Using a MAC mini 2011 as an HTPC - a great little device


(Nick Aurelius-Haddock) #1

For some while now I have been looking for the perfect PC to sit underneath my HD TV , so that we can watch films in full 1080P glory, without some of the draw backs of previous attempts. The PC I currently had next to the TV was a mini tower, which worked well with anything upto 720P, but was just not powerful enough for anything else. It also looked a little large to have in the lounge, so it needed upgrading, so Helen kept constantly reminding me.



I have looked at lots and lots of devices which may have fitted the bill, including Asus and Acer devices, but I was always put off by the Intel Atom processor and in my opinion, too high a price for what you were getting. I have used Intel Atom processors before, and they are not that powerful and can very quickly become stressed. This means fan noise, heat and slow performance.



So when MAC launched their new MAC mini, with an Intel Core i5, I nipped down to the shops and gave it a spin. It played everything I tested it with easily. The form factor is extremely small, light,cold running and quiet, all pluses for under the TV. It comes with HDMI, DVI & SVGA connectors , and had 4 USB ports plus a new Intel Thunderbolt connector, which will come in handy further down the road, when I get a small RAID array to plug into it for film storage. These new Thunderbolt ports are very fast, and will see this device right far into the future.



Cost, is something that always comes into the equation, and in my opinion, for the specification you get with this device, in comparison to others of the same form factor it is very competitive. It was 599 Euros for the base model , which is more than enough for it’s task. None of it’s competitors have this processor, or the latest Intel HD graphics card or the Thunderbolt port, which works really well with OSX LION, the operating system supplied.



We tested it in earnest last week and it performed as expected, and played the films we could not watch properly before. This has been a big success, and I can happily recommend it to people looking to do the same. I would say that if you wanted to get one of these machines for everyday use, then I would recommend getting the version with 4GB of RAM, or upgrade it yourself (cheaper). 2GB is fine for it’s current purpose, but running many applications will soon exhaust that. Also worth a mention is the fact it doesn’t come with a DVD drive built in. This is not an issue for me, as I haven’t used one of those on a PC for years, and I already have a perfectly good DVD player for the legacy disk’s.



I have been so impressed with this little device, that I’m going to buy it’s bigger brother as a work tool at home. This will have an Intel Core i7 with 8GB of RAM, which I need for virtualization and running many applications at once.


(Ian Gillis) #2

Hi Nick,
So is your “film storage” hard drive a peripheral to the Mac Mini, or your PC or as NAS?
I’m impressed that you have digitised your videos. I have a big pile of irreplaceable 8mm and VHS tape that needs A Round Tuit and an A/D converter.
The Neuros thingy looks interesting - I was looking at the Elgato device for my Mac. But there seems to be a dearth of Round Tuits…
regards,
Ian


(Nick Aurelius-Haddock) #3

Ah, I don’t ever use Windows as a base OS, just in virtual environments.

I haven’t ever had any issues with VLC with Linux or now OSX, so it’s fine for my needs at the moment, but that KMplayer looks good. Perhaps I can persuade the devs to port it :wink:

I have also heard great things about XBMC on OSX, so I may well give that a go as well.


(Nick Aurelius-Haddock) #4

Ian, I have ripped a whole pile of my old videos into digital format, and I have also started on my DVD collection, so that I just have a hard disk with all the films on.

I used a great little device called an Neuros OSD

I’m also ever hopeful that in the not too distant future Google films and Netflix, will even render this obsolete, and I can watch any film I want, when I want, at a nominal charge. I’m not holding my breath though :wink:


(Carl Alban) #5

Checked the model in our cheapy HTPC and it is a ASUS EAH4350 (only €29 on Grosbill)

Yes it will pass audio over HDMI although I was using a separate audio card to get the correct outputs for my amp.

I set up 2 1080p displays for a show a while back and both of these were powered by old laptops (3Ghz pentium 4’s) VLC player was using to much CPU to allow smooth playback but KMPlayer had a much smaller CPU load and solved the problem.

The Shark007 codec pack is one of the best out there at the moment

Win XP & Vista HERE

Win 7 HERE

Make sure that when you install any of the codecs or players you do the custom install so you can decline the stupid tool-bars and add-ons they try and push onto your system.


(Nick Aurelius-Haddock) #6

Those cases look really good Carl. I have built most of my PC’s over the years, and still build all my servers, as I want to run Linux on them.

However I just wanted this little device to work, and be really simple for everyone else in the house, which it has done.

I tend to use VLC to play my movies, as it has the best codec support, but some of my MAC friends are recommending other apps, which I will give a go.

Does that cheaper Video card do audio over HDMI?


(Carl Alban) #7

Even the cheapest sub €45 PCIe graphics cards LIKE THIS have no problems with large (10Gb) MKV Bluray rips nowdays.



We have 2 HTPC’s



The cheap one uses the above card and intel dual core (E6750) cpu. 4Gb of ram and a Creative sound card passing signals via digital coaxial to the surround decoder. It’ll play almost anything except stupidly huge (30Gb) bluray rips without getting upset. 1080p is smooth as long as you use the right player with different filetypes.





The second (posh) one uses an AMD quad CPU, 8GB of ram and a Nvidia GTS450. (LIKE THIS) The GPU is overkill but some gaming is done on this HTPC



All this is crammed inside an Antec Fusion case (LIKE THIS)



This HTPC has silky smooth 1080p playback whatever the file or the player. There is no substitute for horsepower I guess :slight_smile:

Both machines run Windows 7 64bit


(John MacMAHON) #8

Hi Ian

Have a look at Apple TV, we rent films from itunes, even HD (and yes they do take a time to download - we chose in the morning and leave it to download in the background).

Best wishes

John

imac’s
macbooks’s
ipad2 - wiei and 3g


(Ian Gillis) #9

Hi Nick,
Interesting post - I use a Mac Mini 2010 as my main desktop and love it to bits!

But what is your source of the films that you watch? Clearly not the absent DVD drive!

Our TV watching is via a Humax PVR which currently feeds (via SCART) a 15-year old Sony widescreen CRT TV that refuses to die so I’d have an excuse for a flat panel TV.

But I’m confused about the possibilities for a sensible and economical upgrade path - the Humax PVR has a LAN connection, you can get TVs with wifi - and I’d really like to get a TV that will exploit the HD capability of the Humax. Streaming HD films are not possible with my 2Mb/s ADSL but it would be nice to play my video “home movies”, YouTube and slide shows of still pics.

One day homes will have an integrated and modularly-extensible data/audio/visual environment - instead of separate boxes that don’t talk to each other!

regards,
Ian

 Ian Gillis C Eng MIET


Mac Mini 2010 OS 10.6.8
Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4 GHz
4GB RAM 500GB HD
Samsung Syncmaster 226BW
2 TB ext HD

iPad 1 16GB WiFi only


(John MacMAHON) #10

Hi Nick

We are a mac family (have them all over the house), and earlier this year got ourselves an Apple TV, wonderful little thing. We can show all photos, films from our comps. on our TV, plus we can rent films from apple, and also gives us radio stations plus lots more.
Though I do not have a mac mini, I have mac friends all over the place who have them and like you would recommend this wonderful little machine.