You Own It!
In part 1 of this article, we investigated bringing in local television high definition broadcasts to your home using over-the-air antennas. In part 2, we looked at different subscription products to which you can stream cable TV and movie content over the internet. Part 3 looked at different hardware components enabling us to interact with that content: set-top-boxes, televisions, and audio gear. For this fourth and final segment, let’s see what we can do to distribute our personally owned audio and video media throughout our homes.
There are a number of solutions available to implement this type of functionality, but I have found that, by far, the easiest solution is using iTunes as your media hub. iTunes supports the sharing of both audio and video files, and can send them not only to computing devices, but also to certain types of speakers and speaker systems specifically designed for this purpose.
One of the things that has always attracted me to Apple products, is the additional value that they provide on top of the basic functionality for which they are purchased. Over the past 12 years, Apple has developed their wireless audio and video technology to the point where we can now share our AV content from a dedicated computer’s iTunes library to any Macintosh computer, Apple TV, iOS device such as an iPhones and iPad, as well as to Airplay speakers throughout our homes which are connected to the data network. For the sake of a name, we will call this dedicated computer and central iTunes library a media center.
The concept is simple. You create a shared iTunes library on a computer in your home that you dedicate as your media center. This computer will need to always be connected to your home network, always be turned on and awake, and logged into the account hosting the shared iTunes library if you want to be able to access your iTunes content quickly and easily. To enable iTunes sharing, go under the iTunes menu and choose Preferences, and then Sharing. Click the box next to, “Share my library on my local network.”
Next, you’ll want to turn on Home Sharing. Go to the File menu-Home Sharing and turn on Home Sharing. Enter your iTunes Store credentials. That’s it. You are done setting up your media center. Now you will be able to stream any videos or audio content that you have stored in the media center’s iTunes library to any other Apple devices in your home that support Home Sharing and it is enabled on those devices as well. More info on enabling Home Sharing on different types of devices can be accessed here:
Note: In order to guarantee that your media is available to you 24/7 in your home, you might want to go into System Preferences and set the energy saver settings on this dedicated computer to “never sleep” or “ never power down” the computer. You also have the ability to customize the computer to sleep at say, 1:00 AM, and wake at 8:00 AM.
What types of content can you store in iTunes? In addition to music, movies, and TV shows that you purchase from Apple, you can also convert audio CDs and DVDs that you own to digital files that can then be streamed. For audio CD conversion see:
For DVDs see:
Please note that the law isn’t entirely clear on the legality of converting DVDs that you own to files that you can stream. Please consider this before you decide one way or the other.
Streaming Audio and Video
Audio and video have different parameters when streaming. Audio streaming in iTunes allows you to create a “Sonos-like” system where you can send music from the media center’s iTunes to any and all Airplay-compatible speaker devices on your home network, simultaneously and fully synchronized throughout your home. Do you want some audio out on your deck? Purchase one of these (or any Airplay compatible speaker) and simply connect it to your wireless network:
That Airplay speaker will then automatically show up in the media center’s iTunes app and you can now stream audio to that speaker, or any other Airplay speakers in your home independently or simultaneously. More info on that can be found here:
If you have an Airport Express in your home, you can connect any powered speaker to the audio output of that device and turn that speaker into an Airplay speaker as well.
With video, you are limited to one independent stream to one device at a time, but multiple devices simultaneously, although asynchronously. What this means is that although you can watch a video on more than one TV, unlike audio, the playback is not synchronized on each device. I’m not sure why you would want to do this, I’m just pointing it out. 🙂
To play a video from your media center, make sure that Home Sharing is turned on in whatever device you want to watch the video on (iPad, Mac, iPhone, Apple TV, etc.), make sure that device is connected to your network, and follow the instructions to access the media.
I suppose you can look at the differences between Airplay audio and video this way: you can PUSH audio to any speaker devices simultaneously that support Airplay, while any Apple device with a screen can individually PULL a video from the media center to it. It should also be noted that a Windows computer running iTunes can participate in Home Sharing playing music and videos hosted on the media center. Here is another Apple support article that does a good job explaining the different sharing configurations for Macs and Windows computers:
Lastly, part 3 of this article, published the day before Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference, did not include much information about Apple TV. The reason being because at that time, Apple TV did not have a single product that gave you the ability to stream a substantial package of live television channels. Most of the Apple TV content at that point was consumed a la carte and required that you sign up and authenticate for individual access to each service. What a pain! Two important things happened yesterday that have changed my mind about Apple TV.
1. Single Sign-on. In the past, as I just mentioned, you had to authenticate to Netflix, then authenticate to Hulu, then authenticate to HBO, etc. With Single Sign-on, Apple hopes to have you authenticate to your Apple TV with your Apple ID, and any services to which you subscribe will automatically be associated to that Apple ID. You can then instantly interact with any of their content. It remains to be seen if this will work with services for which you have subscribed outside of Apple’s eco-system, but the concept looks promising.
2. Sling TV is now on Apple TV!!! This is the thing that puts Apple TV over the top for me. Our family is always switching between content that we have purchased from Apple, and Sling TV. This has meant going between the Apple TV and it’s remote, and a computer and it’s wireless keyboard and mouse. Being able to access most of our content with one remote will be a welcome change.
Finally, when I offered to do this article, I had no idea that it would turn out to be as long as it is. In the interest of keeping it as short as possible, I have certainly left some minor details out, details which should be covered in the many pages that I have linked to. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions regarding the content covered in this blog post. If you do decide to move forward with some of what was discussed here, you will most certainly do more than just cut the cord to cable TV. By getting rid of our home phone, removing cable TV, converting all of our family member’s cellphones over to T-Mobile, and purchasing some online content along with a Buckeye 1 Internet package, our family has cut our monthly costs for telecommunications and media consumption by over $160.00 a month! I am sure that you too, can cut more than the cord.
©2016 C. Hamady