It’s already been established that the top three video game consoles can do a lot more than just play games. The PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii can all act as media hubs and extenders to stream videos, music and photos stored on your Mac.
Streaming content isn’t all that new, but it’s popularity and adoption amongst a wider range of consumers is becoming noticeable. Whether it’s streaming music from the Web or listening to your iTunes playlists remotely, the method of delivering the stuff you want is getting easier to grasp. The best part is that you don’t need much more than some neat software, a home network and, naturally, content you want to enjoy.
What you need to make sure of before you initiate all this is that your game console is connected to your home network, through Ethernet or Wi-Fi. Once the Mac and the console are on the same network, the rest should be easy.
While Xbox Live has its own services for supplying content, what you already own takes precedence. Nullriver’s Connect360 does a superb job of seamlessly streaming content from the Mac over to the Xbox 360. And considering how easy it is to set up, you should be up and running in short order.
I should mention that the full version of the software is $20. You can test out the trial version, but it really limits how much you can do, so I would suggest that the money could be well spent. Still, there is another option later in this article that might sway you another way.
Connect360 will recognize your iTunes and iPhoto libraries, along with your Movies folder (you have to enable “Sharing” in each of the iTunes and iPhoto preferences), as well as an Xbox 360 connected to your home network. Once that’s confirmed, go to System Preferences on your dock and click the Connect360 icon. Click Start and you should hear a ping when the connection is made.
Setting Up Connect360
Go to My Xbox on your Xbox 360 dashboard, and your Mac should be listed in the Music, Video and Photo Library folders, which will have your content inside. You may also notice that an icon appears on your menu bar, giving you quick access to some of the features in the software.
That’s pretty much it for the setup, as you’re now ready to watch and listen to what you want.
Though the software can handle high-definition files, you might notice that some videos you stream over from the Mac look small on a big HDTV screen. Move the left joystick on your Xbox 360 controller and playback controls will pop up. Go to Display and see how the picture looks under the different settings.
Connect360 In Action
File format compatibility continues to improve with each major update. On the video side, H.264, DivX, XviD, MOV, AVI, WMV and ASF are supported. Movies and shows purchased from iTunes won’t play at all. On the music side, AAC, Apple Lossless, WMA, MP3, WAV and AIFF are supported. And finally, supported photo formats include, JPEG, PNG, GIF, TIFF, BMP and RAW.
If you have specific Internet radio streams you like to listen to on iTunes, you can easily stream those to the 360 as well by just adding a station to your playlist. With respect to AAC compatibility, songs purchased from iTunes with DRM copy protection won’t play on the Xbox 360. Any songs purchased from iTunes without DRM should play flawlessly.
Nullriver also has a very similar app for the PlayStation 3 called MediaLink. It works on the Mac in much the same way Connect360 does for the Xbox 360, right down to the interface and price ($20 for a license). It installs on the Other pane in your System Preferences, and an icon shows up on your menu bar where you can enable everything.
Essentially, the software will locate the iTunes, iPhoto and Movie folders, as well as a PS3 connected to the network (you’ll know when you hear the ping). And if you have Remote Play activated on your PS3, you can even enjoy your content with a PlayStation Portable (PSP) as well.
There are a few key differences between the two, however. First, MediaLink can see photo libraries from Aperture as well as iPhoto. This means it can also read file formats like PDF, PS, EPS and TGA, to go with the same ones supported in Connect360.
On the video side, there’s also support for MPEG-1 and MPEG-2. And lastly, this app makes it easy to copy over files from the Mac to the PS3’s internal hard drive.
The best feature is probably the fact that MediaLink can locate video, photos and music from any folder on your Mac, not just the designated user ones.
The downsides are that MediaLink tends to be a bit on the buggy side. Nullriver has fixed some of these issues, but I’ve had moments where my PS3 simply didn’t recognize my Mac, or a video suddenly stopped streaming for no apparent reason.
It also doesn’t support as many audio file formats as Connect360 does, though the key ones are covered. It’s unfortunate that either the software or the PS3 didn’t allow me to listen to the songs I wanted while playing a game like Connect360 did.
Despite the changes Microsoft made to the 360 Dashboard, the MediaLink interface and the PS3 are a nice combination aesthetically. Album artwork is displayed prominently, as opposed to the 360 interface, which doesn’t seem to utilize it the same way.
Competition in this space is good because it will likely drive innovation, except the limitations are usually the fault of the consoles and not the software. The Little App Factory’s Rivet works a lot like Connect360 and MediaLink, with the key difference being that it has one version that works with both consoles.
Installing the software is as simple as just dragging it over to your Applications folder. From there, you can open up the Preferences to see what your options are.
The demo version is quite limited in that you can only view one video file and listen to 10 songs, which might be enough for you to get a sense of how seamless Rivet is.
From the outset, I got the sense that Rivet wants to do more but can’t because of the limitations each console has. I won’t rehash those, but I will say that Little App Factory did address some of the features users wanted most.
The one that stands out most is Rivet’s ability to read more than just the standard iTunes, iPhoto and Movie folders. Go to the Rivet icon on the menu bar and click Preferences. You will notice that under Movies, it will already display video files stored in iTunes and iPhoto, but it will ask you if you want to see files from specific folders. Click the plus button and add whatever you want.
On the Music side, you can’t manually add folders of music, but Rivet will look for directories with music and add them automatically. And with photos, iPhoto and Aperture are supported off the bat, but you can manually add any other directory folders you want to broaden the scope.
You may find this setup particularly useful if you regularly mount an external hard drive connected to a router or hub, like I do. I could easily point Rivet to access that drive, which has tons of media content stored on it. But, of course, it will only see it every time the drive is mounted.
Rivet also has support for album artwork and video thumbnails. And like Connect360 and MediaLink, you can play your own music while playing a video game on the PS3 or Xbox 360, or naturally, while going through a photo slideshow and browsing the Xbox Live Marketplace or PlayStation Store.
The full version of Rivet comes at a cost of $19.95 for a single license. An extra $9.95 for the “Household Pack” add-on allows up to five computers in the same home network to run Rivet.
Since the Nintendo Wii has built-in Wi-Fi, Riverfold’s Wii Transfer has become a premier app for streaming content over to the Wii. The free demo version does an adequate job of showing what’s possible, but it does so without any audio. Pay $19 and you get all the sound and no restrictions.
The app automatically recognizes your iTunes, iPhoto and Movies folders, and both can be streamed in their entirety.
Though Wii Transfer recognizes most of the popular video file formats (MOV, AVI, MPEG4, H.264, DivX), the Nintendo Wii doesn’t, so each video file would have to be converted to Flash Video (FLV).
Alternatively, you can use Wii Transfer to convert video files and save them directly to an SD memory card. Pop it into the Wii, and you can watch without having to stream the files. But take note of the fact that the Wii doesn’t seem to like long movies being played from an SD card. Also, when streaming, you can’t rewind or fast-forward, only pause.
Wii Transfer Interface
When you sign up, Wii Transfer gives you an IP address with a port number. On your Wii, open up the Internet Channel (you may have to pay $5 or 500 Wii points to unlock it) and type the address into the Web browser. When it loads, you should see a list for music, movies and photos, as well as your Safari and Firefox bookmarks.
Video and audio podcasts can be easily played directly from the console as well, but the Wii also doesn’t seem to like very long audiobooks or audio podcasts that are over 10MB in size.
You could play slideshows of your different photo albums, while having music from iTunes play in the background. You can also play content simultaneously on both the Wii and another computer on the same home network. Only MP3 and unprotected AAC files are supported here on the music side.
And lastly, there is also integration with Miis – the avatars that you create when you first get the Wii. If you go to the Mii Channel on your Wii, you will have the option of transferring your Miis over to your Wii remote. Once you’ve done that, turn off your Wii and make sure you’re running Wii Transfer. Turn on Bluetooth on your Mac and go to the Mii pane on Wii Transfer. Press the 1 and 2 buttons simultaneously on the Wii remote to sync over the Miis to the Mac.
Although media players from the likes of Western Digital, Seagate and Asus are slowly growing in popularity, the combined number of these three video game consoles in homes should be significant. And since they’re not meant to be purely gaming devices, why not take full advantage of their respective abilities as media hubs to playback a bevy of content on big HDTVs?
This quartet of applications aren’t the only ones that offer this kind of functionality, but they are among the best, which makes them worth the money. The respective developers also keep bolstering their apps with updates that fix bugs and enhance their functionality.
If you’re looking to have a ton of media at your disposal for a home theatre setup, then this could be one solution to make it work.