch enough television to justify the eighty dollars a month it cost. There were 5 shows that we would DVR regularly and the rest of the time it was on as background noise. Our son was 3 years old at the time and he dominated the daytime television with the Disney channel, usually not paying much attention to it either. It made more sense to purchase the 5 shows on iTunes and cancel the monthly subscription all together.
DirecTV – $80 a month x 12 months = $960 a year
iTunes – $30 a season x 5 shows = $150 a year
The savings allowed us to up our Netflix subscription from 3 to 5 discs and purchase new hardware. The project has evolved a lot over the past 2 years and I wanted to make a few blog posts to outline what we accomplished. To start thing off I’m going to dive right into the meat of the system and later post on all the software/hardware modifications I’ve made.
The centerpiece of our setup couldn’t be more simple: a MacMini running FrontRow. The MacMini comes with everything you need, even a remote control, right in the box. Those with older televisions will need to get an s-video adapter as I had to. FrontRow is linked directly to iTunes, which is were you’ll be managing you television subscriptions. Rather than use a desktop computer to manage my iTunes library I decided to leave that task entirely to the MacMini, keeping all of my media managed by one computer. Screen sharing tools like VNC allow me to easily control the MacMini from my desktop while it sits by the television. Before the Mac is ready to be installed at the television, there’s a little bit of setup that must be done with a monitor, mouse and keyboard.
The most important thing is to set up remote access. Software like VNC will let you control the Mac from any computer in the house as if it were sitting on the desk in front of you. Directions on how to set up the Mac with VNC can be found here. Next, set up auto log in so it won’t ask you for a password every time you start up.
In the “System Preferences” panel click on “Accounts”. Then click on “Log in Options”. In the “Automatic log in” menu choose your user account.
Finally, if you choose to use wireless networking you’ll need to set that up too. While the Mini is set up on your desk you might as well sign up for the iTunes store and start subscribing.
Hooking the Mac up to the TV is pretty simple. Plug any adapters you need into the video out and then plug it into the television. Add some power and you’re in business. I tried using wireless networking at first but after I moved my movies to a network server, more about that in another post, I found that the wireless wouldn’t hold up through a two hour movie. Also, network activities like VNC are generally faster with a wired network. Once the Mac is hooked up to the TV all you have to do is press the “Menu” button on the remote control. FrontRow will launch and any Music, Movies or Television shows you purchase will be available in the appropriate sections.