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Mac Mini as Media Centre?

California Dreamer

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I have a newish Thompson STB that is malfunctioning - occasionally refusing to recognise its own remote. Needless to say, the warranty has just lapsed. I also have an older-gen Tivo that is hacked for use here, which is also less than reliable.

I'm thinking it's time to chuck these devices out and replace them with a media centre that can handle all of the Tivo's PVR functions as well as the STB functions.

It was suggested that a really simple approach would be to buy a Mac Mini and hook it up to the home theatre. We already have a TV card for it, and an Airport wireless LAN, so integrating it would be no issue. Anyone have any thoughts on whether it would be a suitable solution? (We are just after something basic and cost-effective - no ambitions to build the world's greatest system).

I also understand that MacWorld is expecting to reveal a new Mac Mini with Invidia GPU. Presumably faster, but probably more expensive. Anyone have any good intel on whether that would be worth waiting for? (Blu Ray capability would be interesting, as I don't have a Blu Ray player yet).

Thanks for any input.
 

GQgeek

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HTPC with a BR drive FTW.
 

B1FF

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Now that the Mac Mini is way more expensive than a regular computer (but the price keeps climbing) and there are other small-and-quiet systems out there, I don't get why this thing still sells.
 

California Dreamer

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Originally Posted by B1FF
Now that the Mac Mini is way more expensive than a regular computer (but the price keeps climbing) and there are other small-and-quiet systems out there, I don't get why this thing still sells.

Mac Mini here is about $830 (about USD $500). Would an HTPC with BluRay really be cheaper than that?
 

GQgeek

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Probably not with a high-end case. The thing is, the mac-mini is garbage. Does it even play Blue-Ray?
 

montyharding

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Originally Posted by B1FF
Now that the Mac Mini is way more expensive than a regular computer (but the price keeps climbing) and there are other small-and-quiet systems out there, I don't get why this thing still sells.
It's a Mac. A computer for people who're afraid of computers, who need to use them nevertheless and yet too egotistical to admit it. The sort of people who'll always say ' The computer did x'. And it's the cheapest one you can get. Plenty of people about to buy it. Jobs has been known to go back on his word several times, or just say total BS which the tech-related press (composed of a large percentage of the aforementioned afraid) laps up - but he has said quite recently that BR was 'a world of hurt'. So I wouldn't expect it soon. He is probably hedging on online HD to take off and kill BR... which is not entirely unlikely. @OP: If we have to keep this to Macs - By TV card, I presume you mean EyeTV. You could do it the Mini way - there's nothing particularly wrong with it. There are (considerably) better ways but you may have to spend more on the Windows side to get it (and the likelihood of you not understanding what you're doing is higher, leading to more frustration), especially given the fact that you have the tuner already for the Mac. The other option if you're already a Mac shop is sticking the tuner on an existing Mac and getting an AppleTV to attach to the HT System. Transcoding from EyeTV ---> iTunes - AppleTV is a one-click deal, although it does benefit from having plenty of horsepower on tap.
 

B1FF

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Originally Posted by California Dreamer
Would an HTPC with BluRay really be cheaper than that?

Originally Posted by GQgeek
The thing is, the mac-mini is garbage. Does it even play Blue-Ray?

No, no BR drive option on the Mac Mini.


Originally Posted by montyharding
He is probably hedging on online HD to take off and kill BR... which is not entirely unlikely.

And he probably plans to be the guy to sell it to you through iTunes.
 

California Dreamer

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Originally Posted by montyharding
There are (considerably) better ways but you may have to spend more on the Windows side to get it (and the likelihood of you not understanding what you're doing is higher, leading to more frustration), especially given the fact that you have the tuner already for the Mac.

I love it when people's biases lead them to make grossly misinformed assumptions.

FYI, I have been in IT for more than three decades. My son runs a video post-production company. We are not running around in some kind of fog of timid misunderstanding.

What we are looking for is an effective solution for a very low cost. I said BR might be interesting, but I never said it was mandatory. I expressly said I was not interested in building best-of-breed. Just looking for an inexpensive low-end solution to replace a PVR and a STB.

Originally Posted by montyharding
It's a Mac. A computer for people who're afraid of computers, who need to use them nevertheless and yet too egotistical to admit it. The sort of people who'll always say ' The computer did x'.

I get that some people here don't like Macs. I understand that some like to get snooty and emotional about them.

Your sneering doesn't explain the vast preference that people in my son's business have for Macs. He does extremely technical and very high-end commercial work on them. You are talking BS when you disparage Mac users that way, and just showing off your own complete lack of understanding of the capabilities of the alternate solutions. The opinions of people who can't rationally weigh the alternatives do not deserve to be considered.


Thanks GQ for keeping it rational. I'll certainly take your advice on board.
 

montyharding

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Interesting - given that I gave you the only concrete advice so far in the thread. EyeTV is a decent solution even when considered overall although as I said not the best, but for more versatile use of the media you could throw more horsepower behind it than a Mini, and perhaps leave yourself with a fuss-free Apple TV in your living room as I said. I have EyeTV running on a Pro outside of my living room (as well as other EyeTV's which are used almost purely for watching, the Pro-based EyeTV being used to record then distribute), and because it relies on Quicktime, it still takes a fair amount of time to transcode for iTunes integration. Since the transcoding isn't very multithreaded, a high-ghz iMac or even an MBP should also work well - well, if those non-'Pro' Macs don't catch fire during the transcode, that is. BTW, equating the choice of your son to the broader market is the same as saying that since a violin-maker uses a violin design program under Windows which became a standard for industry professionals, Windows is better, or a car is better if hairdressers or fashion designers like driving them. FCS is an industry standard in the lower-end pro video market, and once something becomes an industry standard it gets very hard to move people off it due to job prospects even if better options exist on other platforms, some of which I use - because not being a pro video shop at the core of my business I'm not looking for a job in the market, but aiming for better results. But perhaps a typical blinkered Mac user of the type that I described only listens to what agrees with him, and so incensed and emotional was he that he didn't bother moving to the second paragraph...?
I love it when people who's lack of knowledge / size of ego leads them to make grossly misinformed assumptions about the level of experience of the other party.
 

GQgeek

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Originally Posted by California Dreamer
I love it when people's biases lead them to make grossly misinformed assumptions.

FYI, I have been in IT for more than three decades. My son runs a video post-production company. We are not running around in some kind of fog of timid misunderstanding.

What we are looking for is an effective solution for a very low cost. I said BR might be interesting, but I never said it was mandatory. I expressly said I was not interested in building best-of-breed. Just looking for an inexpensive low-end solution to replace a PVR and a STB.



I get that some people here don't like Macs. I understand that some like to get snooty and emotional about them.

Your sneering doesn't explain the vast preference that people in my son's business have for Macs. He does extremely technical and very high-end commercial work on them. You are talking BS when you disparage Mac users that way, and just showing off your own complete lack of understanding of the capabilities of the alternate solutions. The opinions of people who can't rationally weigh the alternatives do not deserve to be considered.


Thanks GQ for keeping it rational. I'll certainly take your advice on board.


Just google HTPC case and see what your options are in terms of styling. It's really easy to put one together, and you will have more options down the road, including Blue-ray. BR requires a pretty beefy computer/gphx card. With a self-build you can also make it completely silent. You've got to make sure you choose something with an HDCP compatible video card too. Media Center does PVR quite well. I used it back when i cared to have cable. I still use my Media center PC as my one source for everything. Music, movies, downloaded shows, and even racing games. You can get premium sound out of your PC by choosing a high-end audio card too, which is how I hook it up to my Pio Elite and Paradigm Reference speakers.

Btw, when i said it's garbage, it wasn't just random mac bashing. Macs have actually had pretty good hardward since they switched over to PC parts, but the mac-mini has always just been underpowered. GPUs span a WIDE range. I guess when the specs come out we'll know, but no option for BR would remove it from consideration for me.
 

montyharding

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It's really easy to put together a noisy HTPC. Putting a silent one together requires more skill and knowledge, as does setting up the Media center environment - which I was inferring may be beyond an automatic Mac buyer, even though the level of said skill + knowledge is fairly minimal. The Mini is extremely quiet at idle which makes it a good theoretical HTPC candidate, but notwithstanding it's obsoleteness it's only really happy when running at very low levels of usage. If you're going to use it as the entertainment hub, I daresay it's underpowered. So what I was suggesting was perhaps move the harder work elsewhere and have a simple ATV for the set-top.

The Mac hardware, even the Intel-based machines, is put together to different priorities - if you, like me, have them around in modes where the looks are more important than the function, then they're great - until they break, if they're held up to the same standard as equivalent 'premium' Windows-based machines. Macs continue to have the infamous Rev.A. issues after the Intel switchover, if not even more frequently. I don't see Sony's for example having the same (accurate) rep.
 

haganah

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You can put together a media center easily, but only HP and Dell have HD options correct? If you wanted to watch HBO, pay per view, or an HD tv show are those the only 2 options for someone?
 

montyharding

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If your set-top box has component out, then Hauppauge has a HD PVR box.
 

haganah

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Originally Posted by montyharding
If your set-top box has component out, then Hauppauge has a HD PVR box.

How can you watch HD over component? Don't you need HDMI? Or is it shown in lower resolution and defeating the purpose?
 

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