Media Center Guide for Mac OSX

Esta entrada también está disponible en: Spanish

Today we’re going to transform our Macs in the perfect Media Center, we´ll see the required items to do so and the different aspects that affect our configurations.

We’ll also make a review of maybe the best option to convert our Macs in the perfect Media Center, XMBC.

In Mac we find several options regarding Media Center applications, since “Plex”, a “port” of XMBC focused exclusively on Mac, via “Boxee” or the Spanish “Squire”, all will be good, some better than others, but definitely “XMBC” is the one who takes the cake; it works ideally on Mac OSX “Mountain Lion”; is not giving any problems, and plays perfectly all the files you have on your hard drive without the slightest complaint.

Before we dive into the review of XMBC, we must consider several issues and problems that we can find building the perfect media center:

MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS

The minimum hardware requirements to play a 1080p file today are more than covered. For video playback, CPU is the most used component; most of the recent programs like XMBC use the GPU to assist in the process of reproduction, but is not a critical component for video reproduction, the RAM is the least used. In short, the minimum requirements to play such a file of HD (High Definition) of 15GB (a real good video quality) for example would be these:

Processor: Core2Duo (or higher) 2Ghz.

GPU: 2009 (year) NVDIA or ATI integrated card (or higher).

RAM: 1GB minimum memory will be enough to run XMBC, although it’s recommended at least 2GB, due to Mountain Lion requirements (any increase in RAM will not affect the overall performance of rendering, but will help with the overall performance of the operating system and every day use).

COMMON PROBLEMS

There are several problems that we can find when playing a video file, these are:

A / V Sync: Offset or mismatch between the Audio and Video. Is a problem in the decoding of the player, we can not do anything to fix it (well yes, change the program).

Judder (vibration): TV refresh Problems resulting in a jump of images in quick movement scenes, usually when the action moves from side to side of the screen. This is the typical error that occurs when you connect a Mac to a TV; this is due to the refresh the Mac output to the TV does normally not coincide with the “fps” with movies are ripped off. Normally, all riped movies have an output of 24fps, then we just have to select in the “Settings / Display” panel of our Macs the output value to 24fps too. Also in this section, we can also adjust the screen size via the “Underscan” option, in the way we make the picture to coincide with the edges of the TV. I´ll leave a enlightening picture.

Screen Refresh preferences

 

Stuttering (stammering): We found here that the audio sequence continues at a normal rate, while the picture freezes briefly then accelerate to match the audio. This usually occurs when the processor collapses for a moment because it requires more load than it can withstand. In this case, if we satisfy the minimum hardware requirements seen above, we should have any problems.

Stalling (Stagnation): This situation occurs when we make a “streaming”, and our connection is not able to handle the amount of data being sent; freezing the image and the audio at once, and then moving quickly where it should be normally; this case can also occur when the hard drive is not able to deliver this flow of information to the CPU. One way to fix it would be stopping all the downloads you’re doing in the case of “streaming” or changing the hard drive to another of higher speed if you were using an old and very slow one (for example if it is 4,200 rpm).

DOWNLOADS

We have several sources to find films, series or anime. The better ones are:

The Pirate Bay, the existing best source for everything. Ideal for movies and series. English and Spanish.

Por Descarga Directa, web content in Spanish to include numerous TV series and movies in all formats. For direct download sites such Uploaded or Letitbit.

Serie Online, direct download for fans of TV series, in Spanish.

Ani4Free, direct download for English and Japanese anime series, very complete, you can find everyone!

MCAnime, direct download Japanese anime website, in Spanish, direct download.

SUBTITLES

I am a lover of V.O. content (Original Version) subtitled, two will be our main places for subtitles.

Subscene, for movies.

Addic7ed for series.

In XMBC subtitles should go in the same folder as the movie with the same name to be recognized automatically and not have to configure anything.

To align the subtitles in the TV to our liking we’ll go to “System / System / Video Output / Video calibration”.

Although the best way to download subtitles in different languages will be through the “Download Subtitles” option in the XMBC Film Menu:

XBMC Subtitles

FORMATS

Today the most used format today and the best one is .mkv, this format achieves the best file-size quality nowadays, it’s excellent and the way to go. Depending on the film, and especially in old ones, you may find another set of formats, like .avi, .mov, .wmv, etc.

The size of a movie can vary, but today we should get off anything that is not in HD, we may find these following types:

720p, with a resolution of 1280 × 720 offers a quality of 8 out of 10, perfect format for viewing on the TV in the lounge, the picture is almost no pixelated and the audio quality is remarkable. The size of a good movie in 720p usually would go around 4GB, a TV chapter often reaches the 1GB  (HDTV).

1080p, with a resolution of 1920 × 1080 will provide a quality similar to a Blue Ray, 10 out of 10, is the highest quality we can find nowadays. A movie in this format can take usually 10GB, is the ideal format for the classics.

3D, new format with different resolutions and sizes that can reach 20GB, require a hardware processing power quite high.

ACCESSORIES

Apple Remote, to remotely control XMBC, we should say that is a must, all the power of a Blockbuster in this small command.

iPhone / iPad, through a VNC application that can control the computer remotely, a complete multimedia device which controls the screen via a keyboard and a touch screen.

iPad and XBMC

External HDD, as you may have imagined, with 10GB per movie, space requirements will be imperative. An external hard drive of 4 or 6TB will be necessary to achieve the perfect Media Center, better with a connection like Thunderbolt or Firewire to achieve large data transfers.

XMBC

As discussed earlier, XMBC is perhaps the best media solution and application for a Mac today (early 2013). XMBC is only an embedded library which will connect to the Internet to update all the data of the movies and series that we have on our hard drive. It’s also a video player with multitude of options and a striking interface.

Once we have downloaded the free application, XMBC, next thing to do will be to tell program where are our file (films and TV series). XMBC will divide this info into 4 types: movies, TV shows, photos and music, depending on which we choose, XMBC will use a different engine that will connect to the Internet and automatically download relevant data of each file, whether is a film or a chapter of Fringe.

 

Browsing Files on XBMC

All this process will take time, but the results will be amazing, because XMBC will automatically download the synopsis, IMDB score and the cover of every movie and series in our hard disk.

XBMC Preview

Next thing to do is to download one “Skin“, from the menu “Settings/Get Addons/Skins” and select the one you like.

Neox Skin for XBMC

The skin I use is “Aeon Nox” the one with highest quality and visual impact.

Aeon Nox

Once we have everything set up, all the covers and synopses downloaded and everything well organized, XMBC is top class when playing content. The fluidity with which handles any video content is amazing and above all, does not give any problem at any time which is essential when we look to relax watching our favorite movie or series.

In playback everything is perfect, when we pause it will appear a little synopsis and several images of the film or series we are watching. In turn we can access a menu anytime where we can choose for a subtitles downloading, thorough audio and video options, like advancing or delaying subtitles and/or audio over the image, etc.

 

Running XBMC

As you can see, XMBC is the perfect media center for our macs, which together with a good TV and a good audio equipment, make the binomial Mac-XMBC the perfect solution like having a movie theater in our home.

Mac Media Center

 

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