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.
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
or RSL Digital Fidelity One
)—will do just fine.
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 (
) is undeniably beautiful—but at $2,500
, it’s beyond the reach of most people. Apple’s 23-inch wide-screen Cinema Display (
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.
of 23-inch displays, our top pick was Hewlett-Packard’s $1,400
, 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
$1,200 24-inch UltraSharp 2405FPW (
. All are supported by the standard video cards in
Plextor ConvertX PVR
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
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.
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
that Christopher chose is flawed but adequate. For more-basic control, Keyspan’s 17-button
($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
($49) includes a mouse pointer-pad with two buttons, and a built-in laser pointer.
As Christopher says, the best way to receive local radio broadcasts on your Mac is with
Griffin Technology’s $70 Radio Shark
terrestrial and Internet radio guide and recording scheduling.
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.
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.