As a brief introduction to what this site is all about, I wanted to detail exactly how my Intel Mac Mini acts as a media hub to demonstrate what YOUR Mini can do for you!Read More
JULY 2008 UPDATE: I’ve recently begun using Plex (aka OSXMBC) and it eats up ANY 1080p material I throw at it. My full review is available here but the short version is a strong recommendation to anyone interested in playing back 1080p on their Mini. It’s amazing.
Until now, my Mac Mini’s limitations haven’t slowed down any HD material I’ve thrown at it. But, admittedly, I’ve never asked for anything beyond 720p playback. I recently began archiving HD material at 1080p however, using the .MKV file compression and I wasn’t sure if my Mac Mini could handle playing it back effectively.Read More
Lost in the discussion of major Mac HTPC capabilities are features that enhance the home theatre experience in smaller ways. One trimming I’ve always looked for has been the ability to display incoming Caller ID on screen during video playback.
And after a little digging (and a lot of testing), I discovered this is still very much an emerging area that could use a little clarification for Mac users like me looking to add this seemingly simple feature to their OS X-based home theaters.
I use an Intel iMac for most of my computing, whose lack of a modem made purchasing an external device necessary. There were two possible roads to go down: snagging the Apple USB Modem combined with 3rd party software or a proprietary software/hardware combination. Since the price difference is $50 vs $100+, I chose the former.
ShowCallerID 0.1 (Free) – ShowCallerID is a simple program that lives exclusively in the menu bar. It offers no control over the location or duration of the caller info it displays. The number (no name) is thrown up in black text against a white block on the upper part of the screen.
Unfortunately, this is the first version of the product and the site freely points to a reality I quickly became familiar with: “Sometimes the modem doesn’t talk to the computer. The phone rings but no notification window pops up.” 90% of the time, ShowCallerID sat idle by while my phone rang away.
This lack of consistency combined with development that apparently ended in early 2006 makes ShowCallerID a dry hole in my search.
Caller ID for Mac OS X 1.0 Beta 3 ($14.95) – Like ShowCallerID, Caller ID For Mac OS X (CIDOSX) resides exclusively in the menu bar. It does offers rudimentary control over the display location, but nothing else. In fact, there is little in the way of features that sets CIDOSX apart from ShowCallerID beyond the price difference.
Except that CIDOSX NEVER worked with the Apple USB modem…not one call was detected. To that end, CIDOSX is a complete non-starter with a nod to the fact that it’s still in Beta.
Silica 1.2 (Free) – While $14.95 less than CIDOSX, Silica offers a surprisingly robust set of features compared to the programs covered so far. It offers more control over the display’s location and appearance, to start.
It also is the first to offer support for Growl, which theoretically should allow the info to be shared across networked computers also running Growl and display the caller’s info on multiple computers.
But Silica’s performance bordered on lifeless. I was able to get a couple of displays with Silica’s built-in notification, but Growl did absolutely nothing. Truth be told, I’ve been trying get Silica to work for a while on different Macs (with various modems) with little success. As much as I like the price tag, performance is number one in most aspects of my life. Hence, another sad face.
CallWall .92 ($10 during Beta) – Man, I wanted to love CallWall. In addition to incorporating Growl support, it also lets users create a “call firewall” that allows dynamic blocking of specific numbers, plus integration with an online database of know phone marketers. And the interface is simple and very OS X-like. My enthusiasm even led to an ill-conceived and premature purchase.
Premature because I cannot get consistent service. Like so many others, CallWall sometimes saw my calls, but most of the time it just looked pretty while my ringer went on and on. And the developers haven’t answered repeated requests for help.
Jon’s Phone Tool 3.7.2 ($22.50) – By this point, you may be wondering how I know it’s the software and not my system. BECAUSE I FOUND A PROGRAM THAT WORKS EVERY TIME. Before and after each other piece of software failed, Jon’s Phone Tool delivered accurate info every time the phone rang via my Apple USB modem.
But JPT is much, much more than just a caller ID notifier and it demands more of my system’s resources than I’d care to use for just one of it’s features. This is no knock against JPT – it’s a kick-ass phone interface for Macs. Just way more than I want and need.
It does work, however. Which makes it the default winner…with plenty of room for decent competitors in the next race.
Beyond the Apple USB modem, there are pricier hardware options available…I owned and returned Ovolab’s Phlink due (again) to flaky incoming notifications. The only high-profile possibility I haven’t test driven is PhoneValet due to it’s steep cost.
* Obviously, anyone with better info than me – post up and I’ll update the list!
Itâs amazing when a company is the first to innovate a product and is able to maintain a superior product in spite of multiple competitors who arrive able to presumably improve on the original idea. Tivo is an excellent example of thisâ¦their PVR software and hardware offerings are still the easiest and most respected on the market, despite companies with very deep pockets attempting to best them.
So itâs a high water mark Iâm trying to meet putting together a Mac-based HDTV PVR. The mechanics (ATSC tuner, ability to record and playback HDTV, access to other media files, etc) have been available for some time and I had a decent first set-up with my Linkplayer/EyeTV 500 combo. But it was a clunky interface that offered little more than dependable HDTV playback (not a feature to be knocked) and access to networked media files. Playing back other video files (backed-up DVDs in particular) was impossibility for my technically-challenged mind and there was still a lot of hardware stacked under my TV.
So when I read that the new Dual Core Intel Mac Mini would play back HD content smoothly, I just picked one up. Although the price was (a lot) higher than the Linkplayer, Macs hold their value extremely well and I knew I could recoup most of the cost on Ebay if I wasnât enthralled with the performance.
My Miniâs processor is a 1.66 GHz Intel Core Duo with 1GB of RAM. It is plugged into my Phillips 32â? LCD HDTV via the Phillips HDMI slot with the help of a DVI-HDMI converter. The audio plugs into my Yamaha receiver via a miniplug-TOSLINK cable and passes Dolby Digital signals without trouble from EyeTV and Appleâs DVD Player. To repeat an oft-used phrase about Macs: It just works.
I still use my EyeTV 500 ATSC receiver to watch, time-shift, and record HDTV (and SD) signals that I receive at no cost with my OTA antennae. It plugs into the Mini via Firewire and has a 500GB External LaCie HD daisy-chained onto its other Firewire port. This offers my tons of storage space.
EyeTV 2.3 also offers a plethora of features that act as a very reasonable replacement for Tivoâ¦Iâm following up with a detailed review of both 2.3 and itâs controversial newer brother 2.3.1 that will expand on these advantages.
* 2/2007 Update: The Mini’s video didn’t originally fit exactly onto the Phillip’s screen…I detailed my fix in this subsequent post.Read More
Although Iâve already gone to great lengths to put together a home theater network WITHOUT my new Intel iMac, I decided to see how well Front Row looked on my modest 32â? Phillips LCD HDTV. And without further adoâ¦
â¦it looked great. The display was automatically detected by my iMac. I didnât have an HDMI converter (which Iâd need for my TV), so I used a SVHS adapter that I use with my Powerbook. And despite the lack of digital video signal, the picture was BEAUTIFUL when played back with the latest VLC Universal Binary build. Quicktime (Front Row’s media player) has never worked well with my TS files and being integrated into Front Row didn’t eliminate this critical problem. I was disappointed, but not surprised.
Although the iMac was playing back a 1080i TS file on itâs own screen, it effortlessly passed on the analog signal to my LCD screen. There were no artifacts or dropped frames (or, frankly, anything at all) to complain about. The PQ was similar to a well-encoded DIVX file and I look forward to trying out an actual digital connection.
Overall, I was impressed. While I never plan on integrating an iMac into my own home theatre set-up, it would have rocked back when I was younger and jammed into a single apartment. The HD capabilities, integrated remote, and VLCâs ability to play back anything I can think of makes it ideal for someone who plans on using the monitor as a TV as well.Read More