Giving Cable the Boot – Part 2

July 14, 2009

At the end of the last post, we were about to receive our Mac Mini instead of using the AppleTV. We got the Mac Mini and started working with Boxee on it, only to find that within a week, the machine would not boot. Luckily Apple was good enough to ship out a new machine once they got confirmation the bad one was shipped back, but it did mean we had a few days without a media station again. This time ended up being valuable though as it let us investigate Plex on our other computer.

Plex is a Mac-only spinoff of the XBMC project. The first time we tried Plex, we were impressed by it’s interface. The folks who work on this definitely are Mac people as the UI was stunning. We were then wowed by the “App Store” within Plex. This is basically a list of plugins for Plex that allow streaming from a number of other sources, such as Netflix, The Daily Show, South Park, etc. What is especially nice about this is that it automatically updates when new sources are available. Since we have received the Mac Mini, Food Network and HGTV have been added, allowing viewing of some full episodes from each.

Plex also has the ability to watch movies and TV shows saved to the computer. It is impressive in that it can get movie and TV information from the internet, including TV theme songs when browsing through the different programs. We were so impressed by the ability to organize and view shows that we are starting to rip our DVDs of TV and movies shows so they can be easily accessible from the mini.

The one last big thing is Hulu. With the release of Hulu Desktop, we thought that might be a good option for us. This was reinforced when we found that Plex an open any other application on the Mac from it’s interface. The issue with this was Plex had a difficult time releasing the remote to work with Hulu Desktop. While mildly frustrating, we worked with it. That was until we found that Plex has a Hulu “app” that works amazingly well. Because of this, we are now using Plex for everything.

It has been a bit of an adventure getting here, but we both agree it was the right decision. Within 6 months, the money that would have gone to cable and Tivo will pay off the Mac mini. While we are not getting as much HD content, we are getting almost everything we want to see (A side note: Discovery Channel, please start streaming your programs somewhere. Mythbusters is the only program we cannot get online that we used to watch). The biggest thing is that Plex really just works, where all of the other things we tried were going to be bigger headaches in the end run, so if you are looking to go this route, I highly recommend Plex.