the mac mini route has always intrigued me.
And there's never been a more intriguing Mini model than the 2011s...
I was looking at building a HTPC with parts from Newegg...
Well, there's no doubt you could build an incredible Windows HTPC, there's a large forum here with several good threads and guides that'll tell you exactly what to buy and how to set it up. There isn't much hackintosh help here, though it certainly is possible to come up with something very good that can run OS X:
The thing about the Mac mini, though, is that it is so damn seductive, once you own one, there's rarely any going back. (Same thing with a Macbook Air, by the way, once you spend any time with one you wonder how you could use anything else laptop-wise. Mentally, you can make the argument it's advantageous being able to swap RAM and drives yourself, as, say the Macbook Pro, but viscerally, no, the Air wins the heart.) It's also pretty hard to cobble together something comparable to the 2011 Mac mini yourself: start adding it up and you'll realize it's a surprisingly unique, affordable and powerful product when you combine its form factor (tiny, quiet, green) with Sandy Bridge, thunderbolt, firewire 800, gigabit and wireless n et al. Even now, at a year old, it has all the power you need for blu-ray playback, can drive two displays if need be, plus it's pretty adaptable in terms of home theater and media server functionality:
1) space for two drives that you can upgrade yourself, which means you can pop your own SSD boot drive inside if you like;
2) having HDMI and Thunderbolt means you can connect to your AVR/HDTV over HDMI and boot off an SSD drive in a Thunderbolt enclosure (if you're a little queasy about messing with the internal drives yourself.)
3) run any OS you want, legally, which means if it ever becomes essential to leave OS X behind in order to use an HD Homerun Prime or Ceton CableCard tuner in Windows, you can;
4) resale values for 2010/2011 Mac minis verge on absurdly high (the 2010 models because they are the last with optical drives and the ability to run Snow Leopard to Mountain Lion; the 2011 models because when Apple took the optical drive away it also lowered base prices by $100, making an already good value at the low end even better.)
5) the 2011 Mini supports Mountain Lion Airplay mirroring, which adds more value to those already awfully tempting $99 1080p Apple TVs...
6) it's quite green at idle but it can also be left on 24/7, which is a plus when it comes to being an on demand whole house media server for all your other Macs and iOS devices.
Here's a recent "Why choose Mac Mini over Hackintosh?" thread:
The guy to pay attention to over there is philipma1957, he's very smart with a lot of hands-on Mini experience...
I have a number of tv shows and movies I have acquired in various formats I would like to play through this device
Any 2010 or 2011 Mini, plus the higher end 2009 Mini, can handle anything you've acquired right up to full-size MakeMKV bluray rips.
We also watch a lot of Netflix, Hulu and HBO Go.
How are you watching these now, and is it your plan to start doing all that via your new Mini/HTPC?
I have an antenna hooked to a 720p Pioneer Elite Kuro plasma to watch local tv.
Are you recording this now and are you planning to use the new Mini/HTPC for live and recorded TV as well?
I think two more things that should factor into your decision are:
1) if you're a gamer, those who do recommend paying more for a Mini with the Radeon HD 6630M, whereas I'm not a gamer at all, and as a result have been quite pleased with the 2.3 i5 base model. If gaming is a priority, it may be no Mini would meet your family needs and a Windows HTPC is best;
2) at some point, soon, next Wednesday, or months from now, who knows, Apple will release 2012 Ivy Bridge Minis with built-in USB 3 and slightly better graphics options than the current models. That means the refurb price on the current 2011 models will drop even further, the current $519 refurb 2011 2.3 i5 will likely drop to $469; however, that might also prompt Apple to mess with the form factor a little bit, i.e. making the Mini even smaller and more compact, and perhaps less user-serviceable inside.