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The computer in the living room: setting up a Mac mini media center

Christopher Breen | May 8, 2013
Trot back to the 16th century and corner famed prognosticating monk Nostradamus, and it's quite likely that when posed the question: "Will those living in the year 2013 be able to call up any media programming they like from a single box?" he'd respond with an enthusiastic "Mais oui!"

(Some readers will wonder why you'd need to use HBO Go in a browser when you have to be an HBO subscriber in order to access HBO Go and therefore can watch it on your cable or satellite receiver. The sad fact is that not all cable and satellite providers offer HBO Go. DirecTV, for example, does carry some HBO content on demand, but not the complete HBO Go service. Those people must use the iOS app or a Web browser to enjoy this content.)

Automating the one-button approach

You can make this process even easier by providing one-button access to applications and websites. The means for doing this is Automator. This is how you'd do it with the HBO Go website.

Launch Automator, and in the workflow chooser that appears, select Service. Configure the pop-up menus at the top of the workflow to read Service receives no input in any application. Now drag the Web location file for HBO Go to the workflow area. A Get Specified Finder Items action will be added that contains the Web location file. Select the Files & Folders library, and from it drag the Open Finder Items action to the workflow area. Make sure that its pop-up menu reads Open with default application.

To test the workflow, just click the Run button at the top of the window. Safari will launch and take you to HBO Go. If you've already visited, signed in, and had Safari remember your password, you'll still need to click Sign In and enter the email address for the cable or satellite service you use; the site requires that you sign in each time you visit.

Save and name the service (HBO Go has a certain ring to it). Launch System Preferences, select Keyboard, click the Keyboard Shortcuts tab, and select Services. Your HBO Go service will appear near the bottom of the list under the General heading. Select it and click Add Shortcut. Now assign a keyboard shortcut to the service. You can trigger this shortcut from a wired or unwired keyboard or an iOS app.

Repeat this process for other websites you wish to make easily accessible, assigning a different keyboard shortcut for each site. Now all you and your family needs to do is to remember which keys launch the websites they want to access.

Cord finally cut?

Regrettably, far too little has changed on the content front. Television networks, large and small, cling jealously to their programming. You can't stream TV the way you can access it from a cable or satellite box. Thanks to online sports subscriptions services like MLB.TV, NBA Game Time, and NHL GameCenter, you can stream live baseball, basketball, and hockey games, but these are only out-of-market games (meaning you can't watch your home team when they're playing at home). And many other popular sports--including football, golf, and soccer--aren't consistently available. Special live events like the Oscars broadcast or election coverage are also unavailable. And premium channel content from HBO and Showtime is available only if you already have an existing subscription, which requires that cable or satellite box whose cord you're anxious to cut.


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