The Computer Blog

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The MacBook Pro Entertainment Center

A lot folks have been buying Mac Minis to use to power an entertainment center. My wife and I have talked about that; and after I run some tests using my wife’s MacBook, we too might do the same. But with the heavy outpouring of cash that went on this Christmas, it was something I didn’t want to do right this moment. Instead, I wanted to see how our Mac notebooks would fare in its place.

We got a gracious gift of some cash from my in-laws, so Connie and I used that to buy an HDTV LCD. We picked up a 32 inch WinBook model for $699 nfore a $100 mail-in rebate. The WinBook TV has composite, coaxial, and HDMI inputs. For the first couple of days after we bought it, we suffered through with a regular digital cable box until we could get an HDTV box from Time-Warner. We got the HDTV box yesterday and have been really enjoying the super brightness and clarity of HDTV. Yet, that was only a small part of the HDTV-centric entertainment center I wanted to put together. I wanted to be able to see super-DVD movies, listen to music and videos stored on Macs about the house, and do all those “digital hubs” things Macs are supposed to do. So, I was curious to see if we could make it happen with the Macs we already owned.
A lot of people are holding their breath for Apple’s iTV that’s to be released next year. Yet, the product descriptions so far have implied that this device will allow you to stream music and videos from Macs in the house to your TV. Why couldn’t I already do that with the Macs I have using our 54g wireless home network?

After setting the HDTV to take HDMI input, I unhooked my MacBook Pro from its desktop setup in my office and set it on the entertainment center in front of our HDTV. I plugged it into the HDTV using an overpriced Inland DVI to HDMI cable, plugged in its power adapter, and plugged in the external audio port to an Altec Lansing ATP3 stereo speaker set. Cracking the MBP’s lid open, I pushed the Power button and then shut the lid, moving back to our couch where I logged into it using an Apple Wireless Keyboard. (This step is not necessary if you don’t have your Mac password protected.) The HDTV came alive with the MBP’s Desktop. I checked to make sure that the MBP was connected to our home network (which has its SSID turned off and is password protected—isn’t yours?) and then launched iTunes. Walking back to my office, I started my dual G5 PowerMac and launched iTunes on it. Since it was already set up for sharing, I went back into my living room, sat down on my couch, and using the Apple Remote that came with my MBP, launched Front Row. I then navigated to the Music category, Shared Folders, and selected a Battlestar Galactica episode. It began playing on my HDTV!
I played both a song and a music video to try those out, too, and they all streamed across the network beautifully!
Next I ran some DVD movies, not only to test how they would work with this set-up but also to compare picture quality betweenmy MacBook Pro and our Toshiba DVD player. As you might suspect, since the MBP to HDTV connection is purely digital, the MBP won that contest. Secondly, I found I could control all DVD player functions from the Apple Remote. In fact, as a general rule, once Front Row is launched, a keyboard or mouse is not needed until time to shut down to MBP or deal with some unexpected problem.
The only hassle associated with this type of set-up is its set up and breakdown. I could minimize that by buying another MBP power adapter; part of the hassle is moving the TV around to plug and unplug the MBP in a power strip behind the two of them. But I am leaning heavily toward buying a Mac mini to leave hooked in place in front of the TV to control out streaming video and music and to use as a DVD player. It’s likely I might also put it to use as a DVR at some point, though I haven’t investigated that. My next test is to use my wife’s MacBook with its lesser GMA950 video processor to see if there is any noticeable performance degradation. I hope to do that tonight; there is a rented copy of Ricky Bobby waiting to be played.

2 Comments:

  • hey andy, do you think the macBook pro would do as well with a 56" HDTV with HDMI input....is 56" too big and would there be loss of resolution?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:20 AM  

  • Well, I'd have to try it to be sure; but I would think it would work just fine. The specs show the MBP will handle a 2560 x 1600 external display and most 56 inch HDTV's I looked up seemed to be 1280 x 720 or 1900 x 1080 max.

    By Blogger Andy Foster, at 5:59 AM  

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