After spending the bulk of the day feeling uncomfortable in Home Depot, I've been thinking lately about what would be a cool tech home improvement project. I will be the first to admit that I am no Bob Vila. If something does not have a network port, I probably don't know how to fix it. So, that said, you will probably not find me with my power drill holstered to my hip while wielding a Spackle knife in a display of home improvement prowess. Below is my latest of idea of a home improvement I *can* design and implement, a hard-disk-based media center.
While watching a pretty good game between the Patriots and Colts today, my eyes happened to fall on the DVD racks that flank my TV. There must be at least 150 DVD's there. Then the thought hit me: why do I need all of these discs lying around all the time? Why do I have to go find a physical medium that contains a single movie, should I want to see that movie. That is so 1999! There are a number of ways to implement my HDD-based solution, but I will pick one and give its recipe.
1 Mac Pro (it has 4 HDD bays and it probably the ultimate in scalability)
1 DVI cable
1 wireless keyboard and mouse set
1 copy of VLC media player
1 optical cable
While I haven't tested this yet, I assume this would be pretty simple. I chose a Mac Pro because it seems to have the most ability to scale in disk capacity. Also, with dual Xeons, it should have plenty of processing power to do your rips quickly - I assume VLC is multi-threaded. If you're feeling particularly creative (and rich), I guess you could get an Xserve RAID array. ;) You could probably build this with a way cheaper computer too if you don't have that many DVD's.
The idea is this: you would hook up the Mac Pro to the HDTV via the DVI cable and control it with the wireless keyboard and mouse (presumably from the couch). Over time, you could rip each DVD in your collection to the drives in the Mac using VLC. I would suggest putting them in some common "movies" folder and using "search light" to track down what you want to see.
Then, you could run the optical cable from the Mac's soundcard output to your 5.1 system to get sweet surround-sound audio. You can also use this connection to play your music collection through your nice home theater system.
That's it. Of course, I've omitted topics such as backups and the like, but you get the general idea. Will I ever build this? Possibly. If you have something like this, let me know how it is!