Mac Mini to run two HDTV and a PC monitor? AV and audio setup question - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 7 Old 09-22-2012, 04:46 PM - Thread Starter
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In my house there are two tv setups, one a projector and the other a Samsung RPTV, each about 75 ft away from a central home automation closet, given wiring constraints. I just got a mid 2011 mac mini and would like to use it both as 1) a home automation PC with one display-out powering the in-closet monitor, and set up as a PC, and 2) with the other display-out mirrored so I can run HDMI or component or VGA to the projector in one room and Samsung RPTV in the other. I would preferably use optical audio out for both TVs.

Any idea how I would set this up? I know there is the HDMI port and the mini display port in the back - HDMI is close to its limitations at this length (I think) unless I get baluns, and although I believe I can run long lengths of component or VGA, I'm not sure what sort of adapters to get in either case or frankly where to begin.

Also I'd like to be able to control the Mini from my iPad or iPhone if possible. I do have a couple of wireless Apple keyboards but doubt they will transmit 50 ft thru walls, unless there is such a thing as a bluetooth booster.

All thoughts would be appreciated!

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post #2 of 7 Old 09-22-2012, 08:31 PM - Thread Starter
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I forgot that I need a separate audio feed to the whole house audio. So the PC/whole house audio needs to be separate from the htpc part. Is it possible to have separate audio streams or should I give up on that part?

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post #3 of 7 Old 09-23-2012, 06:53 AM
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a central home automation closet...I just got a mid 2011 mac mini and would like to use it both as 1) a home automation PC with one display-out powering the in-closet monitor, and set up as a PC

set up as a Windows PC or running OS X? In any event, shouldn't be a problem at all to connect to an in-closet monitor with one of the video out options from the Mini. If you'll be in Windows, however, this isn't the right forum for you.
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and 2) with the other display-out mirrored so I can run HDMI or component or VGA to the projector in one room and Samsung RPTV in the other. I would preferably use optical audio out for both TVs

Not often, but at times it can be a challenge to hook a Mac up properly to one display from a video out port, just the Mac to the display, especially if your HDTV is an older one, as your Samsung RPTV might be. But most accomplish this pretty easily as long as that older TV has a digital input (DVI) or VGA, then it is a matter of tweaking your display settings. Almost no one with Mac tries to do component video out anymore. It's a little more difficult to send, say, HDMI from your Mini into an AVR first and then out to a single display but that can usually be accomplished; you're really adding layers of complication if you're gonna try to send the video into some sort of splitter or distribution amp and then feed two different desktop display resolutions (on top of the first display in the closet.) Most of us here, with a centralized Mac acting as a whole house media server, do not approach things this way. That's kind of an analog "old-school AV" approach, feeding component or VGA into some sort of whole house distribution rig. Is that still done? Yes, but this forum rarely discusses it. In this forum, many of us have been distributing music around our house wirelessly using iTunes and Apple's built-in Bonjour sharing for 8 years already or so, then it was called AirTunes, you plugged the optical out of a $79 Airport Express wherever you had an AVR or set of powered speakers and bingo, you could stream bit perfect lossless audio from your iTunes ALAC library anywhere you wanted...you could even send that stream to multiple destinations simultaneously and have it all play back in sync. That was 7-8 years ago. AirTunes was the progenitor of what is now called AirPlay, which adds video to that whole house audio equation. Which leads me to...
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Any idea how I would set this up? I'm not sure what sort of adapters to get in either case or frankly where to begin.

Most of us here embrace digital audio and video, appreciate the Apple ecosystem, love OS X, iOS devices, AirPlay, iTunes home sharing etc. Our approach to whole house audio and video relies on wired gigabit, wireless sometimes, and having a Mac or Apple TV at every display. It's up to you whether you want to have all your media in one place, and where you decide that place to be is up to you, but one of those Macs--hooked up to one of your HDTVs--could also function as your whole house iTunes media server (and presumably as your home automation controller.) I say presumably because that's not something I do, but if there was an iOS app that could run on your iPad which could control the automation software running on your Mac mini, I'd think it wouldn't matter where that Mac mini was physically located. If it is in a closet, so be it, my advice would be to connect that to just one of your displays and AVR. Then put another Mac mini or an Apple TV at your secondary display/AVR.

Apple makes it very easy to mount and share volumes over your network, your Mac minis and Apple TVs and iOS devices will "see" each other, and you can control what is played where just from your iPad. I use XBMC as my "front end" on a 2011 Mini in our living room, on a MBP in one bedroom and on a hacked Apple TV 1 in another bedroom. I also have a stock aTV 2 in one bedroom and a stock aTV 3 in the living room as well. All on our home network, all wired. Various combinations of HDMI and optical from each device. All controlled with iPads, a little Apple remote or a Mac laptop if we happen to be on one at the time.
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I'd like to be able to control the Mini from my iPad or iPhone if possible. I do have a couple of wireless Apple keyboards

This will be very easy, there are many nice VNC/screen sharing and remote control iOS apps. On my iPad I use Screens, the Apple remote and Rowmote Pro the most often.
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I forgot that I need a separate audio feed to the whole house audio. So the PC/whole house audio needs to be separate from the htpc part. Is it possible to have separate audio streams or should I give up on that part?

Not sure what you mean by this, but if you approach it like I'm suggesting, and you have your Mac mini up and running iTunes 24/7, that means you'll have iTunes home sharing whenever you need it--and Airplay as well. So if you're sitting in your bedroom with an iPad, you can play anything in your iTunes library "on" your iPad, you could also Airplay that music to any destination all controlled from the iPad.
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post #4 of 7 Old 09-23-2012, 07:18 AM - Thread Starter
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Thanks for the quick and comprehensive reply. I realize I wasn't probably very clear as I'm just starting to think this through. I use a 2007 mini for home automation (Indigo by perceptiveautomation.com) , and do control it from an iPhone app. When I say "PC", I just mean that I need to keep the usual computer functions and screen display, and it can't be a dedicated HTPC - no Windoze in my home. Re Airplay/expresses, my house is quite old and has plaster/lathe walls, so there is literally hardly any wifi signal that can get thru; as a result I have 5 airports/expresses scattered about and hooked up via ethernet just so I can have wireless access. The house has home run wiring for speakers and is controlled by a matrix audio switch/WHA amp which works very well.

My basic reason for wanting to add HTPC functionality to the new mini is to play flash video. There are some things out there that just aren't available in H.264 and the ATV won't solve that problem. I'd prefer to use the new mini as my HA computer, and that means sticking it in a closet. If it is too complicated I guess I could use the new Mini in one room as a dedicated HTPC and just continue to use the old mini as the home automation computer....

I did some more looking around and found this thread: http://www.avsforum.com/t/1394541/mac-mini-output-both-digital-and-to-usb-dac which clears up the separate audio stream issue - I can live with a single audio stream as when the TV is going I don't need the WHA playing as well.

I also found a thunderbolt to DVI (also HDMI) dual monitor splitter on MonoPrice, but am not too sure re cable runs etc.

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post #5 of 7 Old 09-23-2012, 07:38 AM
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as a result I have 5 airports/expresses scattered about and hooked up via ethernet just so I can have wireless access

Years ago I used to do the same thing, smile.gif I had my Expresses "wired" in order to improve the reliability of my AirTunes streaming. Eventually I outgrew them and just swapped wired Macs and aTVs in place of them in order to stream high def video in addition to music.

As far as the new Mini versus old, obviously the 2011 Mini will play anything you throw at it, even full size bluray rips, perfectly, so if you are even a little forward thinking, whatever you set up should probably utilize the 2011 as the HTPC and video player. Flash sucks, it's a needless drain even on a modern Mac, but if it is a necessary evil in your case, dedicate it to the 2011 Mini. I doubt your 2007 can handle any streaming site that requires Flash or Silverlight, it's just too old and/or underpowered. I have a 2007 15" MBP that still does a commendable job with XBMC, Flash, Silverlight, MakeMKV rips etc, but that's a much better computer than the 2007 Mini model.

Make sure you let us know which configuration you ended up with, and how well you're actually able to control things...I would be tempted to keep the 2007 where it is as it is, then try to hook your two displays up to the 2011.
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post #6 of 7 Old 09-23-2012, 11:37 AM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by chefklc View Post


Make sure you let us know which configuration you ended up with, and how well you're actually able to control things...I would be tempted to keep the 2007 where it is as it is, then try to hook your two displays up to the 2011.

Would it be simpler to just get a jailbroken ATV2 for each tv? Would the ATV2 surf the web, play flash video and everything else, without the complexity of all the cabling etc?

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post #7 of 7 Old 09-23-2012, 12:53 PM
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Would it be simpler to just get a jailbroken ATV2 for each tv?

There's a lot of love for jailbroken aTV 2 in the forums, it's probably the main reason why un-hacked aTV 2s now sell for a premium, I've seen them fetch $160-170 on eBay. Frankly, I wouldn't pay that, a jailbroken aTV2 will still only be able to output 720p. If you're willing to spend that much to experiment w/ a streamer, for about the same amount of money I'd recommend you go the aTV 1 route, with a Broadcom Crystal HD card, Crystalbuntu and XBMC. You'd get the same ability to play all sorts of codecs and containers, the Hulu and Amazon Prime streaming, plus one pretty nice feature: not only is it powerful enough to play any full-size MakeMKV bluray rip you throw at it but it can output 1080p to your display.

As far as being simpler, well, I wouldn't count on that unless you're pretty patient, there's usually more maintenance and more quirks and bugs interacting with hacked devices than if you just added stock Apple TVs or Macs to your network. At least in my experience. But I do think it's worth trying, the cost of entry is relatively low, and you'll at least break even re-selling those devices if you do eventually change your mind. My recommendation, still, is put your best Mac Mini at your primary display; though I agree with you you'll lose nothing (except perhaps your time) trying a hacked Apple TV at your secondary display. Live with it for a while and then you'll be in a better position to evaluate what works and what doesn't.
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