Talk me out of a HTPC and into a HT-Mac Mini - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 16 Old 08-04-2012, 09:09 AM - Thread Starter
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I am a Mac guy and besides our Android cell phones, we use all Mac products in our home. I have an antenna hooked to a 720p Pioneer Elite Kuro plasma to watch local tv.

I have a number of tv shows and movies I have acquired in various formats I would like to play through this device. We also watch a lot of Netflix, Hulu and HBO Go.

Budget is sort of tight at the moment, but I'm looking to do something. I was looking at building a HTPC with parts from Newegg, but the mac mini route has always intrigued me.

Can anyone out there shed some light on the differences?

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post #2 of 16 Old 08-05-2012, 09:11 AM
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the mac mini route has always intrigued me.

And there's never been a more intriguing Mini model than the 2011s...
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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:

http://www.tonymacx86.com/golden-builds/

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:

http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=1414394

The guy to pay attention to over there is philipma1957, he's very smart with a lot of hands-on Mini experience...
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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.
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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?
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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.
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post #3 of 16 Old 08-05-2012, 07:24 PM
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I have been using a late 2009 Mac Mini as a HTPC since April 2010. Here is a link to a forum thread about my experiences: Mac Mini HTPC.

I'm not going to try to be too redundant since you got good information above. First, if budget is a big concern, the power of the mini can be build a significantly cheaper. You're just not going to match the small footprint. And since it is a Mac, you're aware you are going to pay a premium.

A lot will dependent on what you plan to do with the HTPC. Plex is excellent for locally stored media. EyeTV is the best DVR/live TV software on OSX. Direct Blu Ray playback in OSX is next to non-existent. I actually prefer, and witched to, Windows 7 over OSX. Plus the included Media Center is quite solid for DVR and live TV. Plus, people have done all kinds of mods for Media Center.

Netflix is a subpar experience on the PC--OSX and Windows. It works and stuff, but Netflix is more about set top boxes and mobile devices. Hulu is really good experience on the PC--OSX and Windows. I recommend downloading their desktop app. Can't comment about HBO Go.

Speaking of TV, I'm assuming you're thinking about DVR or live TV on the HTPC. If so, you'll need to get a TV Tuner. Since the mini has no expansion space, you'll need to either go with Silicondust's HDHomerun or Happauge USB tuner. I personally use the HDHomerun since it's a network attached TV Tuner and one less thing to take up a USB port. Both company offer tuners that accept cable cards; these tuners run around $200 to $300. Non-cable card versions are around $100.

The other nice thing about HTPC, there is a ton of online content online that you can access through a web browser that is not accessible through Hulu or other stuff services. If you use a VPN service, then you can get around blackouts for sports, access stuff such as BBC iPlayer, Hulu in Japan, and so forth; depends on your VPN.

I really wouldn't be too worried about having a optical drive. Unless you plan on watching a lot of DVDs or blu rays on the HTPC, you'll probably not use it very much. If you shop around, you can pick up external USB optical drive or build one. I got a ASUS slim external blu ray burner for about ninety dollars. I just use it to rip DVDs and blu rays. Since I have AnyDVD HD (not free), I can watch blu rays direct from the drive using K-Lite codecs and Media Player Classic (both free). I don't get all the menu or blu ray live features, but I can watch the movie none the less.

If you tinker on the PC or mobile phone, you'll be familiar with stuff needing tweaking and being a hair pulling adventure at times. So be prepared with things don't quite work at first. Sometimes, it's works right off the bat with no tweaks needed.

I just would just think about what you really plan on doing with HTPC, and it'll help with your planning and which route may be right for you.
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post #4 of 16 Old 08-13-2012, 12:29 AM
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Be aware that, by many accounts including mine, EyeTV has probably the worst DVR UI in the world. From little stuff (command-0 to go to full screen instead of command-F like every other video display software) to major stuff too numerous to detail. For the most part it works (caveat, see the EyeTV stuttering thread), but it is not wife/kid friendly at all. Again imho.
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post #5 of 16 Old 08-13-2012, 04:16 AM
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The thing I'd like to see most is DVR functionality come to XBMC. I imagine it's a complicated thing to do though.
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post #6 of 16 Old 08-13-2012, 09:56 PM
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I think the recording part probably wouldn't be the hard part. It's the nice interface with a TV guide that would be tricky. And I think there is some kind cost/royalty fee to use Titantv in that manner as well.
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post #7 of 16 Old 12-07-2012, 11:26 AM
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I'm thinking of doing this with a 2012 (Ivy Bridge) Mac mini.

Currently on D* but thinking of switching to Comcast so I would use with HD Homerun Prime (CableCard) and run Windows 7 WMC to use as DVR. Probably use external storage, as I'm looking mainly at the $599 SKU. In other searches, I see suggestions to use e-SATA but not USB 2. Now that the mini has USB 3 and the drives are cheap (2 TB for about $99), I'd be curious about going this route.

Then probably Xboxes as extenders. However, apparently the PS3, which I already have, can now see the HD Homerun Prime devices, as of the past week.

This thread indicates being able to easily convert WMC DVR recordings to MP4 files for importing into iTunes, and then syncing to iOS devices:

http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=1365388

Be interested to know if the OP ended up using the Mac mini?

The other concern is whether the Ivy Bridge and Intel HD4000 is good enough for any video file I may try to play. May also play around with ripping Blu Rays too. In the Ivy Bridge as HTPC thread on AVS, some people noted they had to install certain drivers before some files played back smoothly. Hopefully the BootCamp video drivers are optimized for HD video playback, including higher bitrate content than they are likely to sell on iTunes.


I guess the 2012 mini hasn't been out too long so maybe it's early to ask these questions. But if anyone has bought them, any feedback would be appreciated.
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post #8 of 16 Old 12-07-2012, 12:48 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by wco81 View Post

Be interested to know if the OP ended up using the Mac mini?.

WCO81 - I actually ended up going with a Acer i3 laptop with 4 gigs of ram and Win7. Running XBMC on the laptop hooked to my TV with a jailbroken ATV2 running XBMC in the theater room. 6tb Synology NAS (Raid1) to store files and stream to each device.

Couldn't be happier. The system plays extremely nice with my ATV, Elite Kuro Plasma, Macbook's and ipad. Have literally had ZERO problems and even my kids can watch a show or movie without my help.

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post #9 of 16 Old 12-08-2012, 08:29 AM
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I haven't checked up on the 2012 Mac Mini, but it should be able to handle what you're looking to accomplish.

If you're going to use the Mini as the HTPC for DVR functions with Windows 7, I would suggest, just to ditch OSX completely and just install Windows 7. This is what I did.

USB is fast enough to stream video. I have two USB drives that I store my media to. I mainly do my DVR to my HDD, but I have some WTV (WMC DVR) files on the USB drives and they work fine.

As for transfering files, you may want to check out Plex. They're got a new feature where you can transfer media to your mobile device. This is currently only for iOS. I personally haven't tried it. But from what I read, it works pretty well. Plex can read WRT files, so it should be able to work with yoru DVR files if you don't want to steam.

I have and use late 2009 Mac Mini (2.66ghz D2C, 4GB RAM, 9400M NVidia video). The only time I have issues is with HD audio (hardware limitation) or I'm trying to do two 1080p videos. I have played blu rays discs directly on the Mini with an external USB blu ray drive. And the the model you talking about is significantly more powerful than what I use.

You can obvious go with just a PC. I would say the mini is your choice if you want a desk top with the smallest footprint. It's also very quite. They're not cheap, but you have to think of the mini as a laptop in a desktop case. The Mini is essentially build with a bunch of laptop parts. The only knock, they're still using those crappy Hitachi HDD. Mine went out. I replaced with it with a Western Digital Black drive.
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post #10 of 16 Old 12-09-2012, 01:27 PM
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Originally Posted by wco81 View Post

I'm thinking of doing this with a 2012 (Ivy Bridge) Mac mini.
Currently on D* but thinking of switching to Comcast so I would use with HD Homerun Prime (CableCard) and run Windows 7 WMC to use as DVR. Probably use external storage, as I'm looking mainly at the $599 SKU. In other searches, I see suggestions to use e-SATA but not USB 2. Now that the mini has USB 3 and the drives are cheap (2 TB for about $99), I'd be curious about going this route.
Then probably Xboxes as extenders. However, apparently the PS3, which I already have, can now see the HD Homerun Prime devices, as of the past week.
This thread indicates being able to easily convert WMC DVR recordings to MP4 files for importing into iTunes, and then syncing to iOS devices:
http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=1365388
Be interested to know if the OP ended up using the Mac mini?
The other concern is whether the Ivy Bridge and Intel HD4000 is good enough for any video file I may try to play. May also play around with ripping Blu Rays too. In the Ivy Bridge as HTPC thread on AVS, some people noted they had to install certain drivers before some files played back smoothly. Hopefully the BootCamp video drivers are optimized for HD video playback, including higher bitrate content than they are likely to sell on iTunes.
I guess the 2012 mini hasn't been out too long so maybe it's early to ask these questions. But if anyone has bought them, any feedback would be appreciated.

The HD4000 is adequate for ordinary video playback. VLC is probably the least trouble some playback frontend. XBMC and Plex if you want a 10ft UI for big screen use.

One reason to go to Windows is to use a more advanced renderer like MadVR. DXVA2 builtin renderer on Windows performs about the same as the Mac's VDA.
If you go down that path you will have to deal with the device driver issues you mentioned. The unfortunate part is that the HD4000 is too underpowered to implement some of the really interesting features on MadVR like the Jinc scaler.
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post #11 of 16 Old 12-15-2012, 08:59 PM
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Originally Posted by lovekeiiy View Post


I have and use late 2009 Mac Mini (2.66ghz D2C, 4GB RAM, 9400M NVidia video). The only time I have issues is with HD audio (hardware limitation) or I'm trying to do two 1080p videos. I have played blu rays discs directly on the Mini with an external USB blu ray drive. And the the model you talking about is significantly more powerful than what I use.

Does Windows support Blu ray playback from any USB drive?
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post #12 of 16 Old 12-15-2012, 09:04 PM
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The HD4000 is adequate for ordinary video playback. VLC is probably the least trouble some playback frontend. XBMC and Plex if you want a 10ft UI for big screen use.
One reason to go to Windows is to use a more advanced renderer like MadVR. DXVA2 builtin renderer on Windows performs about the same as the Mac's VDA.
If you go down that path you will have to deal with the device driver issues you mentioned. The unfortunate part is that the HD4000 is too underpowered to implement some of the really interesting features on MadVR like the Jinc scaler.

I think my primary use will be DVR recordings playback but I am also interested in ripping Blu rays for loading on iPad and streaming to Apple TV as well, though it sounds like these other renderers may provide better playback?

Better PQ or smoother playback or both?
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post #13 of 16 Old 12-16-2012, 03:52 PM
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Originally Posted by wco81 View Post

I think my primary use will be DVR recordings playback but I am also interested in ripping Blu rays for loading on iPad and streaming to Apple TV as well, though it sounds like these other renderers may provide better playback?
Better PQ or smoother playback or both?

You get slightly better PQ in windows, not sure it is worth the hassle of switching to Windows given the HD4000 is quite limited for MadVR use. I had the 2012 for a couple of weeks, replaced it with a 2011 with the 6630M.
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post #14 of 16 Old 12-17-2012, 08:59 AM
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Originally Posted by wco81 View Post

Does Windows support Blu ray playback from any USB drive?

Windows 7 needs third party software for blu ray playback. There are blu ray suites such as PowerDVD or Total Home Theater. They're more like your stand alone blu ray player. And you need a USB drive that is powerful enough along with the mini. I use ASUS slim blu ray burner. It requires I use TWO usb ports to playback blu rays. The mini I have, due to hardware limitaitons, can't do any HD auido; this is not an issue for me because my AVR can't do it anyway (predates HD audio).
the audio/vidoe out of sync was the recording device, not playback on the machine.

I rarely playback blu rays, so I don't have them. If you have AnyDVD HD it gets around the HDCP issue, and you can playback the movie with no extras or menus with something like PotPlayer or Media Player Classic. I just install K-Lite Codecs pack with puts in the codecs and MPC.

It's possible there is a usb blu ray drive that may not play nice with Windows and the Mini. But at this point, it wouldn't be very many. The one I got, happens to play nice in OSX as well; I know I tested DVDs. I can't remember actual blu rays if I tried any.

Windows does support blu ray for information storage and reading and recording, ie data files, with no problem. I believe OSX does as well. Blu ray media playback is the difference between the two as far as I know, software wise.
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post #15 of 16 Old 12-17-2012, 09:20 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wco81 View Post

I think my primary use will be DVR recordings playback but I am also interested in ripping Blu rays for loading on iPad and streaming to Apple TV as well, though it sounds like these other renderers may provide better playback?
Better PQ or smoother playback or both?

I can't comment on the video card issues. I will go with what Tony says in that regard. I don't think you're going to find much difference in the playback quality between Media Center and EyeTV (OSX). And if you're ripping and transcoding, that's a CPU focus task, not GPU. So you would probably want a more powerful CPU and RAM.

I've been sick, and still sick, so I'm a bit "foggy" on previous posts and what's been said. I would suggests going with the 2011 model over the new one based on price. Maybe someone more up on hardware may be able to tell what, if any advantages the 2012 models give over 2011 other than USB3, which there isn't many devices that support it, and USB2 has enough bandwidth to support blu ray playback. Remember, when thinking Mini, think laptop in a desktop case when comparing prices; you're not comparing the same thing when you look at desktops to the Mini.
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post #16 of 16 Old 12-17-2012, 09:24 AM
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on a side note, since you mentioned media playback on the iOS devices, you may want to check out Plex. It's been released on the OS version of Plex Server, coming soon for windows, but they've got it to where you can download mobile friendly media to your device for when offline. I've only briefly read it, so I don't know all the details. ALthough, it's been getting positive feedback from what I've seen. It could make things easier so you're not having transcode, possibly twice, with Handbrake to watch on your iPad.

I have Android devices, so I just move my rips for the HTPC to my tablet and play with BS Player. Otherwise, I just stream it from my home to my mobile devices.
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