Really Simple Mac Home Theater?

June 11, 2006 § Leave a comment

So, we’re finally moving back to San Jose
(actually, Santa Clara) after three years in Sacramento. One fun aspect of
buying a new house is the chance to create a home theater solution from scratch.
Of course, the goal is to build it around a Mac! While there’s lots of
resources, most of them seem to be fairly complex, often because they’re dealing
with legacy devices already in place.

The question I’m asking is — if
you’re buying everything from scratch already — what is the simplest possible
solution? [Read more] for my current working hypothesis, and please give me
[Feedback] if you have a better idea.

I’m starting with a few assumptions, which
simplify my problem but may make it non-reusable for others.
a. I want HDTV
(ideally 1080i)
b. I have several non-HDTV sets in the
c. I only want/need “Standard” cable
d. I want the smallest possible monthly payment,
even if it means more up-front
e. I want my Mac to be the gateway for all

This last is perhaps slightly
foolish, since low-end Macs presumably don’t have the horsepower to drive 1080i.
However, I have an Intel iMac that is a pretty good start, and I suspect at some
point Apple will sell something that does a better job at this. Of course, that
also means they’ll probably make a bunch of the stuff I buy today redundant, but
that’s life in the Mac world; there’s always a simpler, cheaper way

Given all that, here’s what
appears to be the optimal buy for the video portion:

i. Comcast Standard Cable ($50/month, less during
ii. Elgato EyeTV 500 digital tuner ($350)
iii. Bluetooth keyboard/mouse for my iMac ($120)
vi. [or just use Salling Clicker?]
vii. 300 GB External Firewire Drive (~$250)
viii. DVI to HDMI cable (~$100)
ix. 50″ HDMI Plasma monitor; i.e., HDTV “capable”, not “ready”
(~$3000) (or $8000 for

The last would be a bit risky,
as that means I’d be reliant on the EyeTV (and iMac) as my sole tuner. Of
course, I might end up getting one built-in anyway (if the price is right).
Alternatively, I could be wrong about Standard Cable being sufficient if I have
my own ATSC tuner, and thus need to pay the $5/month for a Comcast HDTV
decoder anyway, and use Vidcan
Software?s $30 iEye Captain
with IRTrans? iRTrans USB
(~$100) to change the channels on

The key point, though, is
that I’d use the iMac as the primary channel switcher and sole video input, and
basically treat the TV screen as a giant secondary monitor. This probably means
I’m stuck at 720p for now, but if I understand correctly that
actually gives me better vertical resolution (if worse horizontal) than 1080i.
I also need to make sure it handles overscan properly, so I can use it as an
“actual” computer monitor.

I’m assuming
that audio is expensive, but straightforward — plug the Toslink Optical Digital Audio out into the
(pre-)amp, and thence into speakers, and away it goes. I’ll probably spring
for a Bluetooth headset sand as well, which could make
for fun conference calls and/or a Public Address system.

Key unanswered

? Do I need to pay for the $5/month box, or
digital cable, to get _any_ HD?
? Will that give me
all the
Standard channels in digital, so I can use
the digital-only EyeTV 500?
? How well will the iMac Core Duo drive the
TV I buy?
? Am I confident enough to route
*everything* through the iMac, so I don’t need a multi-channel amp or video
? Can I control the TV, amp, and iMac with
a single device? Should I program a Universal Remote to take to Front Row +
eyeTV, or teach the iMac how to power up the other devices?
? Is Apple going to announce something the
week after I buy this? Should I wait until August (post-WWDC), since I’ll be
traveling most of July anyway?
? I’ll try to post back here once I
actually take the plunge. Meanwhile, [Feedback] welcome!
? References

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