With the battle for the living room becoming a reality with Apple's newly re-vamped AppleTV and forthcoming Google TV devices, it's obvious that big technology companies plan to make couch potatoes out of all of us.
While these devices and what they offer is pretty slick, putting out the money for a new TV or device may not be necessary — depending on what you plan to do in the living room and what you've already got there.
Many people have built up libraries of music and videos and photos over the years and those of us on the Mac have typically done so using programs like iTunes and iPhoto or Aperture. iTunes handles both music and video, and with many iPod-wielding and iPhone carrying people about, it makes sense to leverage what's already running on our Mac. And while Apple TV can do this quite nicely, so can existing devices like the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, provided they have a little help.
And that's where Playback comes in. Playback allows you to share your photo and music libraries with these two gaming systems and a few other UPnP-compatible devices such as the Roku Soundbridge, WD TV Live, D-Link MediaLounge, and others.
Playback is extremely easy to set up. With drag-and-drop installation and easy configuration, you're ready within minutes to enjoy your iTunes and iPhoto library on your game console.
Playback lets you determine what to share; if you only want to share music and pictures, but not movies, you can do that. Under each media type are further options to limit what you will share; restrict it to iTunes or iPhoto, or share entire disks. You can throttle bandwidth usage if you need to, and you can specify access controls as well, specifying a specific device that can access Playback, or allow all compatible devices. Finally, it also allows you to use Growl notifications so that you know when someone is connected to your Mac and streaming movies or music.
On the Xbox 360, getting to the share content is easy. From the Xbox dashboard, head to My XBOX and from there select Music Library or Picture Library to listen to music or view pictures. Look for the Playback: [server name] entry and scroll through your pictures or tunes.
The PlayStation 3 is just as easy. On the PS3 dashboard, scroll over to Music, Photo, or Video, and then scroll down to the same Playback: [server name] entry. Oddly, on PS3 you will see Movies, Music, and Pictures listed under each entry, so you'll get an error if you try to get into Pictures from the Music menu, but that's a quirk in the PS3 interface, not Playback.
All told, Playback is hands-down the easiest way to get media from your Mac onto your gaming console. I've tried other software in the past that was flakey or way too complex. Playback is easy and within five minutes of installation I was browsing my iTunes library on the Xbox 360. You simply can't ask for anything easier than that.
While Apple TV and forthcoming Google TV devices certainly have their place if you want to rent movies or TV shows, when all you are interested in is making the media on your Mac available in the living room, give Playback a try. It has a six-day demo period to try it out, and if you like it, only costs $16 to license.
Vincent Danen works on the Red Hat Security Response Team and lives in Canada. He has been writing about and developing on Linux for over 10 years and is a veteran Mac user.