Wireless media server without the mini

by Derrick Story

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.

iTunes Sharing

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.

iTunes Sharing

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!


2005-01-25 16:12:52
Sounds cool. But if it's a 'media server', what about tv and video/dvd?
2005-01-25 16:30:55
RE: Cool
OK, how about, "kinda, sorta, semi media server"? BTW: be sure to check out our article on HackTV, scheduled to publish on Wednesday evening, PST, on our Digital Media site.
2005-01-26 10:54:12
nice set up
Nice set up, Derrick. I have something slightly different. I have a g4 downstairs with four drives (totalling 500+ gigs of storage). Upstairs I have an old 400 ghz Tibook (weird how a Tibook is now old!). I use the headphone out jack to my stereo, which, believe it or not, sounds really good. I access all the music downstairs just using iTunes sharing via Rendezvous.
2005-01-26 11:03:01
RE: nice set up
I like that variation on a theme. It reminds me of a rule that I have: "When you buy a new laptop, keep the old one. Don't get rid of it." Wireless enabled laptops are so handy for tinkering.
2005-07-04 09:04:44
unexpected stopping and starting
I’ve got all my music on an external drive that’s connected to an 867 mghz G4 tower. I use iTunes on my wireless(airport extreme) 867 G4 Powerbook. My powerbook then sends the signal over to my airport express via airtunes so I can play it through my stereo instead of these little speakers. In theory this is the ideal setup for me, because it means I can control my entire mp3 library wirelessly. However, I think I may be pushing my wireless system to it’s limit, because the music unexpectedly stops and starts (a breif interuption, 2 secs max). I haven't tried the sharing part yet because i'd like to be able to add new music/podcasts to the network library without having to sit at the tower station. Any thoughts out there?

I’ve tried the following:
1)using a different external hard drive
2)hardwireing the tower to the wireless router
3)playing music through the inernal speakers

nothing seems to work short of plugging a drive directly into my powerbook. Has anyone else experienced this problem?