Do-it-yourself multimedia

If you want a Mac that plays music and movies, you could buy one of the new iMac G5s and trick it out, as Christopher Breen did. But if you’re not in market for a new computer, or if you want features that the iMac doesn’t offer, you can build your own media center out of almost any relatively up-to-date Mac.

Speakers The speakers Christopher used to expand his iMac will work great for anyone with a Power Mac G5 or an iMac G5 (both support multichannel audio output)—you can hook up a 5.1-channel speaker system to either system. Although there are several options, I think the Logitech Z-5450 system that Christopher chose is one of the best.

If you have a Mac mini or a laptop, and you’re limited to the standard audio line-out jack, then speakers that use a minijack connector—such as the $250 Altec Lansing FX-6021 or RSL Digital Fidelity One   ; Playlist )—will do just fine.

Display If you don’t have an iMac, you can’t rely on a built-in display. (And if you do have one, you may not want to rely on it.) For viewing movies and TV shows, Apple’s 30-inch Cinema HD Display (   ; March 2005 ) is undeniably beautiful—but at $2,500 , it’s beyond the reach of most people. Apple’s 23-inch wide-screen Cinema Display (   ; March 2005 ) and several comparable LCD monitors offer 1,920-by-1,200-pixel resolution—enough to display every pixel of 1080i (1,920-by-1,080) High-Definition (HD) video—and are therefore more-reasonable options.

In a recent review of 23-inch displays, our top pick was Hewlett-Packard’s $1,400 L2335 display (   ) , which provides composite, component, and S-Video inputs (in addition to DVI and VGA ports) . Since that review, several promising big-screen displays have appeared, including Dell’s $1,200 24-inch UltraSharp 2405FPW (   ; February 2006 ) . All are supported by the standard video cards in Mac minis and Power Macs.

Plextor ConvertX PVR

TV Tuner To view and record TV from analog cable or antenna sources, any Mac owner can use the Elgato EyeTV 200 (   ; July 2004, which Christopher chose. The Plextor ConvertX PVR costs $100 less than the EyeTV 200 and comes with Elgato’s excellent EyeTV software, but it uses USB 2.0 instead of FireWire to connect and doesn’t come with a remote (the EyeTV does). For people who have upgraded to a huge HD display, Elgato’s $350 EyeTV 500 lets your Mac receive and display free, over-the-air (ATSC) digital signals in both SD and HD, as well as unencrypted (Clear QAM format) digital cable. For 1080i HD signals, however, you’ll need a dual-processor or dual-core Power Mac G5.

Remote Control While Apple’s wireless remote control is one of the new iMac’s big selling points, there are other, better ways to control your Mac from afar. The Belkin MediaPilot that Christopher chose is flawed but adequate. For more-basic control, Keyspan’s 17-button Express Remote ($60) includes key maps for iTunes, QuickTime, and DVD Player, as well as software that lets you configure the remote for other apps. Macally’s KeyPoint ($49) includes a mouse pointer-pad with two buttons, and a built-in laser pointer.

Radio As Christopher says, the best way to receive local radio broadcasts on your Mac is with Griffin Technology’s $70 Radio Shark combined with RadioTime’s terrestrial and Internet radio guide and recording scheduling.

Hard Drive No matter what kind of Mac you want to turn into an entertainment center, you may also want to consider getting an additional hard drive. Music and photos take up a lot of room. Throw video into the mix, and your storage requirements go up rapidly.

With Power Macs, there’s room for at least one extra internal drive, and you can add a 500GB Serial ATA drive for around $360. Pricewatch is an excellent place to search for and compare hard drives.

With other Mac models, you can either upgrade the internal drive or buy an external FireWire or USB 2.0 drive (for reviews of FireWire hard drives, see our Buyer’s Guide ). Even if you have space for an internal drive, you might prefer the portability of an external one.

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