Tag Archive for ‘Mac Media Server Series’

Mac Media Server: Going Headless

This is the beginning of a series in which I give the blueprint for my Mac Media Server. These pages will be updated with new software and settings changes so they will always be up to date with my current configuration. This is the first part of the series which describes the process of setting up a Mac for remote use.

Initial Setup

The main goal in this setup is to have as little hardware as possible carry as much of the load as possible. One machine and a couple of USB dongles is the heart of the entire setup. There’s no need for a display, keyboard, and mouse to be connected to the Mac mini because (aside from the initial setup )all of the interaction with the machine will take place over Screen Sharing or VNC.

I used the old wired keyboard and mouse that came with my iMac and connected the Mac mini to my HDTV in the living room using an HDMI cable. The setup process is painless — it asks you for your Apple ID, registration information, whether or not you want to use Migration Assistant to move your data, and it also asks you to create a new user account. I skipped migration assistant because I wanted the Mac mini to be a clean slate that I can customize and add data to in my own way.

System Preferences – Sharing

The first thing I did once I got Mountain Lion up and running was turn on Screen Sharing. Open System Preferences and click on Sharing. Just check the box next Screen Sharing on the left hand side of the preference pane and you’re finished.

With Screen Sharing turned on I can now control the Mac mini remotely using another Mac. At this point I shutdown the computer, disconnected the HDMI cable, keyboard, and mouse and moved the Mac mini into the office where I keep my cable modem, router, and printer. I connected the Mac mini to my Time Capsule with an ethernet cable, plugged in the power cable and it was ready to continue software installation and configuration remotely.

Screen Sharing

Now that Screen Sharing is turned on, it’s time to use it. From my iMac or MacBook Air I open a Finder window click on the Mac mini in Finder’s sidebar and choose Share Screen along the top. The first time I connected, I was prompted for my login credentials, but checking “Remember this password on my keychain” will bypass the login on all subsequent connections. Now, I can perform any action on the Mac mini that I need to from any other Mac in the house. This is essential because a large portion of my media consumption will require me to manually move files around, convert videos, and delete watched content. I hope that I will be able to automate more of this in the future, but for now Screen Sharing will have to do.

If you’d like to connect to your Mac Media Server remotely using another Mac make sure you have Back to My Mac turned on in the iCloud settings (located in System Preferences) on both Macs.

My other means of controlling the Mac mini is with a wonderful iOS application called Screens ($9.99 but worth it). The app allows me to do everything that I can with Mac OS X’s built-in Screen Sharing, but from my iPhone or iPad.

Screens – Nearby Computers

When you first launch Screens you’ll have to add a new computer to connect to. If you’re just planning to connect to the Mac while you are on the same network perform the following steps:

  • Tap Nearby Computers
  • Choose the computer you’d like to connect to
  • Input your login credentials in the authentication section
  • Tap save

If you’d like to connect to the Mac while you are on a different network you’ll need to do some tinkering. Luckily, I use a Time Capsule in my network setup, so the extra tinkering won’t be too painful.

  • From within AirPort Utility select Time Capsule and click on Edit
  • Selected the Network tab
  • Clicked the “+” button under Port Settings
  • Click on the drop down for Description and select “Apple Remote Desktop,” if this was done using the Mac mini (over Screen Sharing) AirPort Utility will fill in the proper settings for you
  • Make sure it filled in the proper Private IP Address which can be found in Network Utility
  • Click Save and update your router’s settings

Once the settings are updated you’ll be able to setup Screens on the iPhone or iPad to connect to your Mac remotely.

The next piece of information you’ll need is your public IP address. You’ll be able to find it on a site like IP Chicken. Keep your public IP address handy because you’ll need it to setup the remote connection with Screens. In Screens tap the New Screen button in the top-right corner to add a new connection. Input a name for your connection, type the public IP address in the Address field, input the username and password of the Mac OS user account you’ll use to connect to your Mac and tap Save. The connection should now be ready.

Mac Media Server: Transferring iTunes

This is the second in a series in which I give the blueprint for my Mac Media Server. These pages will be updated with new software and settings changes so they will always be up to date with my current configuration. This is the second part of the series which describes the process of transferring the media from my old iTunes Library to that of the new Mac Mini’s.

Home Sharing

My next step of transferring my iTunes Library was relatively easy. Thanks to the help of Home Sharing, moving your iTunes Library to a new computer is a breeze. I just turned on Home Sharing on the Mac Mini — clicking on Home Sharing in the sources list and then logging in with my iTunes credentials.

Now every computer running iTunes, every Apple TV, iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch on my network can stream media from the Mac Mini’s library. And, the Mac Mini can transfer files from other shared iTunes Libraries to the Mini’s iTunes Library.

Transfer Media

To move all of my media files from my old computer to the Mac Mini I selected my old iMac from the sources list in iTunes, selected all (with command+a), and drag and dropped the files into the new iTunes Library.

After a few hours all of my media files were in one place. If there’s any media files that are found to be missing (probably Books, Apps, or Ringtones) they can easily be moved with an external hard drive, file sharing over the network, or a thumb drive. All of iTunes’ media files can be found in your Home folder’s Music folder and then drag and dropped into the Mac Mini’s iTunes Library.

With Home Sharing turned on and all of my media in one place, this was enough for me to get most of my media server up and running. Any other device on the network that had Home Sharing turned on — Apple TV, iPad, iPhone, etc. — is now able to stream media from the Mac Mini.

Mac Media Server: Fit Headless

This is the third part in a series in which I give the blueprint for my Mac Media Server. These pages will be updated with new software and settings changes so they will always be up to date with my current configuration. This is the third part of the series which describes the process of installing and setting up the Fit Headless HDMI display emulator.

Fit Headless

I quickly realized after setting up my Mac Mini that there were some pretty critical problems that I knew I’d have to overcome if I was going to interact with it using Screen Sharing. For one, the number of screen resolutions that were offered to me in OS X’s system preferences were less than optimal. And, there was also some performance issues that I couldn’t initially find the source of.

After doing some research I found that OS X actually shuts off the graphics card when there’s no display connected to the computer. In the past I had heard of people building dongles that would emulate a display over VGA — at the time I didn’t understand why anyone would need one. But, using one would trick OS X into turning on the graphics card which would improve performance and give me far better options for display resolutions — without it all of my options were in a 5:4 aspect ratio.

Building one seemed easy enough — a DVI to VGA adapter and some cheap resistors was all I’d need to put one together. But, while I was searching around trying to find the easiest way to build one I came across an article on Macminicolo Blog where they point to a small HDMI dongle called the Fit Headless. It’s an inexpensive display emulator that’s designed to be used with headless computers — exactly what I needed.

Installing and setting up the Fit Headless was easy enough. Here’s the four step process:

  • Shut the Mac Mini down
  • Plug the Fit Headless into the HDMI port
  • Power on the Mac Mini
  • Choose your preferred resolution in System Preferences > Displays

It really is that easy. The whole process only took about 10 minutes.

I’ve been using the Fit Headless for the past four months and I couldn’t be happier with it. The Mac Mini in my closet is much more responsive when I’m interacting with it over Screen Sharing or VNC and the display resolution options are more to my liking — 1080p, 1080i, 720p, 1600×900, and 1344×756. I’ve been using the 720p resolution as it is as close to ideal as I could ask for when I’m using my MacBook Air’s smallish 11-inch display to view the Mac Mini’s desktop.

The Fit Headless is currently available for $15 on Amazon. I’d consider it to be an essential piece of hardware for any Mac home server. It’s inexpensive, easy to setup, and does exactly what it needs to.