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post #1 of 8 Unread 10-31-2014, 11:54 PM - Thread Starter
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Need Mac Mini Build Advice

Haven't visited the forum in some time so I'm not sure if I'm posting in the right area. I want to set up a Mac Mini as a DVR, but I plan to use Windows Media Center. Not trying to start any OS war. I'm a long time Mac guy but I have to support Windows OS at work. I'm a big fan of the Mac Mini no matter what OS you run.

Recent death of our Dish DTV Pal and the introduction of the new Mini prompted me to shop for a discontinued Mini. Picked up a new 2012 for $400 at BB. I could use that or my old 2011 mini 5,2 for the DVR. I'll be recording from a Silicon Dust OTA dual tuner. I already have one set up on a PC connected to another TV. I could possibly record on that but, I'm not sure it could handle 4 tuners at once. And, I'd still need a Media Extender to replace the Pal.

My first question is which mini is the better DVR? I'm inclined to use the late 2012 since it has intel HD graphics and I read somewhere that they support hardware transcoding. I'm not sure about the 2011's Radeon HD6630M. I know my old 2009 Mini with Eye TV worked pretty hard to convert files for itunes. I quickly gave up on that approach since my wife is a TV junkie. Can't blame her, she's disabled and can't do much else. There will be times all 4 tuners are recording while we are watching a show. But, with an all Media Center approach, I'm not sure any transcoding takes place. Hardware transcoding might not be of any benefit. I don't have time to do all the research. Hoping someone who's been through it all can help me decide which machine to use.

My second question is whether to use Apple's bootcamp approach, or try and build a straight Windows machine? From what I've read, ditching bootcamp and starting from scratch is more work. But, my gut says it might perform better and be more reliable.

My third question is which version of Windows? I have both W7 Premium 64 bit and W8 Pro available.
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post #2 of 8 Unread 11-01-2014, 08:28 AM
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you won't be starting any war, the "using a Mac running OS X to record TV" battle was waged, and lost, many years ago. Essentially El Gato left the battlefield with heads held low, many of us here felt they stopped trying to move their product forward a long time ago, well before they shut down their discussion and support forum. Even the most ardent supporter of OS X will tell you if you want to record TV today you are much, much better off having one machine do it in Windows, even though you can still get by with EyeTV in OS X if you only record OTA.

I worry you won't get much response here, you'll probably find more useful info in Silicon Dust's own forums, for instance, threads like this:

http://www.silicondust.com/forum2/vi...p?f=26&t=17621

there are Windows forums over there as well. Look in the Windows HTPC section here too, after all the old components in Mac Minis are also in Windows PCs, you may not find Mac Mini owners booting into Windows over there and talking about it but you should be able to find what can be done with comparably aged CPUs and GPUs because the same stuff is in PCs as well as Macs.

I do actually still use a 2011 Mini with the Radeon HD6630M in my living room as my main front end w/ XBMC, still a great media player and server, it does work hard, though, when asked to transcode, so I don't do that much on that machine. If I were you I'd consider picking up a quad core 2012 if you see one as a refurb on the Apple store site, some nice power there for recording and multi-threaded transcoding and very upgradable. Not sure which 2012 you got from BB...

Since you are considering which Mini to use for what task(s), best current discussion of the 2014 Minis just released versus the 2011 and 2012 Minis is probably going on in this forum:

http://forums.macrumors.com/forumdisplay.php?f=146

Last edited by chefklc; 11-01-2014 at 08:38 AM. Reason: added link
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post #3 of 8 Unread 11-01-2014, 09:46 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chefklc View Post
... Even the most ardent supporter of OS X will tell you if you want to record TV today you are much, much better off having one machine do it in Windows, even though you can still get by with EyeTV in OS X if you only record OTA.
...
It is not for everybody but there is a contingent of us happily running MythTV on OS X. The price of admission is that you have to complete a series of commands in Terminal following cookbook-style instructions to get it set up. All the needed software is available as a one-click installer.

Instructions:
http://www.mythtv.org/wiki/MacPorts

Installer:
https://sourceforge.net/projects/mac...thtvinstaller/

What you get is an extremely flexible DVR that supports multiple frontends connecting to one master backend. Both of the OP's Minis can playback all of the content stored on the one that is the backend. I'm using a 2012 Mini (Core i5, 2.5 GHz) as master backend and frontend connected to the home theatre system. I have two HDHomerun's; one recording HD OTA and the other SD via cable. I'm very happy with the playback quality. Depending on the de-interlacing options, playing back an HD recording consumes as little as 30% of one virtual core. That leaves a lot left for recording other streams (which consume very little CPU), serving other frontends, commerical flagging recordings, etc.

Re transcoding, the OP didn't say _why_ he wanted to transcode. If it is to save disk space, generally it costs less to buy some more drives than the electricity burned transcoding your recordings. If it is to view on mobile devices, the current best solution is likely to record with an HDHomerun Plus and have _it_ do the transcoding in hardware.

Craig
(I am biased. I developed the MacPorts packaging of MythTV for OS X.)
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post #4 of 8 Unread 11-01-2014, 10:00 AM
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Craig--doesn't MythTV have the added advantage of being able to record the copy-freely channels off an HDHomeRun Prime tuner as well?
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post #5 of 8 Unread 11-01-2014, 12:33 PM
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Craig--doesn't MythTV have the added advantage of being able to record the copy-freely channels off an HDHomeRun Prime tuner as well?
It does but AIUI*, US cable companies have widely varying policies on which channels are marked copy-freely. Some mark only their premium channels; others everything but locals and government channels. Unlike WMC, there is no "protected path" in Myth...and never will be.

No such problems recording OTA, though.

Since I'm talking up Myth here, another cool feature is AirPlay. Any system running Myth's frontend shows up as an AirPlay destination, much like an AppleTV. So it adds the ability to send slide shows or play music and videos from your iPhone or iPad on your home theatre system if you don't already have a real AppleTV attached.

Craig
* I'm in Canada, no cable card here.
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post #6 of 8 Unread 11-02-2014, 01:46 PM
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I'll chime in. Can't address many of questions, and probably none well. Nonetheless, I may be able to help.

I actually use mutliple Mac Minis. All run have Windows 7 64bit and no OSX, or bootcamp. If the machine is going to be home theater use, I would recommend Windows 7 or 8 only. OSX just doesn't have a lot to offer in regards to HTPC and what it has, is limited. I suspect you're not going to be doing general PC tasks on it other than maybe look at videos or pictures on the internet, which Windows can handle just fine.

Windows is a good option because it does support HD audio through HDMI, and I believe the Minis started supported HDMI audio starting in 2011. Granted, there is no HD audio for OTA TV, but if you're blue rays or MKVs, it's possible to have HD audio. On the same note, OSX does not support blue ray videos; there is only one blue ray video and last I read, was still a mixed experience. VLC supports it, but not exactly a WAF friendly. It should be noted, OSX does support blue rays for data. Windows does have blue ray players, but I'm not fan of them because it's possible they'll require expensive software upgrades if there is a significant enough change. I find AnyDVD HD with Media Player Classic is sufficient for the occasional disc playback.

As for the OS, you may want to go Windows 7 over Windows 8 because Media Center is included, which I think is a very good DVR/PVR. And since it sounds like you're in the US, it's the only DVR software, that I know of, that supports cable cards, which certain models of the HDHomerun series also support. Windows 8 does have media center, but it's an $10 fee; I believe this is per machine.

Also, Metro in Windows 8, for whatever reason, I found just didn't work well in the home theater environment. It's not exactly a 10' interface, but given it's tiled based, it would be close enough that it would be servicable once you set if the tiles for the particular software one would use. I was rather disappointed in that regard. I did like it had a smaller footprint and was a bit more efficient.

In addition, check your OSX installation disc, or whatever you were given by Apple. It will should have some directory for bootcamp. This is where are the Windows drivers will be. They may even include a program to install all the drivers for you was well. Trying to do search and install the drivers manual from it can be confusing. I know in my experience for the late 2009 model, there was multiple drivers for a certain hardware. The bad part, Apple doesn't go out of its way to support the Windows drivers, so some stuff that isn't support through Windows Update may have little to no updates. I found this the case for NVidia GPU and install the drivers directly from NVidia.

Lastly, I agree with trying to get a mini with as many cores as possible. Transcoding video is a CPU intense task; it just doesn't use the GPU; that's for displaying video to an attached monitor. Thus, four cores is better than two, eight is better than four. If you're going to transcoding as well, you may want to bump your RAM to eight gigs over the standard four. I don't think you'll see significant increase if you go over eight for the cost.

On a side note, you're going to want to disc spinning HDD drive for storing your media. SSD drives will work, but they're just not designed for the kind of work media storage and retrieval. Quite a few people will have two drives--an SSD for the OS and frequently use applications, HDD for digitized media storage. I wouldn't even worry about an optical drive. There are plenty of extrenal USB ones that work well; I have two blue rays ones, an ASUS and a Buffalo, which cost about $75, that I use to rip blu ray discs.

Personally, I use two late 2009 mac minis. One I have attached to my 55" HDTV in the family room which is use for media playback. The other is in the office which is use for general pc tasks, but also does all my DVR records and media servers; I use Plex and it's server. I should upgrade this machine to something in the eight core area, but I really like the extremely small physical footprint.
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post #7 of 8 Unread 11-03-2014, 05:30 PM
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another mac=> windows user checking in here. I have legacy a/v equipment that pre-dates HDMI so I got a 2012 mac mini specifically because it had an optical audio out. I bootcamped windows 7 onto it and it's been running great without any issues.

like lovekeiiy, I also added a SSD and used the internal 500gb hdd as the DVR drive. The issues I had with it were getting the right video drivers. The default drivers work fine but they take a while to load during startup (and had an annoying issue where it wouldnt show me the video on HBO HD channels but would just play audio). I replaced them with another set of drivers on intel's site and those have worked very well so far. If you go this route, you will not be disappointed. It's a great little machine that can be repurposed as a windows box.

I even was able to reprogram the built-in apple IR receiver to work with plex/xbmc/windows mce using eventghost. It remapped all the buttons just fine but in the end i had to get an external microsoft ehome IR reciever because there just arent enough buttons on the mac remote.
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post #8 of 8 Unread 11-03-2014, 05:30 PM
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another mac=> windows user checking in here. I have legacy a/v equipment that pre-dates HDMI so I got a 2012 mac mini specifically because it had an optical audio out. I bootcamped windows 7 onto it and it's been running great without any issues.

like lovekeiiy, I also added a SSD and used the internal 500gb hdd as the DVR drive. The issues I had with it were getting the right video drivers. The default drivers work fine but they take a while to load during startup (and had an annoying issue where it wouldnt show me the video on HBO HD channels but would just play audio). I replaced them with another set of drivers on intel's site and those have worked very well so far. If you go this route, you will not be disappointed. It's a great little machine that can be repurposed as a windows box.

I even was able to reprogram the built-in apple IR receiver to work with plex/xbmc/windows mce using eventghost. It remapped all the buttons just fine but in the end i had to get an external microsoft ehome IR reciever because there just arent enough buttons on the mac remote.
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