by Matt, matt@smalldog.com (Posted by Ed)

I’m in the middle of a move right now, and perhaps the worst part is disassembling (and reassembling) the home theatre. 250 pounds of speakers, about 180 pounds of amplifiers, big heavy furniture, miles of cable, a Mac Mini, a giant television, and a whack of hard drives make it a real chore. While it was all disassembled, I came across a few truly fantastic applications that will enhance the Mac-based home theatre experience and give me the motivation I need to set it all back up.

My setup was controlled with the Apple remote, bluetooth keyboard, and wireless mighty mouse. It’s perfectly functional, and the range and battery life of these peripherals is fantastic. It gets frustrating to have a keyboard and mouse on the table in the living room all the time, and the very small mighty mouse tends to get lost in the couch or stolen by Owen, the 10-month old golden retriever. The MacBook has a narrower footprint than the keyboard, and tends also to be on the table most of the time. I’d been using Apple Remote Desktop’s screen control feature to control the Mini using the MacBook, but this is a clunky solution. A program called Teleport lets you use your network to seamlessly control other screens as if they were connected directly to your computer.

The configuration is almost identical to the Arrangement section of the Displays Preference Pane, and the software allows you to use one single mouse and keyboard to control several computers. Just like if the TV was directly connected to the MacBook, one can move the cursor to the edge of the screen and have it appear on the screen of another computer. It’s elegant, simple, and works perfectly all the time. Over my 802.11n network, there’s no lag, either! Another utility allows this same function, except you can have a mixed environment of Windows and Mac clients: Synergy

Many owners of computer-based home theaters with large plasma or LCD televisions note that the image on the screen is either too small or too large. Too small, and there’s an obnoxious black border around the image; too large, and the edges of the image bleed off the screen.

My 1080p 46” LCD produced images that were too small. I won’t even pretend to understand exactly what this program does, and a lot of it is trial and error, but you can use DisplayConfigX to correct these issues. You manually change refresh rates, timing, horizontal frequency, pixel frequency, and the resolutions the Displays Preference Pane will allow you to choose.

After a restart you’ll notice that the size of the image changes, and you fiddle with the settings again until you get it just right. I suggest you have a fresh pot of coffee before proceeding with this program, because it’s probably going to take a long time. Please note that you can easily do harm to your system installation with this utility, and I cannot support it. The documentation explains how to reverse changes you’ve made using single user mode, and this procedure worked for me.

While Front Row is excellent, the Apple Remote is very basic. Remote Buddy allows you to assign different functions to the Apple Remote, and supports many other remotes like the Keyspan USB Digital Media Control, the Nintendo Wii Remote, and even iPhone! It’s extremely elegant, totally stable, highly customizable, and I can’t recommend it enough. It allows you not only to have advanced control over movies and music, but can be configured for use with scads of programs from Google Earth to the Finder.

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