When I look at using a Mac for a set top box, I think of it more as a poor-man's alternative to Kaleidoscape. Fast-loading movies in 1080p with lossless audio where available, at the same bitrate as native BR, eliminating trailers and other crap that slow down the load time of the feature
Irishman, I understand where you're coming from, but you have to realize you stepped into the middle of a conversation helping a guy interested in 1) music and 2) recording high def TV. Why divert this thread to a discussion of playing back 1080p with lossless audio? That's changing the goalposts a bit too much from what the OP asked about, don't you agree?
You realize that, even with all the money you've invested in upgrades, you're still pimping out a Corolla, performance-wise. It can only do so much, even with all the upgrades and tweaking you've done. Video is so much more resource-intensive than audio. So much more the first time you want to manage and view HD video (and 5.1 audio)
I loved this comment when I read it the other day, but didn't have the time to respond then...unfortunately, you're wrong, at least as far as the needs of the OP, which are trying to replace his Tivo by adding DVR tasks to his Mini. A small, silent, pimped out Corolla is perfect for the OP. Perhaps you don't record HDTV with your Mac, but a stock 2010 mini can easily handle recording multiple streams of...and perfectly playing back...ATSC and clearQAM with DD 5.1. He doesn't need to step up to an iMac in order to do the DVR thing, even older model minis than the 2010 handle EyeTV with AC-3 passthrough just fine.
now it makes sense that you're finding the Mini acceptable performance-wise...you're either downrezzing BR rips and/or lowering the bitrate
Now, like you said, playing back full size 1080p blu-ray rips are another matter, but the majority of users report that even the 2.4 2010 mini can play them back in Plex or XBMC either 1) perfectly or 2) darn close to perfectly, depending on who you talk to (and which display they're connected to.) The thing is, you risk potentially changing the goalposts again when you talk of "HD audio" from blurays since most of us DO NOT try to play back the high res audio, we simply let MakeMKV do its thing and extract the downrezzed core audio. We're not using Macs that can pass the HD audio anyway, but video-wise, I assure you many of us find Macbooks and Minis very acceptable for full blu-ray video
, neither downrezzed or transcoded. MakeMKV merely puts the video into a different container and doesn't alter it one bit.
If you are currently playing back your blu-ray rips WITH HD audio, which iMac model and software are you using? We haven't had someone verify this in OS X yet.
End of the day, I don't think you necessarily need a very powerful PC to watch movies. Just need to have the proper drivers and everything setup right. Not to say you don't need some power. A good mini should be fine for his needs.
No, Irishman is right on the mark here with his advice, you'll be happier with as powerful a Mac as you can afford in order to play back full size 1080p blu-ray rips with DD 5.1 or DTS 5.1, but the low end 2010 mini at 2.4GHz should be able to handle it. I do notice an improvement playing the same MakeMKV rip back on a 2.4 Macbook and then our 2.4 iMac, the iMac, despite being a little older than the MB, does have the better subsystem and can handle the extra bit of oomph required. If you're not interested in playing back 30-50GB 1080p movie files, you can use any mini from last few years and be perfectly happy. But I wouldn't go as far as Irishman goes and recommend buying an iMac specifically for the home theater, though it would do a very good job there, there's just no need.
I'd suggest we keep this thread about recording HD TV and DVR and maybe talk 1080p blu-ray playback on another thread? Apple and oranges...