Turn your old Mac into a jukebox

Video on demand

You can also set up your spare Mac to record and play back video.

It’s no secret: Personal video recorders like the TiVo are really just special-purpose computers configured to record TV shows. So when you find yourself with a spare computer on your hands, you may wonder if you can turn it into a TiVo-like video jukebox.

Doing so isn’t that tricky. But before you do anything, you should ask yourself whether it really makes sense. Instead, should you just buy a genuine TiVo and subscribe to its TV-recording and -scheduling service?

The pro-TiVo argument goes something like this: Elgato’s EyeTV (   ) costs around $350 and requires a recent Mac and a ton of disk space. To have the shows you record on your Mac play on your TV, you’ll need to fork out another $250 or so for Elgato’s EyeHome (   ) or some other scan converter. Your total costs, not including the Mac itself, are about $600. By comparison, TiVos cost about $200, with another $300 for lifetime service. (You could opt for the $13 month-to-month contract.)

Out of the box, TiVos work with basic cable, digital cable, antenna reception—just about any video feed you might want. And none of the software currently available for the Mac can replicate TiVo’s trick of tracking your viewing habits and recording shows it thinks you’ll like.

But there are times when using a Mac as a TiVo makes sense: What if, for example, you live in a country that doesn’t yet have TiVo service? Many people outside the United States can’t get it. Second, you may feel a little nervous about signing up and paying for a lifetime subscription to anything, much less a tech service like TiVo. What if the company goes under or is bought out? At least with the Mac option, you own the hardware yourself and, as long as you’ve got access to TV broadcasts, you can record programs as much as you want. And third, you may just be a die-hard do-it-yourselfer.

Whatever your reasons, if you do decide you want to turn a spare Mac into a video jukebox, here’s how.

What You Need

A video sever requires a more powerful processor than a music-only setup—a G4 Mac at least.

To that Mac, you hook up an Elgato EyeHome, which lets you play back Mac-stored video, music, and even photos on your TV and stereo. (It can’t play protected AAC files, though, so it’s not the ideal solution if you buy music with iTunes.)

To record video to the Mac from the TV, I’d go with Elgato’s EyeTV—partly because it’s easy to work with, but also because it interfaces so well with the EyeHome. The EyeTV lets you program, record, organize, and edit video; you can export your recorded video in many formats, either to save for a rainy day or to burn to DVDs using Apple’s iDVD or iMovie, or Roxio’s Toast. The EyeTV 200 (there are several different versions of the device) will also digitize analog video, so you can turn those shelves full of bulky VHS tapes into slim stacks of DVDs.

How to Set It Up

You can use a crossover cable to connect the EyeHome directly to a Mac, or you can connect the EyeHome to your network—either directly via Ethernet or using an AirPort Express (or similar device) as a wireless bridge. (You’ll need AirPort Extreme, or 802.11g, to stream video; you can stream music and photos with regular AirPort, or 802.11b.) Then connect the EyeHome to your TV and stereo.

You connect the EyeTV to your TV, cable box, or satellite decoder; then you connect it to your Mac with a FireWire cable. The EyeTV gets power over the FireWire cable, so you don’t even need to plug in an AC adapter.

Once you’ve got all that hooked up, you’ll need to install software for both the EyeHome and the EyeTV on the Mac you’ve designated as a video server. Setting up the EyeHome software is easy; the installer adds a pref-erence pane to System Preferences and then opens it. Click on the Start button, and the EyeHome application will launch every time you start up your Mac. The EyeTV is even eas-ier: Just copy the EyeTV application to your hard drive.

When you turn the EyeHome on, it should automatically find your video Mac; if you have several Macs on your network running the EyeHome software, you can select any of them and access its content. You can start accessing your music, movies, and pictures, and you’ll even have limited Web access. The EyeHome automatically spots any content you record with the EyeTV—so with just a few clicks, you can play back anything you’ve digitized or recorded from the TV.

The EyeTV software organizes all your recordings and lets you play them back on your Mac, edit them, or burn them to DVDs.

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