|G4 Tower (Sawtooth) Media Center
Posted: 5/11/2005 (updated for links to products)
Hey Mike, I have finally got this beast all together and I thought
your readers might be interested in reading up on all the variables
concerned w/ putting together a media-center out of a G4 sawtooth
I may post this on the web soon w/ pictures but there's some really
useful info in here for people doing the same thing.
How to build the ultimate media center w/ an old G4 tower (Sawtooth)
I have been spending a lot of time working on this project (being the
geekboy that I am) and have finally got it all working just right and
i have to say that it is a pleasure to use.
It works very well as an iTunes jukebox, streamer, DVD player, DVD
jukebox, web-browser, gaming machine, watching and archiving TV
(DVR), video conferencing box as well as all the standard features a
computer might have.
First I am going to go through the hardware that the system is built
- G4 tower (Sawtooth) w/ a dual 1.3GHZ upgrade, 832 MB RAM, 3 port
firewire card & ATI Radeon 8500. (I asked if it still had the
stock 208W Pwr Supply and he said yes. See Systems page ATX conversion article for details on ATX PS mods for Sawtooth Macs if you're thinking of upgrading the
P.S., should he consider adding a 9800 Pro card to the mix for instance.-Mike)
- 10GB, 60GB, 80GB hard drives
- Hitachi DVD-ROM (came w/ the machine)
- External drives (all LaCie connected via firewire):
120 GB HD/ 250GB HD/ CDRW/ DVD-R/RW+
- Other external firewire devices:
iSight (for video conferencing), eyeTV200 (DVR)
- Syntax Olevia lt32HV (to watch things, like TV and DVD's ;-)
- Gyration ULTRA RF gyro mouse and keyboard (for the Mac)
- Harmony H659 remote (for the TV, receiver & eyeTV)
- Surround sound (for getting an optical out from my old G4 to the
Samsung so I can get surround sound from DVD and games played on the
computer): m-Audio Transit, it's a USB device (see Transit feedback page here)
- Surround sound receiver (to decode the surround sound and power the
speakers as well as play DVD's w/out the computer): Samsung HTDS-610
Ok the to get the best out of the TV:
The LCD TV is connected via a dual-link DVI cable to the ATI Radeon
8500. To force the Radeon to output to the TV at it's native resolution
(1366x768) I use a nifty piece of software calle Switchres X. (DisplayConfig X is another similar util. mentioned in past tips here from HDTV users-Mike) Turns
out that the setting (front porch et. al) for the mac-mini worked
just fine for my old Radeon card. These settings were very hard for
me to find and very difficult to determine by trial and error so I am
going to post them here in case someone needs them (note these
settings vary by LCD TV and video card so they may not work for you).
Pixel Clock 81MHz
Active H1360 V786
Front Porch H48 V1
Sync Width H248 V30
Back Porch H112 V3
Scan rate H45.814Khz V57.125kHz
I did try using the TV's VGA input but it sucked. I didn't even
bother w/ the s-video from the Radeon as that would no doubt suck
As it is the DVI Dual-link is crystal clear, dot for dot.
The monitor is also an excellent value, great picture for any LCD,
comparable to the much more expensive Sharps et al. This one only
cost me $1200 after rebates from Target and I can highly recommend
it to anyone. Not a single dead pixel. The scaler is very good, but
by using the computer as an input device I am already using a better
The Gyration ULTRA worked out of the box w/ out any special drivers
whatsoever. It works great out to about 10 feet and then quickly
loses functionality. It is also sensitive to RF interference, for
example if my powerbook is open and connected via airport to the
house' network it will interfere w/ the Gyration if it is between the
received and the mouse. Other RF devices within the sight line also
seem to cause problems.
Keyboard is tad bit touchy, sometimes dropping letters if you type to
fast or are too far away.
Once you are aware of it's limitations it is actually an excellent
interface device for a mediacenter mac, working as both as mouse on
the coffe table and as pointer in the air.
I can't say enough about this remote. It works great, was super easy
to configure using it's web-interface, even setting up macros
automatically (i.e "Watch TV" turns on the TV and the video receiver
at the same time etc). and flawlessly controls all my IR devices.
Samsung HTDS-610- (if you have find the right codes on the web you
can use the remote control to force this puppy to play DVD's from ANY
region regardless of their encoding, nice!). As a surround sound
system it ain't bad for a cheapo-out-of-the-box product and it has
optical in for surround sound from the mac.
Can this thing really burn a CD, play music, browse the web and let
you watch TV all at the same time?
Yes, it can. And no, it doesn't stutter, lose frames or burn coasters.
Why all those hard-drives?
They might seems like overkill, but they fill up fast.
My music library is 160GB which takes up one complete hard-drive.
Movies occupy two of the others.
Recorded eyeTV content occupies one.
The boot drive is the smallest drive at 10GB.
Why all those optical drives?
Yeah a 48x CD burner, 16x DVD burner and a 8x DVD-Rom are overkill; I
agree. However they were added one at a time over time and there is a
great benefit w/ having 3 optical drives. When I acquire a bunch of
new cd's i can load up 3 at a time and w/ iTunes preferences set to
auto-import new CD's it will automatically rip those 3 cd's in
sequence and add to my music library automatically, nice!
I can rip a DVD, burn a cd and play a cd at the same time (aack!).
Does the eyeTV 200 really measure up to a TiVo or Replay DVR?
Yes, and NO.
The eyeTV is great because I can remotely setup recordings from any
web access point, archive and share content and take it with me on my
laptop if I want all as MPEG-4 files.
The only real problem is that compared to a dedicated DVR it's
interface sucks, and that's a BIG thing for a media management device.
Proceed with caution!
Doesn't that old radeon 8500 let you down?
Apparently not. I was concerned that it would be the bottleneck in
the system (for FPS games and other graphics intensive stuff) but it
chugs along fine as long you don't set your game's resolution above
There a number of nifty little pieces of shareware that make the
whole user experience *much* more enjoyable and you should check
these out regardless of your system configuration.
- iTunes: Note: I set the iTunes preferences to display "large text" so it was
easier to read the track listings from across the room and DO NOT
"keep iTunes music organized" as this will destroy the location
sensitivity of compilation albums tracks on your HD which in turn
will make it nigh impossible to keep it all organized should you add
another music collection to yours at a later date.
- find album artwork w/google- (best applescript for this i've found so far).
- JewelCase - (this will put a rotating CD case displaying w/ artwork in
fullscreen on the TV w/ a complete track listing for the current
album and note the current playing track)
- Nicecast - (for streaming my music over the web, my friends and I can tune into this virtual radio station anytime we like)
- WebRemote - (this little piece of software allows people listening to my internet radio station to queue up music and turn the mac into a remote virtual jukebox from any computer w. a web interface, nice!).
- VLC - for watching DVD's
- Roxio's Popcorn - for archiving your dvd's
- mactheRipper - <ahem> I don't use this, i just like it ;-)
- Switchres X - (crucial to getting your video signal correctly setup to
output to your LCD TV)
That's all for now. I may add more to this article as i get the time/ inclination.
Other Systems Related Articles:
See the Systems page, Video topics page and Misc/Software related pages (include pages of feedback on EyeTV, non-Apple DVD/Media players, Popcorn, system mods, etc.)