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Saturday, October 02, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Practical Mac / Glenn Fleishman
DVD led to digital shake-up


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Earlier this month I made a significant technology purchase: my first DVD player. I'm not new to the technology; I was an early Netflix subscriber and am debating whether I should buy the new "Star Wars" DVD set (even though Greedo still shoots first in the new edition).

But I've never owned a dedicated DVD player.

Previously, an iBook served as the living room's digital hub. Connected to the television and a stereo receiver (using the $19 Apple AV Cable), I watched movies using the DVD Player application and played back music in iTunes.

But the iBook's hard drive was rapidly filling up with digital music and photos. More important, the iBook is my wife's main computer, which meant that she had to pull up a chair next to the television to check e-mail and surf the Web.

It was time to ditch the idea of one computer acting as our digital hub in favor of a networked solution that would make our music and photos easily available to any computer in the house.

The DVD player is part of a living-room shake-up (initiated by the purchase of an entertainment center/armoire) that has pressed old Macs into service and encouraged me to adjust my digital lifestyle.

Using an older PowerBook, AirPort wireless networking and Apple's iLife software, I've made it easier to store and enjoy the growing amount of music and digital photos in my house — and I've significantly reduced the cable clutter. Best of all, I was able to pull it off without spending much on new hardware.

The first step in this shuffle was to deal with storage. My first inclination was to replace the iBook's 15 gigabyte hard drive with something larger. Unfortunately, the laptop's design makes it difficult to replace the drive.

Instead, I ordered an inexpensive Seagate 80 GB 3.5-inch hard drive (about $65, though prices vary; try dealmac.com for online specials) and an external FireWire Drive Enclosure ($66 from Other World Computing, www.macsales.com).

I loaded up the drive with music files from the iBook, my 15-inch Aluminum PowerBook G4 and a steady stream of compact discs that I own. It's upstairs in my home office, connected to my old PowerBook G4 Titanium (which is also hooked up to a USB-based laser printer and routes print jobs from any computer in the house, thanks to the Printer Sharing feature in Mac OS X's Sharing preference pane).
 
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I enabled the "Share my music" feature in iTunes' preferences so that other Macs can stream music from that machine. I also added iTunes to the list of Startup Items in Mac OS X's Accounts preference pane, since the program needs to be running to share its music.

As recently as a year ago, I was contemplating drilling holes in the living-room ceiling to snake audio cables from my office, but that's no longer necessary. An Apple AirPort Express ($130) is plugged into a power slot behind the entertainment center and connected to my stereo (using a mini-to-RCA left/right cable that you can find at nearly any electronics store). Now, any computer (Mac or PC) on my network with a copy of iTunes can stream music to the living room via the AirPort Express.

Consolidating our digital photos was also easy, but with one twist. iPhoto 4 uses a more convoluted system of organizing the pictures on disk, and I wanted to keep the photo albums I had already set up on my PowerBook. So instead of exporting the photos or locating the originals, I copied my iPhoto Library folder (in the Pictures folder of the Home directory) to the external drive.

I then made an alias of that folder (choose Make Alias from the File menu, press Command-L, or drag the folder to the new location while holding down the Command and Option keys) and replaced the iPhoto Library folder in the Titanium PowerBook's Pictures folder. As with iTunes, I enabled photo sharing in iPhoto and set the program to launch automatically when the computer starts up.

It's a little ironic that this new setup actually removed one digital-hub feature — playing DVDs from the iBook — to make it easier to listen to music and view photos using any other computer. But seeing as how the DVD player I bought cost only about $80 (versus a few hundred dollars back when I first started using the iBook), and I didn't have to buy a new Mac to act as the hub, I feel like I've come out ahead.

Jeff Carlson is filling in for regular columnist Glenn Fleishman. Carlson is managing editor of the online newsletter TidBITS (www.tidbits.com) and the author of several books (www.necoffee.com). Send questions to carlsoncolumn@mac.com. More Practical Mac columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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