Bringing The Web Into Our Living Room

Back in the spring, we moved homes. Our old house had this over the top Crestron system with audio everywhere driven by a  multi-room audio system. At the heart of the system was a series of music servers from a company called Request. We had Crestron controllers in every room and whenever we wanted music, we’d just call it up on the Crestron and music would fill the room. The Crestron system controlled a bunch of other stuff including the TVs, heat, lighting, etc. It was total overkill. Fortunately the people who bought our old house wanted our entire Crestron system, so we sold the entire setup with the house.

When we moved, we want back to regular light switches, regular thermostats, and three separate entertainment systems.  Each entertainment system has its own media cabinet with a smart amp that can switch audio and video. There are four inputs in each media cabinet; a sonos box, a HD/DVR/cable box, a HD radio receiver, and a Mac Mini. Each entertainment system has an HD flat panel display. That’s the entire setup, replicated three times. Except the basement system which has an xbox 360 in it. I call that Josh’s system although all the kids use it from time to time.

Each entertainment system sits on our house network. So all the devices in the media cabinet, at least the ones with a ethernet (sonos and mac mini), are part of our house network. This works great. If Emily buys an episode of Grey’s Anatomy on her laptop, she shares it with everyone else and we can watch it on the Mac Minis. If someone pulls down an .avi file from the web, we can all watch it no matter where the file sits on the network.

We still have one Request server with all of our mp3s on it and the Sonos system is the way we access it. I thought that Sonos with Rhapsody and Request would be the killer music setup. And it is for the most part. We probably listen to Sonos 80% of the time in our home.

But the web is catching up. The thing I didn’t realize when I set up this system is how much a difference the mac minis would make. We use them to play DVDs, we use them to play video we buy or download from the web, we use them to power screen savers on the displays when we are listening to music, and we use them increasingly to listen to music from the web.

This morning we started off in tumblr.


Tumblr let’s you upload audio, here’s the song I uploaded this morning. What you see in this picture is my tumblr dashboard set to just show the audio posts of my friends. We were listening to music from Bijanjoelaz, rachel, and a few others for about an hour. It was great.

Then we went to the hype machine to listen to my "loved tracks".


Both the tumblr and hype machine listening experiences are "social listening" experiences. They are experiences that are programmed by me and the people I am connected to via the web. We could have listened to my neighbor radio on as well.

When the web and all the people we know can start being an audio experience in our living rooms, it’s a big deal. I realize that not many people have setups like this, but it shouldn’t be too long before it’s much more common. A mac mini costs $600. And it puts the web into your living room. Give it a try. I bet you’ll like it as much as we do.

#My Music#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. Lance

    Great post. Thanks for sharing your living room. I am adding a Mac Mini to my wish list.

  2. wallbang

    This is my setup. The mac mini also acts as a slave, handling distributed chores from my database server. This dual duty is pretty common since core duo came onto the scene. Bonus – it’s at least 50% business expense.M 🙂

  3. Bruce Barber

    Fred,I believe that what you’re describing is what Apple is thinking about for the “Apple TV”, which sells for 300 bucks.Think of what it will be like when they add Web browsing…

    1. fredwilson

      i think Apple TV is the wrong idea.just make a mac mini that sells for $300the brilliance of iPhone is its a computer running the apple OSa full blown computer connected to my TV is what makes my setup so interestingfred

  4. Joe Lazarus

    Nice setup. I look gooood on that big screen. I started doing the music Tumblr filter the other day on your suggestion. It’s a fun way to sample tunes. Like you said, we could use a playlist feature. I’d love something similar for each media format… a Hype Machine-like player for music, some sort of Flickr-like slideshow for photos, a player for video, etc. If Tumblr decides to expose the follower social network data through their API, I imagine third party developers would come up with some cool discovery tools like that.I see you’re up to 27 people that you’re following.

  5. wallbang

    If you really want to use an iphone as a remote for itunes, Signal actually works well. a bit of applescript and a web server you could control almost everything on the macmini via the iphone. Add Bug into the soup and you have control of anything electronic in the house – via the iphone from anywhere in the world – well except in canyonlands. 🙂

    1. wallbang

      i just said: “add Bug…”Bug needs to move quickly in making modules acdc power/wifi self sustaining. Then the cpu linux base is , wait for it, a bug hub, itself acting as a point to the outside world (if you know Linux), or for me a point for my OS X based web server which provides my iPhone interface frontend, and database backend. (granted some of this exists in closed systems, but I can’t hack that)this is the geekiness that howard isn’t comprehending 🙂 and geekiness is a phenomena on the rise.

  6. Dan Blank

    Fred – we seem to be having similar days. I just posted a blog entry about how I experience music at home, and interact with a community of audiophiles online. Unlike your high tech approach, mine involves turntables. Feel free to check it out:…Thanks.-Dan

  7. curmudgeonly troll

    Apple should bring out a line of 42″+ LCD TVs that run OS X, ie bigass iMacs.

    1. fredwilson

      That would be something

    2. wallbang

      a 42″ LED LCD is my hope. but LED isn’t scaling to date.

  8. Ranjit Mathoda

    I’ve been contemplating something similar. What software do you put on your Mac Mini? Do you sync laptop itunes library with a server itunes library?

    1. fredwilson

      I don’t use itunes on the mac mini. If I want to play music we own, I use sonosFred

  9. Doug Ellis

    I live in a house down on Morton Street (I’m the guy with the bike team that accosted you and the Gotham Gal The Little Owl on Bedford last year). Anyway, I have a Netstreams, IP-based home system installed. It, too, uses a Request box as an mp3 server. I love the simplicity of the the installation: no lights, no alarm, no shades… just music. Let me know if you want to check it out before you commit to something for your new place.

  10. Charlie Crystle

    Fred,I cancelled Comcast last month and switched to an antennae for local broadcast stations, a pc feed into a 42″ plasma tv, a NetFlix account for DVDs and downloads, and website for news, info, clips, result is I watch more movies, some on demand, see local news, don’t miss much football, and don’t have 200 channels of crap trying to sell me something through reruns of mediocre programs. And no monthly fees.I love it!We also cancelled Comast cable internet because of their interference with file downloads, just on principle. Instead we are on a modest DSL connection to a local telco.Canceling Verizon and going to Working Assets has worked well too.

    1. fredwilson

      I love it!

  11. Harry DeMott

    who knows, you may even get on Pandora on one of these systems!!!!!Agree on the Crestron whole house system. Total overkill and impossible to change anything unless you understand the Crestron programming language. pain in the A$$. I use a bunch of airport expresses to connect to different inputs on the crestnet system

    1. Charlie Crystle

      To Fred and everyone else: Sonos is quite pricey for the startup set. What’s an affordable alternative?

      1. mdoeff

        If you’re looking for a multi-room solution I think you’ll find that the Sonos price is very competitive, especially if you use the ZP80, which hooks into your existing stereo (the ZP100 has a built in and costs more). With that said, if you’re looking for a more affordable solution you should take a look at Squeezebox by Slim Devices.

      2. fredwilson

        A mac mini connected at an amp and a monitorFred

    2. mdoeff

      Sonos has support for Pandora – You can also access internet radio, subscription music services such as Rhapsody and Napster, and SIRIUS satellite radio.

    3. fredwilson

      I’ll play pandora this am just for you harry!Fred

  12. Jay Parkhill

    I’ve been looking for something that will synchronize iPhoto the way Request does iTunes. In my house photos get uploaded to 1 Mac, but I’d like to share them with other PCs and Macs machines in the house. Does anyone have a suggestion for this? Many thanks.

    1. fredwilson

      I do it manually and would love a ‘photo crawler’ that pulls all photos onto our ‘mediashare’ serverFred

      1. wallbang

        Fred,I have some code that does this. The interface would be rough – but I can take a sec, strip it out, and compile it.This is what it can do: – user installs app on mediashare server – user specifies multiple source volumes- user specifies a destination for each media type (pic, music, movie, podcast, tvshow)- user specifies a modified date/time to begin from (app will not replace existing files) – the code takes over from there, every x min crawling source volumes and copying files to destination folder(s), Error checking for unmounted volumes is incl – though no sms sent 🙂 and is not tested for windows.Pretty simple – you might want to spec out your thinking in case I misunderstand what you’re wanting. This is what I use to copy to my media mac mini…M 🙂

  13. trib

    I set up a similar system at home on the weekend – Mac Mini into 42″ HD Panasonic plasma (…. There’s one downside here – with rectangular pixels, the plasma operates at 4:3 resolutions – 800×600, 1024×768, etc. that slightly distorts the horizontal aspect of the Mac Mini input. If I could resolve this, I’d be in heaven. As it is, it’s a minor inconvenience.

    1. fredwilson

      Are you using hdmi output from the mac mini?Fred

  14. Rajesh Duggal

    MythTV is great! It’s unfortunate that it requires some real geek knowledge to setup properly.It integrates, tv recording pvr, scheduling, dvd ripping, music, photoslides, etc. etc.…It also works with firefox.…If you prefer not to use your remote control to surf the web.Rajesh Duggal

  15. thelimeusa

    I like the idea of using a Mac Mini. Can you tell me what keyboard mouse options would be best for a bedroom TV?

    1. fredwilson

      I use an integrated wireless keyboard that has the mouse built in.I forget the maker. I’ll check when I get home and leave another commentI am curious what others use. I don’t love mine. It works but its not idealFred

      1. bijan

        I use the apple bt keyboard. It’s okay, not great. I also use a RF mouse (microsoft). Need something better. I’d like to find a BT keyboard with a built in trackball that worked with the Mac mini. and it’s gotta be small or lauren will laugh at me.

  16. alan p

    Good to see you’ve joined the PCTV crowd…if its any help, we did this about a year ago with a bog standard laptop – called it MyPCTV – some relevant posts on how to dot it are on our blog, Broadstuff, over here:

  17. Tim

    Take a look at PC2TV at Quartice (

  18. trush

    I’ve been running a computer through my main TV for a while now and I love it. I’ve also been playing around with Wii enabled interfaces like Google reader and FineTune. Similar to how companies design iPhone specific sites, there will be a need to have larger format user interfaces to play well on the TV.I’m working on building a Flex based music player front-end that works like a turntable and can connect to local, hosted, or streaming music. Looks like a vintage B&O Beogram on a 37″ LCD…I think there’s a good opportunity to utilize the browser to make the higher end home media experience cheaper, easier, and more accessible.

  19. issackelly

    Have you ran joost on your TV? I find that the resolution is poor for watching full screen on my laptop, but it’s not bad pushed to my standard def TV. For me it’s the amount of content that gets me going; I wish that it worked with XBMC, but I know that asking a real company to support more or less contraband product isn’t going to happen.My killer setup is XBMC, with DVDs from netflix, and a home linux server.Macbook pro with sshfs for my music and vids on the road (with joost and, and a handful of music and videos).Most of the tech isn’t user grade though, I’d rather not jump through hoops, but I can’t really justify shelling out cash for slingbox when I already need a server for everything else I do.

  20. Alan

    Interesting to hear that your previous system was overkill. I love the simplicity of your current setup. Do you have (or need) anything to distribute the recordings on the DVRs throughout the house or do you just use each one at the tv it is connected to?

  21. fascinated

    Hype Machine looks NICE on that screen! Love it! 🙂

  22. kenberger

    Bummed I’m late to this, but here’s a project that works great:Using Utorrent or Azureus bittorrent clients and their RSS functionality, write scripts that learn what you like to watch and in the background dload content continually. Eg: monitor tvtorrents and isohunt and various torrent blogs and feeds and continuously search for “Desperate Housewives” and movies w/ “Buscemi” as an actor. Hook up an HDTV via hdmi to a wireless network HD Media Player, the media player has a remote control so from your tv screen you can peruse the video and music files that’s on your computers or networked hard drives. If you’re Windows-based, D-Link DSM-520 is excellent (DSM-510 looks nice but doesn’t work). Win Media Center works great too.You now can unplug and cancel your cable connection. You’ll have a vast and smart ever-growing video warehouse drawing from world-wide content on the most open platform ever, (time-shifted of course, live news won’t work).This is the 1-tv scenario, there’s products to sync it thru the house too.

  23. jackson

    It’s good to have a boom box around as well, for when the power goes out. Music goes well with candles.

    1. fredwilson

      Or an acoustic guitar!

  24. Nick Molnar

    As a (current) college kid, I’ve gone the last few years using my mac(s) as a media center. Now I have an old iMac with a broken screen hooked up to a projector. All I had to throw on was a wireless keyboard and mouse + some ultra-white paint + some cool graffiti to frame the image and it makes a great wall sized TV.The computer + Projector combo might be poised to be the new ‘poor man’s home theater’. Without all the gear needed to handle 20 inputs and outputs a projector is a helluva bargain, and if you throw in eyeTV and it can do everything a TV and a computer can – just 2X the size.The point I am, longwindedly, trying to make is that a giant sized computer screen totally changes the way people interact with the computer. It makes it into even more of a social device for me and my friends, showing pictures, watching Google video, Stage6, or BitTorrent downloads. I agree with trush that we need some TV sized websites to make this process even easier and more fun.

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