The new Mac mini has media server written all over its sleek anodized aluminum case. And yes, someday I’m sure I’ll order one.
Rendezvous library sharing in iTunes enables me to control my music collection on the media server from my work laptop.
But I have another pretty good computer laying around the house, a TiBook with 802.11b built-in. Thanks to the genius of AirPort Express, I’ve put together a screamin’ streaming media center right now… using stuff I already had. I thought with everyone discussing ways to use the Mac mini, you might be thinking about building a similar setup… without the mini, that is.
This all started because I don’t like storing my entire iTunes library on my primary PowerBook. The 80GB drive on the 17″ AiBook sounds roomy until I start uploading 6-megapixel photos, DV clips, and all the goodies that come with being a media guy. So I keep about 5 gigs of music on the AiBook and store the entire library on the TiBook at home. But as you can imagine, there is an annoying disconnect with this configuration.
AirPort Express pulled the pieces together for me. I added it as a “home router” to my existing Extreme network, set up the TiBook as a wireless media server, then used iTunes’ “Shared Music” capability to control my TiBook media server from my primary laptop.
I’m using the Philips Streamium MC-i250 as my amplifier — ironically not because it has 802.11 built in (which it does, but I don’t like the implementation), but because it’s compact, has 50 watts per channel, and includes a terrific remote control. The sound is really good too, especially when I enable their patented wOOx technology, which generates bass that’s significantly lower and louder than some other audio systems.
The TiBook is perched on a Podium CoolPad with the screen dimmed to black. This way I can run it for days without it getting more than slightly warm. I never hear the fan go on. I control the TiBook via Rendezvous with the AiBook (or any other wireless Mac for that matter), and the music is streamed through AirPort Express to the Philips stereo. Right now, the AirPort Express is connected to the Philips using the standard stereo mini plug into the Express and RCA plugs into Line In on the Philips. It sounds good… really good.
I use the iTunes mini controller (click on the green button in the upper left) to adjust the volume and change tracks as needed. It’s a very flexible arrangement. No matter where I’m working with the laptop, I have complete control over my entire music library. I also use this same set up to store and access iPhoto libraries (that’s another weblog). Yes, this is a true media server.
The iTunes mini controller provides me with unobtrusive access to the streaming music.
To save you time as you work on your setup, here are a few notes from lessons I’ve learned along the way:
- Update the firmware on your AirPort Express to version 6.1.1. All of my networking frustrations were solved with this update.
- If you screw things up with the Express, as I did a couple of times, there are various ways you can reset it. Here’s a nice overview of reset options.
- If you like to use your Express as a primary base station while on the road, set up profiles for your different configurations. You can then quickly switch profiles when you move your Express to a different location.
- Make sure AirTunes is enabled in your AirPort Express configuration (under the Music tab) and Sharing is activated in iTunes preferences.
Someday I’m sure I’ll own a Mac mini. But for now, my TiBook is serving my entire music collection, plus a ton of photographs… all using hardware and software I already had. This is incredibly fun!