Apple's HD future, the mini-mac, the big change

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited January 2014
Apple has a history of suddenly changing our expectations and redefining a market overnight.



Amongst us home theater enthusiasts who have been lusting after an all-in-one media center, the mini-mac now allows us to see the computer as being a more modest and elegant part of our rack systems.



WHAT IT CAN DO OUT OF THE BOX (In your media center) -



Music jukebox, game player, DVD player, wireless base station, display to a DVI HDTV set..



WHAT IT CAN DO WHEN COUPLED WITH A TUNER



PVR and video jukebox (Yes, you can already do this with Virtual DVHS), HD editing



WHAT IT MIGHT BE ABLE TO DO-



Depending on what Apple has done with iMovie HD, H.264, and Tiger's use of the graphics cards power, the mini-mac might even be capable of decoding HDTV. I guess we'll have to wait to see on Jan 22. Not that it matters because you'd want a tuner anyway.



THE BIG CHANGE



Sure Apple will eventually incorporate an HDTV tuner when they are dirt cheap, but the point is that Apple recognized that this is not a necessary function of the home theater computer. It shouldn't be a big ugly tower crammed full of all the other components that used to be in your rack system.



It should be small, simple, and able to control everything else.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 162
    programmerprogrammer Posts: 3,409member
    Quote:

    Originally posted by Nordstrodamus

    Depending on what Apple has done with iMovie HD, H.264, and Tiger's use of the graphics cards power, the mini-mac might even be capable of decoding HDTV. I guess we'll have to wait to see on Jan 22. Not that it matters because you'd want a tuner anyway.



    Not sure what you mean by this -- a tuner is for receiving the compressed data stream, decoding is for decompressing and displaying the stream. The iMac mini should be able to handily decode a 720p MPEG2 stream with its 1.25GHz G4 and Radeon 9200. This stream would most likely come in via the Ethernet or FireWire port.
  • Reply 2 of 162
    Quote:

    Originally posted by Programmer

    Not sure what you mean by this -- a tuner is for receiving the compressed data stream, decoding is for decompressing and displaying the stream. The iMac mini should be able to handily decode a 720p MPEG2 stream with its 1.25GHz G4 and Radeon 9200. This stream would most likely come in via the Ethernet or FireWire port.



    I'm not sure where I lost you on this, but yes, the tuner's function is to receive the stream and although decoding is a seperate funciton, all set-top tuners that I know of also can decode the signal for display. Whether the mini-mac can decode HDTV is questionable. I'm basing this on the FAQ for the EyeTV 500 HDTV tuner which, unlike the set-top models, only receives the stream and transfers it to the mac (no decoding). In the FAQ they suggest that only a dual G5 can reliably playback HDTV streams, although they do mention something about how Apple might be able to come up with a more efficient decoder since they have access to the graphics card in ways that Elgato doe not.



    I went ahead and bought an eyeTV 500 while it was on sale this week, just to ensure that I have some tuner without the broadcast flag compliance.
  • Reply 3 of 162
    e1618978e1618978 Posts: 6,075member
    Here is what I want it to do:



    - DVD player



    Already covered



    - DirectTv Tivo



    I want a whole house Tivo for directTv.

    Right now I have a single tivo, and I am going

    to add a second one. Every time I want to

    record something, I am going to have to program

    it into both tivos (because I won't know where

    I will want to watch it). A whole house tivo

    would be able to record 3 or 4 things at once,

    and play them in any room (possibly at the same

    time).



    - Video scaler



    The box just needs a bunch of video inputs and it

    will be able to scale them to display on the

    output device (tv, projector, etc).



    I would use this for sharing a projector

    between my playstation, computer, etc.



    - Music server



    Already covered with iTunes and airTunes.

    The box just needs to be able to serve to different

    zones at the same time (playing different playlists,

    or the same).



    - Touchscreen remote controllable



    I want a number of touchscreens throughout the house

    so I can controll the video/audio playback



    Non-entertainment extras:



    - security system tie in



    I want the touch screen to show a layout of my house,

    with the rooms that have motion in them being different

    colors.



    During a fire, I want to be able to see which rooms

    are very hot.



    - thermostat



    I want to be able to see the temparature of each room

    in the house.



    Turn off the heat in rooms that have windows open.



    Turn off the AC in rooms that have the fireplace in use.
  • Reply 4 of 162
    programmerprogrammer Posts: 3,409member
    Quote:

    Originally posted by Nordstrodamus

    I'm not sure where I lost you on this, but yes, the tuner's function is to receive the stream and although decoding is a seperate funciton, all set-top tuners that I know of also can decode the signal for display. Whether the mini-mac can decode HDTV is questionable. I'm basing this on the FAQ for the EyeTV 500 HDTV tuner which, unlike the set-top models, only receives the stream and transfers it to the mac (no decoding). In the FAQ they suggest that only a dual G5 can reliably playback HDTV streams, although they do mention something about how Apple might be able to come up with a more efficient decoder since they have access to the graphics card in ways that Elgato doe not.



    Well since you're discussing uses of iMac mini, I presume you want the video signal to go through it. In that case your only choice is to feed it the MPEG2 stream and have it do the decoding -- if you use your set-top box to do the decoding you get a video signal out, which can't go into the Mac.



    I've seen comments from people with a 1 GHz G4 about being able to decode a 720p stream without dropping frames. A modded XBox with a ~1.4 GHz PentiumIII can handle a 720p stream decode. That makes it likely that the iMac mini (with a 1.25 GHz G4 & R9200) can handle it as well -- on this kind of thing the G4 kills the P3.
  • Reply 5 of 162
    Quote:

    Originally posted by Programmer

    Well since you're discussing uses of iMac mini, I presume you want the video signal to go through it. In that case your only choice is to feed it the MPEG2 stream and have it do the decoding -- if you use your set-top box to do the decoding you get a video signal out, which can't go into the Mac.



    It would be ideal if the mini-mac could sit in between the TV and the rest of the components (tuner, DVHS, Blu-ray), in which case it would need to be able to decode the streams from the other components sent to it by firewire.



    Failing that, the tuner/decoder would have to sit between the TV and the mini-mac. The mini-mac could still record streams from the tuner, but this presents problems with the tuner taking up the DVI inpuit on your display- How do you see your desktop? Either your tuner has a DVI in, or you'd have to use the VGA input on your display (presuming it had both vga and DVI) and then you have to toggle some stupid input switch to see it.



    Quote:



    I've seen comments from people with a 1 GHz G4 about being able to decode a 720p stream without dropping frames. A modded XBox with a ~1.4 GHz PentiumIII can handle a 720p stream decode. That makes it likely that the iMac mini (with a 1.25 GHz G4 & R9200) can handle it as well -- on this kind of thing the G4 kills the P3.




    let's hope, but even with that no enthusiast is going to limit themselves to 720p. Personally, I've been holding out until everything is 1080p capable. Sure over the air will still be 1080i max, but blu-ray is supposed to be able to do 1080p.
  • Reply 6 of 162
    Quote:

    Originally posted by Nordstrodamus

    It would be ideal if the mini-mac could sit in between the TV and the rest of the components (tuner, DVHS, Blu-ray), in which case it would need to be able to decode the streams from the other components sent to it by firewire.



    Failing that, the tuner/decoder would have to sit between the TV and the mini-mac. The mini-mac could still record streams from the tuner, but this presents problems with the tuner taking up the DVI inpuit on your display- How do you see your desktop? Either your tuner has a DVI in, or you'd have to use the VGA input on your display (presuming it had both vga and DVI) and then you have to toggle some stupid input switch to see it.




    I don't think most tuners can read a stream from their FireWire ports, can they? Its just for output.



    Quote:

    let's hope, but even with that no enthusiast is going to limit themselves to 720p. Personally, I've been holding out until everything is 1080p capable. Sure over the air will still be 1080i max, but blu-ray is supposed to be able to do 1080p.



    If the current iMac mini can't decode 1080p, then the next one will. I'm not all fired up over 1080p myself -- 720p is just an improvement over the old standard that I'll be happy with it for at least 10 years.
  • Reply 7 of 162
    Quote:

    Originally posted by Programmer

    [B]I don't think most tuners can read a stream from their FireWire ports, can they? Its just for output./B]



    It varies, but those models that support HAVi or DVHS can. The tvs that have a tuner built in and have firewire inputs definately can. I'm not sure how many makers have adopted the HAVi standard, but I know mitsubishi does.



    Quote:



    If the current iMac mini can't decode 1080p, then the next one will. I'm not all fired up over 1080p myself -- 720p is just an improvement over the old standard that I'll be happy with it for at least 10 years.




    It's for the very reason that I anticipate my new setup lasting as long as the old one (12 years) that I want to start with the best and have no regrets.
  • Reply 8 of 162
    rolandgrolandg Posts: 632member
    Even if the bare CPU and GPU are unable to decode 1080p streams, they could add a dedicated DSP for decoding. And I just read that some company made a MPEG4 H.264 HD decoder chip, but unfortunately can't remember who it was or where I read it.



    It would be nice if the chip also accellerated MPEG4-encoding. Ideal home/amateur movie editing station.
  • Reply 9 of 162
    matsumatsu Posts: 6,558member
    The Mac mini is going to be somewhat limited by the 4200 rpm notebook drive being used in it's chassis. The wisdom of that move elludes me. Yes the Mm is small, and that in itself opens new possibilities, but as limited by notebook capacities and speeds, the mini will struggle to have the right internal storage capacities and HDD speeds to deal with video properly.



    It could have been an awesome PVR, but it's an application crying out for 250GB of internal capacity and 5400rpm speeds. There isn't even a cost effective means of mitigating the HDD situation with cheap RAM. 1GB+ would do it, but with only one DIMM, that's going to be expensive to do.



    So in the end, we have to question the wisdom of not making the mini at least a half inch bigger in every dimension so as to accomodate bigger/cheaper/faster HDD's and an industry standard TWO ram slots?
  • Reply 10 of 162
    vinney57vinney57 Posts: 1,162member
    Quote:

    Originally posted by Matsu

    The Mac mini is going to be somewhat limited by the 4200 rpm notebook drive being used in it's chassis. The wisdom of that move elludes me. Yes the Mm is small, and that in itself opens new possibilities, but as limited by notebook capacities and speeds, the mini will struggle to have the right internal storage capacities and HDD speeds to deal with video properly.



    It could have been an awesome PVR, but it's an application crying out for 250GB of internal capacity and 5400rpm speeds. There isn't even a cost effective means of mitigating the HDD situation with cheap RAM. 1GB+ would do it, but with only one DIMM, that's going to be expensive to do.



    So in the end, we have to question the wisdom of not making the mini at least a half inch bigger in every dimension so as to accomodate bigger/cheaper/faster HDD's and an industry standard TWO ram slots?




    Its not being marketed in any way as a PVR. That's the usual premature geek fantasy. So wisdom or otherwise is a non question. The mini is what it is, the smallest, cheapest Mac they could make. Why pretend its something else just so you can criticise it? You have a perverse need to be critical. They will not be able to make enough of these things to fulfil the enormous demand. It will therefore in Apple's terms be a roaring success. Why is this always such a f*cking problem for you?
  • Reply 11 of 162
    programmerprogrammer Posts: 3,409member
    Quote:

    Originally posted by Matsu

    The Mac mini is going to be somewhat limited by the 4200 rpm notebook drive being used in it's chassis. The wisdom of that move elludes me. Yes the Mm is small, and that in itself opens new possibilities, but as limited by notebook capacities and speeds, the mini will struggle to have the right internal storage capacities and HDD speeds to deal with video properly.



    It could have been an awesome PVR, but it's an application crying out for 250GB of internal capacity and 5400rpm speeds. There isn't even a cost effective means of mitigating the HDD situation with cheap RAM. 1GB+ would do it, but with only one DIMM, that's going to be expensive to do.



    So in the end, we have to question the wisdom of not making the mini at least a half inch bigger in every dimension so as to accomodate bigger/cheaper/faster HDD's and an industry standard TWO ram slots?




    I'm doubtful that this is really the intended market for the iMac mini -- if it was then Apple would be touting software for that purpose, and probably would have mentioned it somewhere. No, its just that it is so tantilizing close to being appropriate that a lot of Mac fans are tempted to try it.



    If Apple makes a move in this direction, I still think it might be a thin client approach -- a hugely beefed up Airport Express, if you will. We may see hints of this in updates to the FireWireSDK before the actual hardware product arrives.





    Edit: Damn! Vinney beat me to it by less than a minute!

  • Reply 12 of 162
    matsumatsu Posts: 6,558member
    You all brought up HD and Video, etc etc... It's being marketted as a cheap computer, and even in that context the use of MORE EXPENSIVE and SLOWER components makes no sense. I can understand choosing an inherently slower component to save cost, but using a laptop drive saves you nothing in a design where space need not be at a premium. Like I said, half inches, that's all. Any way you cut it, it was a pretty myopic thing for Apple to do.
  • Reply 13 of 162
    synpsynp Posts: 248member
    Quote:

    Originally posted by vinney57

    Its not being marketed in any way as a PVR. That's the usual premature geek fantasy. So wisdom or otherwise is a non question. The mini is what it is, the smallest, cheapest Mac they could make. Why pretend its something else just so you can criticise it? You have a perverse need to be critical. They will not be able to make enough of these things to fulfil the enormous demand. It will therefore in Apple's terms be a roaring success. Why is this always such a f*cking problem for you?



    No, it's not marketed as a PVR, but Matsu is correct. This may be the smallest Mac they could make, but probably not the cheapest. Remember the Cube? There were a lot of complaints about the cube, but I don't remember anyone comlaining that it was too big. And yet, this thing is 1.5" smaller in both width and depth. If they retained the Cub'es 8"x8" footprint, or even had a middle-of-the-road 7"x7" as Matsu suggests, the added cost because of more plastic, packaging and shipping costs would be very small. OTOH they would save a lot of money by using standard components.



    We're getting marvell-of-technology level smallness and the 300G shock-resistance of a laptop drive. Why do we need that in a Desktop? For the same component costs they could include a much larger hard disk, at least as a BTO option, and dual memory slots. It would also allow them to include somewhat hotter chips in the future without a complete case re-design.
  • Reply 14 of 162
    I think it's clear that the Mac mini is never going to be the complete answer for viewing TV in any form on it's own.



    Add on's will be needed to make the Mac mini your TV tuner, PVR, or Home Theater System.



    These add on's are already on the way, you can bet that El Gato, La Cie and others are already addressing the form factor and will be releasing very complimentary, if not identical, form factor "Slices" to sit under the Mac mini.



    I think that Firewire will be the transport mechanism for beaming the TV signal between devices. Where is development of wireless Firewire? Is progress being made towards that as an accepted standard? In combination with H.264 this could be the software "glue" that puts it all together.



    NAB 2005 in April should be very important to Apple's plans in this area. I am really hoping that "Asteroid" will turn out to be some Mac mini "Slice" from Apple to address TV & HDTV for the platform they unveiled at Mac World, as opposed to a simple "breakout box" for Garageband.
  • Reply 15 of 162
    A while ago I saw this thread about Firewire enable TV's and set-top boxes and integrating them with Macs. Reading through the post, the software, at least a developers version, is available in the Firewire SDK, and it allows the controll of either the Mac's DVR program by the TV/set-top box and or the control of said components from the Mac. There is also a list of compatible components. I havn't actually done this so I don't know how well it works, but there it does say there is communication both ways over the firewire link. I imagine that if/when Apple takes this software out of the developers tool kit and turns it into an end users application (or another company or independant programer does) then you could have the device that everyone here is asking for without any additional hardware than the Mac and a supported TV or cable box.
  • Reply 16 of 162
    sunilramansunilraman Posts: 8,133member
    Here's my vision for dance and electronic music... TranceFire



    Slices are TranceFire modules based on very popular analog synths that give you that warm rush on the dance floor as the DJ drops the phat tracks and your pills kick in



    The "breakout box" is the 2nd slice from the top, the one with at logo mod - that's right, that's the logo for Apple2 8)



    The Apple2 TranceFire hub is the master module that translates all the FireWire inputs from the TranceFire synth modules and the one that sends the FireWire signal.



    IMPORTANT: Why have the TranceFire modules?

    1. they reduce CPU load, software-based synth chews up CPU

    2. hardware synth sounds better, especially analog

    3. all analog to digital conversion is done within the module,

    so Mini gets nice clean separate digital tracks from all modules

    4. this is a much lower cost and convenient alternative to wrangling

    separate hardware synths of different form factors

    5. reduces cable mess and noise significantly



    This would go sweet with bluetooth MIDI controller keyboards (not shown) to enter notes and control the separate TranceFire modules



  • Reply 17 of 162
    Quote:

    Originally posted by RolandG

    Even if the bare CPU and GPU are unable to decode 1080p streams, they could add a dedicated DSP for decoding. And I just read that some company made a MPEG4 H.264 HD decoder chip, but unfortunately can't remember who it was or where I read it.



    It would be nice if the chip also accellerated MPEG4-encoding. Ideal home/amateur movie editing station.




    It's Broadcom. The chip doesn't do encoding, though one likely will come out but that's a whole different market with different needs. Broadcom is all about saturating markets and will likely make their chip cheap enough that it'll do just that.
  • Reply 18 of 162
    Quote:

    Originally posted by synp

    No, it's not marketed as a PVR, but Matsu is correct. This may be the smallest Mac they could make, but probably not the cheapest. Remember the Cube? There were a lot of complaints about the cube, but I don't remember anyone comlaining that it was too big. And yet, this thing is 1.5" smaller in both width and depth. If they retained the Cub'es 8"x8" footprint, or even had a middle-of-the-road 7"x7" as Matsu suggests, the added cost because of more plastic, packaging and shipping costs would be very small. OTOH they would save a lot of money by using standard components.



    They ARE using standard components. 2.5" drives aren't as popular as 3.5" but you're still looking at what, 30% of the drive market? They're totally standard.



    And there is an absolute floor to the cost of a hard drive you can buy in volume. The 40GB drive is pretty much the smallest 2.5" drive you can expect to find over the next few months. I don't think you can still get 40GB 3.5" drives in volume any more - there's not enough money in it for the manufacturers. So Apple could have done a 60GB 3.5" drive but it wouldn't have been cheaper, just more storage for the user, and Apple would have to deal with the added costs of shipping, etc.



    I think the 2.5" drive was the best way to the $499 point. The $599 could probably be better met with 3.5" drives, but that machine wasn't really the point of the exercise.



    Besides, if they did use 3.5" drives, they'd be 5400 RPM and people would STILL be complaining that they aren't 7200 RPM. So, just go buy your 7200 RPM 2.5" drive and 1GB RAM, pay the Apple tech $30 to install both and be done with it. eBay the old drive or stuff it in a FW case for backup.
  • Reply 19 of 162
    Quote:

    Originally posted by Programmer

    I'm doubtful that this is really the intended market for the iMac mini -- if it was then Apple would be touting software for that purpose, and probably would have mentioned it somewhere. No, its just that it is so tantilizing close to being appropriate that a lot of Mac fans are tempted to try it.



    If Apple makes a move in this direction, I still think it might be a thin client approach -- a hugely beefed up Airport Express, if you will. We may see hints of this in updates to the FireWireSDK before the actual hardware product arrives.




    I think Apple is really hoping the market helps to identify the direction of this machine. They really didn't cripple it in any significant way so the hobbyists can turn it into a HTPC if they are so motivated, a car system, whatever. Apple will pick up on these trends in the next version and either make it easier to incorporate the HTPC functions or to do it altogether and just ship a HTPC box if the market grows large enough.



    In the meantime, they get 10.4 and Quicktime 7 out the door - both of which will be hugely helpful in this effort, developers can work on getting MythTV or some other open-source project working well on OS X and Apple will sweep in and blow away half of the 3rd party vendors like they so commonly do when things like this happen. If we want Apple to move into the HTPC space, all we need to do is keep pushing it, buy the minis, buy gear from ElGato, and get software up on versiontracker for making it work the way we think it should. In a year, we should have a HTPC version of the mini, equipped with larger HDs, etc.
  • Reply 20 of 162
    matsumatsu Posts: 6,558member
    Quote:

    Originally posted by johnsonwax

    They ARE using standard components. 2.5" drives aren't as popular as 3.5" but you're still looking at what, 30% of the drive market? They're totally standard.



    And there is an absolute floor to the cost of a hard drive you can buy in volume. The 40GB drive is pretty much the smallest 2.5" drive you can expect to find over the next few months. I don't think you can still get 40GB 3.5" drives in volume any more - there's not enough money in it for the manufacturers. So Apple could have done a 60GB 3.5" drive but it wouldn't have been cheaper, just more storage for the user, and Apple would have to deal with the added costs of shipping, etc.





    I'm going to stop you there...



    The use of 2.5 drives was a bad choice for consumer and shareholder alike.



    Here's why (in retail prices) assume volume prices to Apple that are anywhere from 40-60% lower:



    3.5" 80GB drives can be had for about $60USD

    2.5" 40GB drives require $90USD



    It gets worse the higher up you go.



    2.5" 80GB drives will require from $170-200



    You'll be hard pressed to find many 160GB units that cost more than $130, in fact, a great many come in at $99, for $170-200, there are numerous 200GB options, and even a few 250GB options!



    Apple assumes to sell 300K Mac mini's per quarter, or 1.2 Million a year. You can safely assume a component cost savings averaged between the two mini models (499 and 599) of $25-40 per unit, just by using 3.5" drives. Do the math, anywhere from 25-48 million worth of pure unadulterated profit. There's no way I'd let my product planning group release the mini with anything but a 3.5" drive. You don't think a half inch taller mini would be just as cute?



    It's obvious that Apple hopes to convert mini-curious visitors into AIO customers. They better convert a lot of them on the spot. Unfortunately, it's a bad bet, these "switchers" are, afterall, the same people who've eschewed AIO's till now, they may want a mac, they certainly want it cheap, and headless, which means basically, if they're coming into an Apple store, the mini is the only thing Apple has any chance of selling them. So rather than make more money on those purchases, they've elected to make less. Eschewing a clear win for both parties (cheaper cost to Apple, better value and performance for the consumer) in favor of a dubious bait and switch tactic...



    NOT SMART.
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