About

Introduction


The Mini Harmony is a home made, versatile multimedia system for the living-room.

With no further due, I envite you to take a 10 minute break to watch an unedited user experience with this system and come back.

Oh I forgot to introduce myself, my name is Nuno and I'm Portuguese. So  please don't let my Arnold Swazneger kind of accent distract you in the video.





As you can see, this setup does not rely only on one particular device or software to serve and access content. Instead it leverages on the features provided by all the devices and software installed in the living room. In particular, the Mac mini and the Harmony One remote control hence the name of this blog.

Albeit each component work independently, with the help of the Harmony One remote control and some "smart scripting", the system gives the user the illusion that is made of one single component.

We are already used to a remote controlling multiple devices, but by bringing in the power to control the software installed on a computer it opens up some opportunities to make the all multimedia system easier to use.

The experience you see in the video is only possible due to the wonderful Mac mini combined with the Apple Mac OS X, the Harmony One Remote Control from Logitech, Hulu Desktop, Remote Buddy, Boxee, Plex and many others.

So I would like to thank all of the companies and developer groups for making the devices and the software above. Without them my objective would be much harder to achieve.

But wait! Before you turn to the next site bored already let me invite you to think about what you just saw.

The pain

You see. At home I'm tired of being the media babysitter. I already have so many other important roles that I enjoy much more ....

How many of you had to babysit a device for the simplest tasks such as loading a movie into the disk and playing it, or even simply switching it on?

For the sake of consuming media my wife will not do it, my children are too young to do it and my guests don't have a clue about what to do. To be honest I don't want do do it anymore.

So either I do something about it or just accept the restriction imposed by my current cable provider, and the physical world of BR disks, CDs and DVDs.



The fact is that when we try to get all these devices integrated into an unified solution with the Internet,  people simply can't cope with it.

So I needed something that is both extremely flexible and easy to use.

The pain of "one device does it all"

The home media player market, in the search for a solution that is accessible to a family, has approached the challenge by excluding important features from the off-the-shelf media player. Some companies bet their dollars by concentrating efforts in the sale of "zero hassle" media players of high definition video.

But is it really "zero hassle" if you use it play content that you actually bought? Consider all the work in ripping the BR disks, encoding and uploading to the media player disks and then explain to us why it is a good approach.

Another approach is to integrate the media player abilities into the traditional devices such as TV Sets, Set-op boxes and Blue-Ray players. This is also interesting, but it suffers from being very limited about what it can play and how, and still we need primarely to upload the movies to the drives just to see it.

Then we have streaming, well I'll leave that off for now.

The pain of "one software does it all"

Another approach, is to install some generic all-in-one media center software on a regular computer and connect it to an HDTV. Something such as XBMC, Plex, Boxee, Windows Media Center just to name a few.

In my house this approach has proven to be even worst as it required me to baby sit the system to make simple things such as switching it on, open an VPN or run a specific software. Not to mention to constant need to reach for the keyboard and a mouse.

I'm a Boxee addict and I certainly take my hat off for the Boxee team over their approach to the Web TV concept. By offering content aggregation facilities, web application directory and a application framework leveraged on XBMC, they managed to bring us a lot of content otherwise not seen.

But you know what? Hulu Desktop is better to watch Hulu content, at least my wife say so and she is my core user. I actually believe that more companies will follow the Hulu approach. I don't see why studios don't market their films directely in this way. Imagine a Disney Player ...

The Boxee's of the world will always be of value in a complete solution, but like any other software can only be a peace of the puzzle.



Also we love the Plex team approach with their impressive vision for a networked media library and the Plex software. We can certainly make use of that. But that alone is not enough as it is easy to see by the demo.

We may think, what if we had both Boxee, Plex, Hulu Desktop and XBMC together? Well, it is always the same thing ... integration. But once we have something integrated, there is always another one to to integrate. IMHO that does not work that well for the user in the end of the day.

The Solution

So what is different the approach you just saw?

Well, at its core we stop using one software or device for all the media needs. We let each software do what they do best (Hulu Desktop, Boxee, Plex, etc). Much like the iPhone does with its apps.

Also we don't need another framework. The OS itself is the framework and so is any other application installed on the system.

So we configure the Harmony One remote control to provide the user with bookmarks of specific software facilities that we have in the system. The one that the users enjoys the most.

The bookmarks when selected, ignite a set of automated tasks to get the user into the facility and enjoy the media.

Plex and Boxee allow us to do that very well. Hulu Desktop is a bit more closed in the regard.

At the moment these hooks are custom made in Apple Script, requiring hand coded changes.

Closing remarks

The Harmony Remote control has lots of limitations. I can only hope that in the future we will see better universal remote control platforms for this type of usage.

But it is not only the remote control that needs to change. Software too.

It would be so nice to have apps and devices register their services to the remote control has they are installed in Mac OSX, Windows or Linux. I can imagine a standards based framework with this in mind. The user could then select what he wants and how he wants it.

I also think this is great for content providers. Instead of relying in some middle man mashing up everything and controlling access to his content a provider could simply deploy an app serving his own content the way the company wants to be served. In other words, they would control the delivery channel completely much like Hulu and the BBC iPlayer does.

I hope you will comment and bookmark this site for future reference. It would simply mean that this site is useful enough for you to follow and for me to continue sharing everything about the Mini Appliance as other have done with me, for free.

If enough requests and comments come in, that is what I will do. Otherwise consider this site done in the hope that at least you enjoyed a bit my babbling :)

Cheers.

Nuno

8 comments:

June 3, 2010 at 2:13 PM Timo Pakkala said...

Pretty cool. I have similar configuration with Mac mini, Harmony One, EyeTV and Remote Buddy. It works pretty well, even though I haven't automated things as far as you. I'm just selecting "Mac mini" action from Harmony One and it then uses Remote Buddy menu emulating Apple Remote.

I suppose you must have programmed some additional codes for Harmony One to start the different applications on Mac mini. Do you use Remote Buddy then to catch the code sequences and call the specific Applescripts then? Or how does it all work.

-Timo

June 3, 2010 at 4:05 PM Joel said...

Fantastic! I look forward to learning more about how you made all this work.

June 9, 2010 at 12:43 AM Nuno said...

I'll post a series of articles explaining how you can make the same. The lack of time is a problem atm.

Have fun.
PS: Yes Remote Buddy is central to make this work.

July 14, 2010 at 11:50 AM mmaandag said...

This site is amazing!!! EXACTLY what I have been looking for! Please keep up the episodes! Also do post something on plexapp.com forums. i am sure there are many many eager Mac Mini + Harmony users who want to learn. THANKS AGAIN FOR DOING THIS!

August 28, 2010 at 2:18 AM bommel said...

Awesome Setup! Thanks for sharing your experience. It's exactly what i'm looking for. Sadly i cant't use hulu directly in germany (yes, vpn works, but it's a pain in the ass) because of legal and business issues.

February 1, 2011 at 3:56 AM Anonymous said...

Hi Nuno,

Exactly the site I was looking for!
I followed most all your steps. Thanks a lot.

Since I am new to the Mac system I am looking for ways to set up VPN connections and I am looking to learn how you set them up in your harmony remote.

Thanks for your very clear explanations,

Berend

June 20, 2012 at 3:43 PM ado said...

Great job Nuno.

I have a very basic question, but where did you get the icons for your favourite plex channels and how did you get the voice over for the mac mini

January 6, 2014 at 6:57 PM Tom Maziarz said...

So hope you do another episode. Your tutorial has been amazing thus far. I'm at the step now of going into how to use the favorite channels you described how to setup on the remote in I think Episode 2, and trying to figure out how to tie them into other programs besides Boxee, Plex, etc. Please do more episodes. I know its been a while since the last one, but they are so so good. thanks again.

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