When we moved, we decided not to get cable because there were only a few new shows we watched, and we could get them online. So, we got a previous-generation-at-the-time Mac Mini to hook up to the TV (and to serve as the house server in general and watched our shows on Hulu Desktop. It was a comfortable system. (My old PC was slated to do the job originally, but it did not survive the cross-country move.)
Then, one day, Comedy Central decided to stop letting Hulu show the Daily Show and the Colbert Report. The dark times arrived. We entered an era of mild inconvenience, which, of course, felt like total hell because we’d often try to watch these shows during dinner. After you’ve gotten dinner ready, you feel like eating, not messing with stuff to get your show to play.
The problem was that we’d have to go to the Comedy Central site to watch the Daily Show, and we’ve had to watch it through the Safari Flash plug-in. You may have heard a thing or two lately about how Flash is problematic on Macs. Myself, I hadn’t really noticed other than some very occasional freezing because I had been running it on machines with no less than 2 GB of RAM. The Mini, though, has 1 GB of RAM, and whoa buddy. Flash is not pleasant over there.
The Flash 10 plugin wasn’t good under low memory conditions. It would outright crash when we’d try to play Daily Shows. Then, Flash 10.1 came out, and we gave that a shot. No crashes, but still quite pokey, and the audio would get messed up (terrible echoes) if it had been running for a bit. So, to watch an episode, I’d have to restart Safari (it seemed to do even worse in Chrome), get to the web site, and wait a few minutes for the video to load. It was one of those processes that made you feel as though clicking at the wrong time or too many times while it wasn’t responding would result in a crash, and you’d have to start the whole process over again.
It made me miss Hulu – and cable TV – a bit.
Using the mouse and opening browsers isn’t really inconvenient in the Greater Scheme of the Universe, but man, it is way harder than turning on the TV and flipping to a channel. Or opening Hulu Desktop and hitting a few menu items up with the Apple Remote.
That’s pretty much what media center apps like Boxee let you do. I tried Boxee half a year ago, and while it looked cool, it failed to open most of my media files and didn’t have access to the streaming media that Hulu and show-specific web sites did.
So, then. What is the point?
The point is that it’s now the future! Those media center applications are:
1. Better at identifying and playing media on your local drives.
2. Can now play Flash video!
3. Still have convenient remote-based navigation that doesn’t require you to get off the couch or do any screen sharing.
I’ve now got Plex installed on the Mini. It supports plugins that it calls “Apps” – basically video sources that have a bit of Python code that tells Plex how to play it. Two of these apps for the Daily Show and the Colbert Report.
As I understand it, when Plex plays Flash media, it often just goes to web site presenting the video, presents itself as Safari, strips everything out but the video, then plays it in a little WebKit-based browser. The difference between that and playing it on the web site on a real browser? I haven’t done any real analysis, but I’d conjecture that the little browser, which does nothing but play video, takes up much less memory than Safari or Chrome and so the Flash plugin isn’t put into that low-memory situation it deals with so poorly.
(As of now, however, Plex doesn’t support Flash 10.1. So, you have to use this to uninstall Flash, then install Flash 10.)
1. If you wait long enough, someone will solve your problem for you.
2. Plex (and probably Boxee) will now let you easily watch the Daily Show using a remote.
More on the adventure of Mac Mini media centers at tl;dr. (Which, incidentally, is the newest blog of “Pants McCracky,” who is kind of like the Fedor of bloggers.)
And now it’s your turn to speak! What have been your experiences with media center applications? Do you have any tips and tricks?
Haha, just kidding. This isn’t the part where you speak (you can say something to me at @deathmtn on Twitter if it occurs to you, though), and we don’t do SEO-style “community building” here at Death Mountain. Instead, we have lots of these guys going around adding value: