Just over a week ago I published the complete list of websites to stream full TV shows and movies from, the legal way to stream content to your computer.   The problem is, I don’t want to watch videos on my computer, I have a 42” plasma that I’d much prefer to watch TV and movies on from the comfort of my couch.  Yesterday Twitter user @scpi shared a link to an obscure piece of software featured here on Macworld called Understudy.  The article on Macworld is well written but simply doesn’t convey how awesome Understudy really is.

In a nutshell, Understudy is a small plugin that works in conjunction with the Front Row application on Macs (must run Leopard) to gain access to both your existing Netflix account and Hulu by default, other streams can be added in by the end user.  So why on earth am I so stoked for this?  Simple, I can now use the Apple Remote Control to navigate Front Row after connecting my Macbook to my plasma from my couch!  It’s easier than it sounds.

Here’s what I used to make this work:

My Macbook came with the remote, so my total investment was less than $25, depending on the total length of cables you need your out of pocket expenses could vary.  My plasma has HDMI inputs; make sure yours does before starting.

Install Understudy by downloading the package file and double clicking it.  Since the manual for their software is pretty much just the source code for other coders to look at, you should know that’s all you need to do, it doesn’t say that anywhere on their site though.  Understudy is not a stand alone application, so you won’t need to launch it by itself.   Launch your web browser and make sure you are logged into Hulu (free to create an account) and if you use it, Netflix.  In Netflix, add some movies or TV shows to your Watch Instantly queue.  Start up Front Row either from the Applications folder or by pressing the Menu button on the Apple Remote.  You’ll now see the Understudy icon show up in the list of options.  Navigate through the menu to add Netflix movies and Hulu streams, this can all be done by the remote control.  The only thing that still isn’t perfect is finding shows on Hulu from Front Row, as you have to add streams such as Popular Today or Newly Added Movies, so it might take a few minutes to find the exact show you are looking for.  Understanding that Understudy was meant to work with the Apple remote, I can only imagine that no search box will be added, but perhaps as the plugin becomes more developed they ability to add streams by network can added.

To connect my Macbook to my TV was pretty straightforward.  I used the Mini DV to HDMI adapter on the side of the Macbook, then connected the HDMI cable to it and the other end to the TV, this transfers the video content.  Connect the Mini audio cable to the headphone jack of the Macbook and, in my case, I plugged the white and red RCA jacks into the back of my stereo receiver, but could have easily plugged them right into my TV’s audio inputs as well.  That takes care of sound.  Lastly, make sure to have power to your laptop, don’t want the battery to die in the middle of a movie; again if you are using a Mini, you need power to work.

Getting the video to display on the plasma is takne care of, doing it so the laptop screen goes to sleep took a bit of experimenting to get working properly on my Macbook (not Pro, not applicable to a Mini).  In the preferences pane, set the display to Mirror with a second monitor attached, not Span.  On the TV, change the input to the HDMI (this is usually done with your TV remote control and choosing the source option, much in the same way you’d select a DVD player) and you should see the same on the laptop screen as the TV.  It was annoying to watch a movie with my Macbook on the stand below my plasma showing the same thing, but there is no easy way to sleep the Macbook’s display and keep the stream on the TV, but there is a trick!

Close the lid to the Macbook, wait for it to go to sleep, the hard drive will stop spinning and the light on the front will start to pulse slowly.  Plug a USB drive into the Macbook, this will wake the computer up and start the hard drive to spin, wait about 15-20 seconds and open the lid to the Macbook.  The display on the Macbook is now in sleep mode and enables the video to continue to work on the Plasma.

Edit: Randomn3ss commenter joelco pointed out that simply lowering the LCD brightness on my Macbook would turn it totally black, skip everything in the top 2 paragraphs, that’s much wasier!

Get comfortable on your couch, use the Apple remote to start Front Room and enjoy watching Hulu and Netflix on your television.  I will be experimenting with adding other feeds into Understudy from the laundry list I now have and will be looking at purchasing a Mac Mini sometime in the soon future to use full time as a media center so my Macbook can remain my working computer.

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