This is nothing new here because we already have a Squeezebox, but that works with music only.
I found references to some interesting products - the Popcorn Media Tank for example - that included music, photos and video, but I wanted something easy to use, with wireless LAN support - and most importantly something that didn't look like an IT departement had landed in our lounge.
So I thought of using Windows Media Center, based on Windows Vista Ultimate.
Just one problem though and that is most of the PC cases are either too big, or noisy because of the fan requirements, too costly when part of a completely new PC, or simply plain ugly.
So I thought I should look at the temple of modern computing design, Apple. And I ended up settling on a Mac mini. Mind you this is not the first Mac in this house of Windows. But this is a special one, because it is the first computer in the lounge (except for laptops sometimes).
The best thing about the Mac mini is certainly the size and design. It doesn't look like a computer and it's not much bigger than a paperback. I choose the smallest one with 1.83 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 1 GB RAM and 80 GB HDD - no need for large storage because everything is on the Windows Home Server.
So I ordered this on-line from the Apple Store and had it delivered next day (sorry DSE, but your sales guy in Featherston St missed a sale by being dumb and not allowing the one you had there to be transferred to my local store in Johnsonville).
Anyway, I was really impressed with the small box delivered to my door. I opened it and in less than ten minutes of the initial Mac OS configuration I was running Bootcamp and installing Windows Vista on this machine.
Windows Vista installed really fast and all the drivers were delivered with the Mac OS DVD that comes with this box. I installed Avast antivirus, Daemon-Tools and configured the box to use Windows Vsta as the default OS.
Basically if it runs on Windows Vista it will work on this hardware - including ReadyBoost.
The next thing was the installation of a few Media Center plugins and the first three were MyMovies, Yougle and Media Center RSS Reader.
Yougle allows you to play social media content from sites such as YouTube, MSN Soapbox and others - including Apple Quicktime trailers! The Media Center RSS Reader is obvious.
But the most important plugin was MyMovies. It allows you to create a database of the movies you own and then cross-reference movies, actors, directors, etc on the big screen. You can find a biography and then check all the movies you own where that actor worked. It will also automatically load the movie for you before playing. And it solves a big problem too...
You see, I installed LogMeIn so I could manage ths box from my laptop because it does not have a keyboard and mouse - only the Microsoft MCE Remote Control. But there's no EJECT button in this remote control and there's no EJECT button on the Mac mini either! MyMovies solves this problem because it lists the movies in your database and the movie currently in the DVD drive - including an EJECT option.
Overall I am really happy with this setup and even over wireless LAN it can play DVDs streaming from the Windows Home Server with no problems at all.
UPDATE: Just to be complete, I've posted a couple of features I'd like to see to enrich the Media Center experience...
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