Why Plex makes me finally use a media center, and how to watch overseas television without limitations using VPN

As I explained in an earlier post, I have set up a Mac mini in my living room that primarily acts as a server, but it is also connected to my home entertainment system to function as a media player. I confess that I did this merely because I could. Like I said back then, I am not a heavy user of media playback software. I have no movie files stored on my harddisk (as downloading movies is too much of a hassle in countries that do not have movies available in the iTunes Store, like The Netherlands), and I never rip DVD content to disk. I don’t use the Mac to play DVDs, as I think that my Blu-ray player does a far better job on this, and is easier to operate. And I also don’t watch or record television on the Mac, as this job is perfectly taken care of by my cable company’s HD settop box with PVR. The only media related activities that I used the living room Mac mini for were playing music, and occasionally watching photos.

Plex and its alternatives

However, due to a number of reasons, as of lately I am hooked to a brilliant open source Media Center initiative that is unique to Mac OS X called Plex. Triggered by my new Harmony One remote, of which I wrote in great detail in my former post, I had a closer look at the Plex software because of its unique capability to work brilliantly with the Harmony, bypassing many of the limitations of the 6-button Apple Remote. And what I found was that this software greatly enhances my TV watching choices, and on top doing so in a slick and very well designed manner. The reason for my shift? Online content.

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Why the perfect universal remote will never exist (but how the Harmony One comes close)

My history of researching, buying, using and discarding universal remotes to operate my home entertainment equipment might be comparable to my search for the perfect computer mouse: neither quest has thus far resulted in finding a product that seems to fit my wishes perfectly.

In these days, with an ever growing pile of eletronics devices that can be remote controlled, it is not hard to imagine that many people are looking for a single universal remote that can replace them all. The idea seems easy: just put all functionality of the seperate remotes into one new device. However, in practice, it seems to be very hard to turn this idea into a well executed product. This is due to a number of reasons that I try to explain in this article.

Although early remote controls in the 1950s used ultrasonic sound to communicate, the consumer electronics industry moved almost entirely towards infrared by the late 70s, early 80s. Using infrared has a number of huge disadvantages, the most prominent of them of course being the fact that you have to have  a clear line-of-sight between the remote and the device. If the signal gets blocked, the command will not arrive. (Imagine how things would have looked today if instead of light, the remote used a radio signal. There would be no loss of signal, and a device could be operated even if it was locked up in a closet.)

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