Create Your Own TV Station

One of the problems with watching video podcasts as an alternative to conventional television is that you have typically and deliberately watch one video at a time. On longer videos it’s not as much of a problem, but with short videos that last 5 minutes or less you have to keep manually restarting the next video after the previous one has finished.

I now have three Mac Minis – one is an old somewhat underpowered Power PC Mac Mini that I’m using as a video podcast aggregator. I have that machine’s iTunes database located on a much larger shared drive that’s available to every machine on my home network. I’m subscribed to a variety of tech podcasts, most of them in the highest resolution file sizes available.

I have two other Mac Minis that are of the latest design. I have an “Eye TV” USB HD tuner connected to one that’s connected to a substantial external antenna. Depending on atmospheric conditions I can receive up to 18 channels counting the various digital sub channels. This enables the Mac Mini to function as a DVR.

The second Intel Mac Mini is in another room and the Eye TV software also loaded on it is able to work from the other Mac Mini’s shared recordings.

Today I discovered by accident when playing around with iTunes on one of the Intel Mac Minis that the shared videos show up in the shared playlists from other iTunes databases. So, in other words, I can pick a shared iTunes list from the Power PC Mac Mini’s shared iTunes and a list of video files shows up. Since the videos are in the list just like audio would be, I am able to start a video file playing and when one file ends it will immediately start playing the next video file on the list. This is particularly useful because I can start videos playing as I do other things and it will continue to play just as if it’s a TV station. This is quite a handy capability to have. The lack of an ability to set up continuous video playback has long been one of the Apple TV’s biggest shortcomings.

Periodically I go to the Power PC Mac Mini and delete the video files that have been played, since iTunes keeps a play count, so I always have fresh material to watch.

 

The Future Of OTT TV Apps

I’ve been experimenting for some time with connecting computers to televisions, along with a variety of other set-top boxes. I’m now at a point where I’ve begun to draw a few conclusions.

Are we there yet? The short answer is no. We’ve still got a long way to go.

After living a while with Apps on an Android smartphone, along with apps on an iPod Touch, it has become clear to me that the best apps running on these sorts of hand-held devices give a great, slick, quick-access media-consumption experience.

Apps running on Internet-connected TV’s or set-top boxes are going to be important in the future. However, so far what we have available today is a somewhat frustrating experience.

I’ve got a Mac Mini set up as an HTPC/DVR with an Eye TV USB HD tuner. The Eye TV software fails in a living room setting because the text within the application is too small to be easily read from across the room even on a big screen. I’ve also got the Boxee app installed on the same machine. Boxee does have a growing list of apps. However, many of the currently available Boxee apps still often fall short of genuine usefulness.

I want a software interface that I can read and interact with easily from across the room without having to deal with it as if it’s desktop software. I want software apps that are powerful, easy to use, and give me a consistent experience from one app to the next. If I’ve specified I want only videos, then the software should serve me up ONLY videos, with no audio podcasts mixed in.

The trouble with OTT content is that one size doesn’t fit all. The perfect app should allow me to cherry-pick my favorite Internet video content sources and turn them all into a single channel or series of channels.

The ideal OTT/set top box content delivery system is going to incorporate a system of apps much like either the Apple IOS app store, or the Android app store where the customer can choose from thousands of content gathering and/or content delivery apps. Like my Evo Android phone or my iPod Touch, I will be able to customize MY particular set top box with precisely the apps that I want without someone trying to steer me towards content that someone else wants to push towards me against my will. My iPod is my own, with my own selection of personal content. I want my TV to work in exactly the same manner.

Tech Serendipity

Sometimes things no one ever thought of simply seem to come together. Services and devices end up being used to do things the individual inventors and designers couldn’t have imagined.

For some time now, I’ve been thinking about attaching one of the new Mac Minis to one of my TV’s and utilizing it as a home theater PC as well as an over-the-air DVR to record high definition digital broadcasts from the local TV stations. A late Sunday afternoon trip to my local Best Buy and a Mac Mini was mine.

I sat the Mac Mini up with Eye TV and a USB HD tuner attached to my outdoor antenna. Depending on how I have the antenna rotated, I can receive upwards of 17 or more HD and digital broadcast channels. Of course, keep in mind that the Mini is on my home network, so I’ve got complete remote access in a number of different ways.

The Eye TV 3.4.1 software has easy iPhone/iPod/iPad/Apple TV file conversion, so I’m easily able to convert the files to the format of my choice.

A thought popped into my head. What if I converted the files to the iPhone format and put them into my Dropbox? I also have the Dropbox app for Android installed on my Sprint HTC Evo phone. Since I have an 8 gigabyte SD card installed with the possibility of going all the way up to a 32 gigabyte card if I wish, could I synch the exported iPhone files from my Dropbox on the computer to Dropbox on my phone?

To my surprise, I don’t even have to synch the exported iPhone videos to my phone – once they are synched to the Dropbox server, all I have to do is open the file from Dropbox on my phone and the file immediately starts streaming. If I’ve got a decent 3G Sprint cell signal, the video plays perfectly without a glitch.

So, I’m taking multiple different technologies, and using them in a way no single inventor or designer ever envisioned. I can record local TV programming from home, export it as an iPhone format file into my Dropbox folder, and stream the files to my phone. Pretty phenomenal stuff if you ask me.

For sure, there are other ways to accomplish the same end result, particularly if one has adequate bandwidth. For situations where bandwidth is limited and more variable, this solution works surprisingly well.