The ultimate media center setup with a Mac Mini and Plex – live 2013 in 2011 – step by step tutorial

Forget about the “TV-internet-apps” integration you have seen on CES last week! It is really all not there yet. If you want to have The Ultimate Media Center Setup then continue to read. Follow the instructions below and you will have a setup what probably is going to be common in 2013!

On a more serious note… lots of colleagues and friends have asked me about my media center setup.  As title of this website says “brands – mobile – technology” I am happy to share it here! Personally I find it an amazing setup:)

Plex Nine for OSX - Movie view

First: forget about Google TV and Apple TV. They are simply too limited in many ways: no local storage, locked in with file formats, not being able to see TV through the internet (for me the Dutch “missed a broadcast” is very important) unless there is a specific app for it on GoogleTV and more.

Second: forget about Popcorn or any of the other media tank products. Frankly this could have likely worked if it was not for the fact that I really wanted flexibility and no limitations. Limitations became apparent when thinking about viewing content from sites that run Silverlight plugins, opening a normal browser or simply adding a RAID drive to make the media center also the storage center in the house.

So in our Mac home the choice was the Mac Mini (PC homes should go for the Dell ZinoHD or similar). Here is the basic setup:

  • Mac Mini running Silverlight and a Flash player. Previous generations of Mac Mini with mini DVI instead of HDMI require this connector to connect to an AV receiver.
  • Plex app – Media Center application for OSX and iOS (free for OSX). This application is simply amazing! It is full-blown media center app with a fantastic user interface, metadata scanners for your movies/TV shows, and above all an amazing amount of plugins that allow you to watch internet content on your big screen (CNN, Hulu, many European channels…). Plex uses a Plex Media Server app that you can install on all your Macs at home. This way you can access e.g. iTunes or iPhoto content from your iMac in the study room through your MacMini on your TV. Plex is the best!
  • Preen app, a skin manager for Plex
  • Remote Buddy app, allows you to control many applications with the Apple remote or Logitech Harmony remotes. Best of all: you can (re)define all the keys on the remote to use functions inside programs!

With the above you get the basic setup. If you want more then read on.  See the video below for an overview of this Ultimate Media Center setup! The video was made by Nuno, the author of the Mini Harmony tutorial. More on that shortly.

Here is what you need to make it happen:

  • A Logitech Harmony remote control, preferably the Harmony One, but the Harmony 650 that I have works fine too.
  • To control everything with the Harmony as in the video above a bit of work is required… you will need to program Remote Buddy. To make it happen follow everything that is written in the Mini Harmony blog (start with episode 0). Unfortunately the author of the blog did not finish the tutorial so go over the Plex Forums to get the final episodes (direct link). Note note note: please read everything on the blog and the forum word by word, line by line. This does require some will and determination to make it happen… but once done… wow, the result is simply the best!
  • Icons for your Harmony remote. You can upload them to your Logitech using the software that came with your Logitech
  • VPN connection through e.g. Witopia or similar providers. This will make it possible get an IP address virtually all over the world.

You can make your setup even fancier by playing good old arcade games on your Mac with the big screen using the Xbox 360 Wireless controller. This is how you do it:

What you need is:

That’s it folks! Have fun with the Ultimate Setup! Happy 2013! 🙂

5 thoughts on “The ultimate media center setup with a Mac Mini and Plex – live 2013 in 2011 – step by step tutorial”

  1. You are an absolute legend for this guide. Not only do you it explain it very well. You supply all the needed links. Superb write up, and you have made it very easy for me (who is waiting for Apple to ship my i5 new Mac mini) to take make an ultimate media center for myself.

    Cheers

  2. And if you want access to your plex database in multiple rooms? You would need a mac mini in every room? Of course having a computer attached to your TV is the best option; however, this option might cost a bit more.

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