Recently released Mac Mini as HTPC

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited January 2014
Has anybody purchased one of these? I have been tossing around the idea of using one in my home theater for playing video podcasts, home videos, surfing the web, etc on the big screen... I currently use a 1st gen MacBook as part of my home theater, but I decided to give it one of my nieces...



I have been waiting on a review of the new Minis, but I can't find one. Not Engadget, nor AI, nor even MacWorld....



Front Row on the MacBook had choppy framerates when playing DVD's... when DVD Player wasn't. I thought FR was just a front end for DVD Player. I assume the Minis won't have this issue.



Any help would be greatly appreciated.



I already have the older Apple Wireless Keyboard and a MS bluetooth wireless mouse. So, I am only looking at the machine, itself.



I also looked at the Dell Studio Hybrid machines, but I found the Mini's were actually cheaper than the current Dells... I did a comparison with as close to the same hardware as I could get and the Mini's averaged $250 less.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 11
    mr. hmr. h Posts: 4,698member
    I feel that ION-based "nettops" running Windows 7 make for much more appealing HTPCs. Windows Media Center is much better than Front Row, with native support of USB or PCI TV tuners. You can even get them with Blu-ray drives, meaning you can have a Blu-ray/DVD player, DVR, iTunes player, Spotify (if they ever launch in the US) and web surfing all in one machine - it's the only box you need under the telly. In addition, Apple's claim that the Mini is the most energy-efficienct desktop on the market is a downright lie - these ION-based machines have lower power consumption.



    One of the best around at the moment is the ASrock 330.



    Out of interest, how do you use a wireless mouse from the sofa? Doesn't it annoy you at all? Wouldn't it be nicer to have a keyboard with built-in trackpad?



    The Keysonic ACK-540BT is a good inexpensive one, but I can't seem to find one in the US. The best on the market looks like the Logitech DiNovo Mini, which has a backlight as well.



    Personally, I'm waiting for Intel's next Atom generation, which will have an Atom CPU, a memory controller and a GPU all on one chip. This will make systems cheaper and have even lower power consumption. Then I'll probably build my own HTPC running Windows 7.
  • Reply 2 of 11
    bbwibbwi Posts: 812member
    Yeah, you should definitely consider a Win 7 Ultimate "nettop". Win 7 Ultimate and a Netflix account will be cheaper over time, offers more TV features, and better quality movies versus an AppleTV or Mini. The Dell Studio Hybrid is a nice little option when you add the benefit of Bluray
  • Reply 3 of 11
    mr. hmr. h Posts: 4,698member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by bbwi View Post


    Yeah, you should definitely consider a Win 7 Ultimate "nettop". Win 7 Ultimate and a Netflix account will be cheaper over time, offers more TV features, and better quality movies versus an AppleTV or Mini. The Dell Studio Hybrid is a nice little option when you add the benefit of Bluray



    Why would you need Win 7 Ultimate? Home Premium has the full Media Center capabilities.
  • Reply 4 of 11
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Mr. H View Post


    I feel that ION-based "nettops" running Windows 7 make for much more appealing HTPCs. Windows Media Center is much better than Front Row, with native support of USB or PCI TV tuners. You can even get them with Blu-ray drives, meaning you can have a Blu-ray/DVD player, DVR, iTunes player, Spotify (if they ever launch in the US) and web surfing all in one machine - it's the only box you need under the telly. In addition, Apple's claim that the Mini is the most energy-efficienct desktop on the market is a downright lie - these ION-based machines have lower power consumption.



    One of the best around at the moment is the ASrock 330.



    Out of interest, how do you use a wireless mouse from the sofa? Doesn't it annoy you at all? Wouldn't it be nicer to have a keyboard with built-in trackpad?



    The Keysonic ACK-540BT is a good inexpensive one, but I can't seem to find one in the US. The best on the market looks like the Logitech DiNovo Mini, which has a backlight as well.



    Personally, I'm waiting for Intel's next Atom generation, which will have an Atom CPU, a memory controller and a GPU all on one chip. This will make systems cheaper and have even lower power consumption. Then I'll probably build my own HTPC running Windows 7.



    This system comes sans the operating system which would add (OEM) 110 dollars or (full version) 188 dollars... I have a Win 7 box here, just not in compact enough form to be a HTPC.



    I don't need Blu-ray. I have a PS3 for that. As far as the Windows Media center goes... can that read from my iTunes collection?



    I agree that Front Row isn't as nice as Windows Media Center but does have easy access to media on the local machine as well as networked machines. I don't have much experience using WMC.



    My coffee table has a lift-top that I use when am using the computer on the TV so a mouse is not difficult to use.
  • Reply 5 of 11
    mr. hmr. h Posts: 4,698member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by webpoet73 View Post


    I don't need Blu-ray. I have a PS3 for that.



    How much do you pay for your electricity? This PDF suggests a pretty wide variety across America. The ASrock uses less than 40 W playing blu-ray (actually probably less; that 40 W consumption was with the CPU overclocked) whilst the PS3 uses over 180 W. You could save a reasonable amount depending on how much your electricity costs and how long you use the PS3 for blu-ray/DVD watching.



    As I said, a nettop using the next-gen Atom will reduce power consumption further, possibly to half that of the ASrock.







    Quote:
    Originally Posted by webpoet73 View Post


    As far as the Windows Media center goes... can that read from my iTunes collection



    I don't think so but iTunes' Cover Flow mode should work quite well on a big screen.



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by webpoet73 View Post


    My coffee table has a lift-top that I use when am using the computer on the TV so a mouse is not difficult to use.



    Doesn't that mean you have to lean forward over the table rather than being able to lean back on your sofa or chair?
  • Reply 6 of 11
    As far as the PS3 goes... I am aware that it isn't the most power-friendly device, but it's blu-ray playing quality is still among the best blu-ray players on the market and Sony keeps the firmware up-to date with the changing specs of blu-ray.



    I would hope that these Blu-ray playing computers do at least bitstream all audio formats over the HDMI (this includes Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD, the next gen audio formats)? As I was reading the article, the Blu-ray model would set me back about 650. Plus OS and any other software that I might need. I fear that the costs will start piling up on top of the price of the machine... whereas the Mini, there are no additional cost, but will not play blu-ray and has a much faster CPU and RAM.



    I don't really have a difficult time using the computer when I use it. Using the mouse on the couch is difficult but so is typing with that little keyboard, I will admit.
  • Reply 7 of 11
    pmzpmz Posts: 3,433member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by webpoet73 View Post


    As far as the PS3 goes... I am aware that it isn't the most power-friendly device, but it's blu-ray playing quality is still among the best blu-ray players on the market and Sony keeps the firmware up-to date with the changing specs of blu-ray.



    I would hope that these Blu-ray playing computers do at least bitstream all audio formats over the HDMI (this includes Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD, the next gen audio formats)? As I was reading the article, the Blu-ray model would set me back about 650. Plus OS and any other software that I might need. I fear that the costs will start piling up on top of the price of the machine... whereas the Mini, there are no additional cost, but will not play blu-ray and has a much faster CPU and RAM.



    I don't really have a difficult time using the computer when I use it. Using the mouse on the couch is difficult but so is typing with that little keyboard, I will admit.



    Most people here will tell you to go with the PC for the sake of Blu Ray, but IMO thats not even close to a good reason. In fact, it's a bad, overpriced decision. I find myself greatly preferring iTunes HD rentals, so much better than buying worthless Blu Ray discs.



    Get a cheap new Mini. Plug it in. If you have an iPhone or iPod touch, use Air Mouse or Jaadu, or some VNC program over WIFI that gives you full wireless control. MUCH better than trying to use a regular keyboard/mouse from the couch.
  • Reply 8 of 11
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by pmz View Post


    Most people here will tell you to go with the PC for the sake of Blu Ray, but IMO thats not even close to a good reason. In fact, it's a bad, overpriced decision. I find myself greatly preferring iTunes HD rentals, so much better than buying worthless Blu Ray discs.



    Get a cheap new Mini. Plug it in. If you have an iPhone or iPod touch, use Air Mouse or Jaadu, or some VNC program over WIFI that gives you full wireless control. MUCH better than trying to use a regular keyboard/mouse from the couch.



    I just watched a Macworld video on the iPod/iPhone remotes... looks like a sweet way to control the Mac... I might try with my MacBook just to see how it works...



    I don't prefer iTunes Rentals, but that could be done from a PC as well. I love Blu-ray but i don't need it in my HTPC, as I have the PS3 and the prices of stand-alone players are coming way down and incorporate things like Netfilx, etc...



    I wanted the higher end Mini because it is a bit faster, 2x the RAM, and 2x the HDD space... like, I wouldn't have to upgrade.
  • Reply 9 of 11
    mr. hmr. h Posts: 4,698member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by webpoet73 View Post


    As far as the PS3 goes... I am aware that it isn't the most power-friendly device, but its blu-ray playing quality is still among the best blu-ray players on the market and Sony keeps the firmware up-to date with the changing specs of blu-ray.



    The PS3 is indeed a high-quality blu-ray player, but with any computer-based blu-ray playback, that's going to be software controlled so should also be able to keep up with the evolving blu-ray spec.



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by webpoet73 View Post


    I would hope that these Blu-ray playing computers do at least bitstream all audio formats over the HDMI (this includes Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD, the next gen audio formats)?



    I agree that this is important; if it wasn't possible it'd be a deal-breaker for me. The article I linked to said it won't do it, but I've seen forum posts saying they decode the HD audio on board then output 7.1 PCM over HDMI. I'm not sure if the lack of bitstreaming is a hardware or software shortcoming.



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by webpoet73 View Post


    As I was reading the article, the Blu-ray model would set me back about 650. Plus OS and any other software that I might need.



    In the UK, I can get it with blu-ray and Windows 7 Home Premium for £430 including taxes, £70 less than the base Mac Mini. It's difficult for me to investigate US prices because google keeps on trying to be clever and prioritising UK search results.



    The only other thing you'd need is a wireless card which cost about $20.



    Overall, as I alluded to earlier, I don't think these machines are quite "there" yet and I await the next-gen fully integrated Atom platform.



    Certainly, you shouldn't be afraid of buying a new Mini as it will definitely do what you want it to do. The pros/cons of a next-gen Atom would be:



    Pros:
    • Cheaper

    • Lower power consumption

    • Better UI for multi-media (Media Center Vs. Front Row)

    • More flexible (DVR functionality, Blu-ray)

    Cons:
    • Likely more tinkering required to get it working "just right"

    • Not available for probably another 6 months

    • Less powerful CPU (but this shouldn't be too much of an issue for an HTPC where most media stuff will be handled by dedicated hardware in the GPU)

  • Reply 10 of 11
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by webpoet73 View Post


    I have been waiting on a review of the new Minis, but I can't find one. Not Engadget, nor AI, nor even MacWorld....



    Any help would be greatly appreciated.



    For all things MacMini, including HTPC, see this Mac Mini site: 123Macmini.com
  • Reply 11 of 11
    bbwibbwi Posts: 812member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Mr. H View Post


    Why would you need Win 7 Ultimate? Home Premium has the full Media Center capabilities.



    Correct, but IMHO, Ultimate delivers a better value with all its features. More expensive, but better value in the end. He sounds like he's pretty involved in computers and thus, could use those features to his advantage
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