I just spent the past few days installing and playing around with a few media center softwares that you can install on your mac mini.
The aim : streaming my media directly from the mac mini to either my Samsung SmartTV or to the PS3 connected through it. The mac mini is installed in another location, so streaming is either wireless to the PS3 or via a UTP-cable to the TV (although I can switch them easily enough, this is the current setup).
Anything else (streaming to iOS, for example) is a bonus. But my main itch to scratch was that I wanted to stop running around with portable disks and usb keys, and just centralize everything in one location, and my mac mini seemed the ideal place for that.
I’ve tried the following software so you don’t need to :
- XMBC : I was very impressed with it finding the media quickly and the indexing done on it, retrieving additional information from online internet databases as well as with the local “front end” experience. However, I was disappointed in it’s streaming capabilities : it did not appear on either my TV or my PS3. Although it advertises that you should just activate ‘media sharing’ and that’s all, it just didn’t work for me – some forum browsing shows that others have had similar experiences, depending on what type of router, etc, though for many it works just fine. I would have stopped here if the streaming worked as this seems to be an excellent open-source package. Certainly if your mac mini is sitting right next to your telly this seems to be a good solution.
- Boxee : while Boxee now sells it own hardware, the software available as-is has been discontinued. The software is still available on google code though (last update was jan 2012 as of this writing). The boxee software is not installed through drag’ndrop, so not sure how this uninstalls. It worked, but after seeing XMBC I was slightly less impressed. Integration with the web works fine though. The interface consists of only icons instead of text, making it slightly harder for a first-timer to muddle through although this is only a slight problem.
- Majestic Media Server : I found a reference to this on one or other forum, but couldn’t seem to find a download link on their website. Seems that is for sale (trial version), so not free to download. It’s only for streaming, nothing fancy. In the end I found a version on CNET. Very simple interface, just a small window. This didn’t work at all, complaining of a port that was occupied by another process.
- Plex : This was the final media center solution I tried, mainly because it is not open-sourced and is a spin-off from XMBC. It is however, free to download, and it works just beautifully. It does come in two parts : the media server which does just what it says, serving your media to whatever device, and the media center which is the front-end to play the stream. If you are only interested in streaming to your PS3 just get the media server, which provides everything you need to add your media to the plex database. It also provides a basic webpage that shows you an overview of all your media and allows you to change your metadata. On your PS3 the Plex server immediately shows up and you can browse your media and start playing it. The accompanying front-end can be installed on another mac for example. You can also buy an iOS app that allows you to stream from the Plex media server to your iPhone or iPad.
The result : in short, only Plex fulfilled my needs. All the others gave either errors or did not show up on either the Samsung TV or on the PS3. Only Plex showed up in both, immediately, and while the Samsung crashed when I selected “Movies” in the interface, on the PS3 it works perfectly and streaming even over wireless worked perfectly.
I’ll probably buy the iOS app as well, and start consolidating all my media on my mac mini.
The verdict : while not open-sourced, and while some component are to be purchased (e.g. the iOS app) Plex is well worth the install.