Mac HTPC Software
A definitive list of apps that help my Mac Mini HTPC realize its full potential.
EyeTV – The only real option for a Tivo-like experience on a Mac is thankfully well-tended by its developers at El Gato Systems. Use it to record & playback HD, digital, and/or analog programming (depending on your hardware).
Must-have features include time-shifting, scheduled recordings, integrated TV guide, snappy editing to remove commercials, robust exporting to devices like iPods and iPhones, and much, much more.
VLC – Hands down the finest standalone Mac video player – VLC’s versatility, price, and feature set make Quicktime look like a child’s toy by comparison. Support for almost every codec out there means you can play a DVD image (or actual disc) back-to-back with AVIs, TS streams, MKV HD files, and whatever else you may find in your archives.
As if that’s not enough, this badboy has been free for years.
Remote Buddy – Whatever you may be using to remotely control your Mac HTPC, Remote Buddy can enhance and refine the experience to EXACTLY how you want it to be. I started out using the Apple Remote, which RB allowed me to remap so it could browse and control every app I use. I then upgraded to an IR receiver from Keyspan and RB allowed me to do the same with a standard universal remote. Now I’m on my iPhone, using it as a beautiful universal remote to control my Mac from anywhere in the house via WiFi.
Extras like Applescript support only gild an app already worth every dollar (or Euro, in Remote Buddy’s case).
Visual Hub – There are tons of video converters out there, but I’ve found Visual Hub to be the most reliable and easiest to use. It’s speed smokes alternatives and presets for my iPhone and 720p screen are spot-on without any adjustments.
Unison – I like swapping video recordings, er, media files with friends around the world and Unison makes accessing these newsgroups easy as pie. Makes swapping BH9 episodes on worn videotapes during high school seem crazy-analog by comparison.
DisplayConfigX – If you’re lucky enough to have an HDTV that displays your Mac’s video perfectly out of the box, Congrats…you can jump to the next app.
For the rest of us, clipped edges and missing menu bars are an annoyance that DisplayConfigX can easily fix. I went without half my dock for six months before tweaking my 32″ Phillips to a perfect-1210×676 resolution. Now, it all fits like a glove. Not sexy at all, this app is nonetheless essential to get things the way they should be.
JollysFastVNC – I used Chicken of the VNC forever to remotely set-up my Mac Mini from my main iMac before heading in to watch a movie and/or TV show. Then someone recommended JollysFastVNC as a faster alternative and, I gotta say, I was surprised at how much more responsive it was. I’m not going back. VERY useful when tweaking with DisplayConfigX. Free just like CotVNC.
Front Row – If you’re looking for a fully-integrated, attractive media manager blessed by Apple, Front Row is really the only game in town. Add-ons like DVD Assist (see below) allow workarounds for frustrating Quicktime limitations.
DVD Assist – A gem I’ve been using for quite some time now, DVD Assist allows Front Row to launch DVD Images and TS files…something it couldn’t do until Tiger’s release (.ts files still aren’t supported). Highly recommended if you back up your DVDs and/or like watching HD material via Front Row.
Airfoil – Those of us with Aiport Expresses units can increase their abilities exponentially with Airfoil. It allows streaming of programs other than iTunes to AEX (VLC, in my case), to multiple AEX units, and more. It effectively allows a whole house to enjoy the audio from one computer!