iTunes remixed - hopefully not a trend!

Okay, Apple comes out with a new version of iTunes and what do you do? You update your iTunes on your Mac, of course. For the past few years, iTunes has undergone a number of changes, most of them for the benefit of the user (and Apple, of course).

This latest version of iTunes - Version 11 - for the first time represented a major step back for me. Why? The changes in the UI, in the very core of how the software is used, are so massive that I can’t stop asking myself: “why change a running system, Apple?”

What’s the deal with mixing up music videos and regular MP3 or AAC songs? I was listening to some ambient music while working on a marketing piece when, all of a sudden, the music style did a 180° as Fettes Brot “Jein” started playing. What irritated me more than the sudden genre change was the movement I suddenly noticed behind the word processor window: it wasn’t just a song - it was a music video.

This is because iTunes 11 has a “Songs” … well, what do you call it? “Mode”? “Tab”? … whatever. Do we really need for iTunes to start mixing video and audio together like that? I guess if you’re looking for a Genius mix to play at a party, then it’s irrelevant wether you just listen to the music video audio or actually look at the video content.

This new (okay, folks, what is this new mode selection called? I don’t have a word for it, though Apple likely does) … “tab” … represents what irritates me most about version 11: the apparent need to make the view and selection of content “multi-dimensional”.

Personally, I don’t need it. When I want to hear ambient music, I knew how to select that in a matter of a few clicks in pre-11 iTunes; if I wanted to view a music video - ditto. Now, I can’t even get a movie, purchased via iTunes, to automatically load on my iPad without syncing it with my Mac.

What gives, Apple?
I loved Steve Jobs’ “simplicity of use” … under Tim Cook, it seems Apple is slowly but surely turning its bread-and-butter software into just another usage-disaster like Windows…


Mac Mini Mediacenter - End of an Era

What started out with the goal of attaining the ultimate home media solution is fizzling out as I write this: Using a Mac Mini, combined with an Elgato HybridTV USB device, to concentrate all media activity.

What sounds like the ideal solution (and I still believe it could be that) has turned out to be something that just isn’t usable by normal people.

One problem may have been the upgrade from Snow Leopard to Lion on the Mac Mini. With all the issues I’ve had on my MacBook and iMac with this upgrade (see previous posts), I can’t imagine Lion is not responsible for at least some of the issues we’ve encountered. Also, there are infrequent issues between EyeTV and iTunes, usually with iTunes ending up blocking the sound so that TV sound would only be back on if iTunes was quit.

However, it is my considered opinion that the major problems are sourced from the Elgato EyeTV software and the HybridTV USB stick.

From EyeTV (frequently) freezing up to programmed recordings not working to actual issues wither with the driver for the hardware or with the hardware itself, the setup has been riddled with issues that especially my wife has had to suffer under. To be fair, she isn’t a Mac fan and she’s never really taken the time to learn the inside track on the MacMini setup. On the other hand, setting up such an expensive device should really make any inside knowledge unnecessary.

Very recently, we’ve had the issue of not getting a signal when switching channels (“This station is currently not available”) - unplugging the Elgato hardware and immediately plugging back in fixes this - perhaps, however, this is the reason that some programmed recordings don’t record.

A couple of months ago, we’d already attempted to replace the Mac Mini with a Panasonic digital HD cable receiver with built-in hard drive. Judging by the HD size (160GB), the model was a bit older, but we’d had a Panasonic analog cable receiver before getting the Mac MIni and were relatively happy with the user interface (take the “G” out of GUI for this one!).

As it turned out, however, the total ease of use of the Mac with the EyeTV software really spoiled us, so that even my wife - who was very keen on getting something that would work when I was on the road - agreed that this device was NOT IT. Praise Amazon for an unproblematic return: bye-bye Panasonic.

Last week, I found that our cable carrier offered a digital HD receiver with 320GB hard drive and a smart card for HD reception of most programs for €6 per month - and I bought.

The interface here - quite obviously - does not live up to the Mac either, but it is really quite feasible and simple to use. The search capabilities for programs in the downloaded TVTV database is workable, if not ideal.

Subsequently, the Mac Mini will be phased over gradually into a life of “service” - Lion Server is already installed.

The ultimate solution to multiple iTunes libraries?

I just found a fascinating solution to the problem of having multiple iTunes libraries on multiple Macs (or PC’s for that matter): A service / software called MediaRover.

This solution consists of a software package for Windows or Mac OS (free) that you install, as well as a service account that lets you control up to 8 (eight!) of these so-called „Rovers” to sync to a central server, such as a NAS box.

You get to set up the sync options (including the choice of wether you want songs deleted or not) for each „Rover” (Mac or PC with iTunes on it) individually.

The software then syncs all music to a central server directory to each Rover. The caveat: you need to have such a central repository, which can be either a „real” server or a NAS box acting as one. I set up a new share on my NAS, installed the software on my Mac Mini Media Center and off it went - copying all music and playlists to that share.

Next comes the same install on my MacBook, and hopefully it will then have an exact replica of the Mac Mini. Last but not least, my iMac.

It sounds like a dream come true and - at least for now - the service is free of charge.