Meshing Low End Macs with Sony Gaming Gear, Part 2

I left off in part 1 discussing the necessary steps to get everything put together that will allow you to have total media bliss and harmony on both your PS3 and PSP using a low-end Mac to stream the content. Moving forward, there are just a few more things to consider that will allow you to squeeze every last bit out of these devices in terms of capabilities and capacity. With that said, I shall continue.

MediaLink and Playback are the best options when streaming media from a Mac to your PS3.

Putting It All Together (continued)

Step 3: Integrate Your PS3, PSP, and Your Media Server

Thankfully there are still two great options if you want to stream media from your PowerPC Mac to your PS3 – Playback by Yazsoft and the older Universal Binary version of Nullriver MediaLink (so graciously provided for our Low End Mac audience by Nullriver, as it is no longer available on the main downloads page). There’s even a Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger version of MediaLink that will work with G3 and low-end G4 machines, which is available on our Facebook page for members. (If you haven’t already, join Low End Mac on Facebook to get this.)

Find these applications at the following links:

MediaLink and Playback both have slight differences in setting up/configuring, but in my experience provide very similar results (expect full reviews of each in the near future). You can stream just about any common video format in Standard Definition (SD) at DVD quality (720 x 480 or 640 x 480) from a PowerPC G4 Mac with dual 1 GHz or better CPUs using a mid- to high-end graphics card, such as a Radeon 9800 Pro with at least 1 GB of RAM. A really fast dual G4 (think dual 1.42 GHz MDD or processor upgraded dual 1.6/dual 1.8 GHz G4 machine), dual G5, or quad G5 will run things even better (720p content should be easy to stream in most cases), while lesser single-core G4 systems (below 1 GHz) may have a bit of trouble streaming DVD quality content (without cranking down the bit rate) and may actually be better suited for lower resolution video (such as 480 x 360 or 640 x 360).

Unlike the PSP, the PlayStation Vita can easily handle streamed 720p content with its quad core CPU and much more potent network and graphics capabilities

The other bottleneck to always consider is upload speed if you plan on streaming any content to a device that is not on the same local network.  The faster your upload speed – the better off you’ll be on the receiving end.  In the case of the PSP (when you utilize a media server from the PS3 via Remote Play) you also have to take into consideration the limits of 802.11b bandwidth (11 Mbps should be plenty though for SD video formats).  If you want to push HD content through, it can be done with a LocationFree base station to the PSP (as the LocationFree automatically downgrades HD video input to be compatible with the PSP).

A media server to PS3 to PSP via Remote Play however will result in HD content stuttering or not working since the PSP will be trying to view the original HD file in its full resolution and doesn’t have the kind of processing muscle needed to handle it and downgrade it on the fly.  If you want to stream HD content on the fly via Remote Play, it may be time to upgrade to a PlayStation Vita, although you lose out on the ability to utilize LocationFree base stations (as the software is defunct and no Vita options are available) and are stuck with Sony proprietary memory cards, which are both expensive and max out at 32 GB currently (32 GB card has a suggested MSRP of $79.99 at the time of this writing).

Low End Intel Media Server

The Mac mini, such as this 2009 model, is far from obsolete. It can be obtained for a reasonable price on the used market, making it an excellent and diverse choice as a media server.

It’s hard to believe, but those early Intel Macs have slowly and quietly begun to reach “obsolete” status with Apple. With an Intel Mac, there are clearly many more choices if you are thinking about creating a Media Center to stream to a PS3. Anything Core 2 Duo or better will allow you to do much more than any PowerPC machine, and with something as modest as a 2006 or 2007 Mac mini or iMac, you will be pleased with the results. Spring for a 2009 model, like the one pictured, and you should be good to go for OS X 10.9 Mavericks in addition to having an affordable media server on your hands.

Aside from modern versions of the aforementioned media server solutions, there are others that have taken the next step designed for Intel Macs that I’d like to touch on.  When connected to a PS3 and utilizing Remote Play, these solutions can really unleash some impressive results – even when pushed to a PSP.  There’s PS3 Media Server and Plex, which tend to be the favorites. With Plex you can even control your Netflix, Hulu, and a host of other services and stream that to your PS3 and then to your PSP or Vita via Remote Play. While the extra power of the Intel Mac can handle streaming HD video, as already explained – don’t expect to enjoy that on a PSP.

Optional LocationFree Base Station

In my most recent article, Get Netflix Working on Your G4 Mac, I describe a rather convoluted way to make it happen – technically for both a PSP and a portable Mac.  If you are this dedicated to repurposing an aging PowerPC Mac to give it new life and want to use a PSP as the device to receive all of the streamed content, I’d say why not and add a LocationFree. It will give you the additional options of Cable/Satellite TV and Netflix on the go in addition to your hefty memory stick that you can create with the dual Micro SD to Memory Stick Pro Duo adapter.  You can even enjoy your SD iTunes content on the go courtesy of a 1st generation AppleTV or a Mac with the appropriate adapters and IR receiver (more on that in another article coming soon).

Conclusion

The PlayStation 3, Vita, and PSP are all now reaching incredible values for new hardware.  Each can be had for $199 or less plus applicable taxes (the PS3 at $199 though is a bare bones 12 GB flash memory model and is designed so you can just get the appropriate hard drive bracket and upgrade with your own hard drive, while a new PSP-3000 can be found for $129 MSRP).  Used and refurbished hardware can be had for less, although I’d stick with new hardware if at all possible for the best reliability. Used PSPs seem to have the best track record if you want to save a few dollars, and parts for DIY upgrades and repairs are still plentiful.  Also keep in mind that with a PSP-2000 or PSP-3000 you can even send the video to a larger display courtesy of the video output – another great feature when traveling.  If LocationFree and the other features a PSP provides doesn’t interest you and you just want to enjoy gaming and media with great HD visuals, then the Vita is for you.  Using a Vita with a media server is also the perfect way to combat the outrageously priced memory card prices too.

So there you have it. It’s truly amazing just how much you can really do with both newer and aging technology when it comes to media servers.  You clearly have options and choices.  The great thing about Sony gear though is how well it meshes with Macs.  When you consider extra adapters and accessories (such as LocationFree base stations or other IR devices that can be controlled by one) or monster memory cards you can create on the cheap, it becomes evident that there are truly many more opportunities to keep aging PowerPC Macs alive today.  You just need the right tools and software, which quite frankly are becoming more and more affordable.

LocationFree base stations, although discontinued today – used to retail for $199 to $399 depending on the model. You can find them for $10 to $100 shipped, depending on immediate supply and demand on eBay.  As mentioned, Sony gaming gear is affordable today as well.  Streaming boxes, especially older used ones that have analog video output options, can be snapped up  today on the cheap.  Older (but still potent) late model PowerPC G4 and G5 Macs are the epitome of today’s “Low End” are now a dime a dozen – especially dual G5s, which I’ve seen for around $100 to $200 shipped on eBay, while various Mac Minis from a few years ago are just a step above in price but a huge leap ahead in capabilities. With all of those factors in your favor, it might be fun to try it all out! The results truly are amazing that very few take advantage of.