The perfect set up for the Apple TV.

This is not a post about accessibility but I should start by just saying that I’ve blogged about the Apple TV before for that reason.

I wanted to explain my media playback set up at the moment. It has taken a few massive leaps in the last few years.

First, I had a first generation X-Box modified with XBMC. That was a great little machine. It’s since been moved to the attic because it’s no longer used. It never let me down though so I kind of feel guilty throwing it to one side like that. I picked the X-Box up for €30 and the installation of XBMC wasn’t all that difficult.

The one major drawback was that the interface wasn’t accessible at all. Ahem…. Sorry. I didn’t mean to bring that word up in that post. Please excuse me.

The next solution was the Eea PC. This was the smallest PC around at the time. No bigger than your hand and running at the same noise as a wrist watch this machine is particularly cool. It’s sitting there doing nothing at the moment because I haven’t got around to working with it but for over a year it was behind the television connected via a HDMI cable providing full HD playback of video and music. Thanks to Windows 7 and Jaws it was fully accessible! Ah sorry! It slipped out. I can’t help it! The only problem was that Jaws caused video playback to stutter and intermittently fail when played in full screen mode in Windows media player on the 40 inch television. This is a limitation of the mirror driver.

Lately, I’ve begun using the Apple TV. At the start I accessed this using the Apple remote software from the iPhone but recently I’ve been given access to it via the IOS 4.1 update thanks to the newly added voiceover support. This is by far the best option I’ve ever had both for accessibility, usability and versatility. Wow. That’s a mouthful isn’t it?

Now, let’s get to the interesting part! For the rest of this blog post I won’t mention that horrid a word once more ok?

The Apple TV has one major drawback. It needs iTunes to work to access your music collection. But, what if you’re desktop isn’t on or you don’t want iTunes running? Or, what if you have media from a number of different sources and you don’t want all the media on your iPhone, iPod or iPad. For a large library such as one with two Terabytes of music this becomes a particularly important issue.

The solution? My favourite word at the moment: Virtualization.

I have a server here running a number of systems. It now has a Windows XP machine on it with a copy of iTunes installed.
The virtual machine has been given two 5TB disks. One for backups and the other for storing all of the media that was previously stored in different computers. All of the music and videos have been consolidated onto this one server. The drive has been shared out to authenticated users connected to the Windows domain so that when I’m using Windows media player I can still access everything. I’ve also got a group policy created using client side extensions mapping a drive letter to this share for all computers that log on. But that’s only a side note really.

iTunes won’t run as a service so when the Windows XP machine starts it automatically logs in, starts iTunes then locks the session. It only logs in with a service account that I’ve given very limited permissions to so it’s reasonably secure. I hate setting up systems that automatically log on. It’s a bad security practise so I try to stay away from it.

iTunes has been set up with my Apple ID, it has all of the media added from the 5TB drive and it’s working perfectly. With genius drawing from the massive library available to it the collections it’s coming up with are very impressive.

I’m sitting here writing this post with music that I’d never consider listening to playing in the background. The iTunes media server is hosted on a server that has dozens of uses so it’s never even considered. It just works and I won’t have to touch it for ages!

Now, on a technical note, with Forefront antivirus, Data protection for backups and WSUS providing windows updates this Windows XP virtual machine won’t need to be touched ever if everything works the way it has been designed. It will reboot once every week or two depending on the requirements of installed updates and if something goes wrong, Forefront or data protection will email me.

I’m quite happy with it.