Mac Pro as HTPC - will it work? - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 10 Old 01-30-2007, 04:03 PM - Thread Starter
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Mac Pro as HTPC - will it work?

I'm planning on upgrading to a Mac Pro (probably after March when I'm guessing Apple will announce some new hardware models) and using it as not only my desktop PC but also as an HTPC. I think it should handle everything I want to do with it, but I'm starting to wonder... am I overlooking something?

Here's what I want to do:

- play audio out digitally to receiver via optical out.
- display video (downloaded 1080p HD trailers from apple, TV shows, and maybe BD or HD-DVD in the future from an optical drive) on my HDTV.

I plan on mounting the Mac Pro in a cabinet with all my other AV gear directly beneath my display and running short cables to all necessary components - Optical toslink to my AVR, and a DVI -> HDMI cable to my display (as well as a secondary DVI cable to my desktop monitor about 10' away).

I'm guessing iTunes stereo audio will go out the toslink no problem so I can enjoy digital audio.

But what about video? For instance, sometimes I miss a TV show and download it via bit torrent and would want to watch it on my HDTV. Couldn't I just open the file in Quicktime Player, pop it into full-screen mode and enjoy 1:1 pixel mapped video on my display? Or is there some hurdle there that I'm missing?

What if the audio embedded in a video file is AC3? Will that go out and be recognized by my receiver and properly decoded?

What if I end up getting an internal Blu-Ray drive and want to display 24p content on my HDTV at a specific refresh rate, like 72 Hz? If I just set my refresh rate on my display to 72 will it display it that way? Will the Mac Pro be able to play something like that back without dropped frames?

I know that Apple TV is an option now which would free me up from locating the Mac Pro so close to the TV and the stereo, but I'm not really that interested. It doesn't currently support the myriad of movie file types, or 1080p, and I'm real wary of wireless audio. One of the main reasons for doing this is because all my music is in iTunes on an internal drive and I want the best connection possible for listening to it. I'm sick of running a buzzy mini -> RCA cable to my receiver.

Sorry for so many questions, but if any insight anyone has would be really appreciated. Thanks!
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post #2 of 10 Old 01-30-2007, 04:26 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by [omen] View Post

Mac Pro as HTPC - will it work?

Yes it will.

Quote:


I think it should handle everything I want to do with it, but I'm starting to wonder... am I overlooking something?

Not necessarily overlooking something. But there are a ton of things you can look at.

Quote:


- play audio out digitally to receiver via optical out.

check/
Quote:


- display video (downloaded 1080p HD trailers from apple, TV shows, and maybe BD or HD-DVD in the future from an optical drive) on my HDTV.

Check. Except while a BD drive is available now, there is yet to be released a Mac BD or HDDVD player.

Quote:


Optical toslink to my AVR, and a DVI -> HDMI cable to my display (as well as a secondary DVI cable to my desktop monitor about 10' away).

No problem

Quote:


iTunes stereo audio will go out the toslink no problem

Yep.

Quote:


Couldn't I just open the file in Quicktime Player, pop it into full-screen mode and enjoy 1:1 pixel mapped video on my display?

Can do. And other players too.

Quote:


What if the audio embedded in a video file is AC3? Will that go out and be recognized by my receiver and properly decoded?

I think so. There are AC3 Quicktime codecs. But haven't played with outputting ac3 to a receiver

Quote:


What if I end up getting an internal Blu-Ray drive and want to display 24p content on my HDTV at a specific refresh rate, like 72 Hz? If I just set my refresh rate on my display to 72 will it display it that way? Will the Mac Pro be able to play something like that back without dropped frames?

BD playback is an unknown, as there are no players yet. Your refresh rate will depend on your HDTV. Shouldn't be a problem with dropped frames. Plenty of horsepower. But it hasn't been done publicly yet, so unknown, really.

Quote:


One of the main reasons for doing this is because all my music is in iTunes on an internal drive and I want the best connection possible for listening to it. I'm sick of running a buzzy mini -> RCA cable to my receiver.

A Mac Mini will handle all of your iTunes needs just fine. BD, on the other hand is an unknown for it.
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post #3 of 10 Old 01-31-2007, 01:39 PM - Thread Starter
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Thanks for the reply, wildrock. I appreciate the point by point answers. And nice quoting, by the way.

I guess I need to research how the mac outputs AC3 over toslink. I'm guessing quicktime just sends out the encoded signal and that my receiver would do the decoding, but I need to make sure.

Thanks again.
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post #4 of 10 Old 01-31-2007, 02:26 PM
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Agree with wildrock.

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I'm sick of running a buzzy mini -> RCA cable to my receiver.

what's a "buzzy" mini? Even the G4 mini, with a good firewire or usb audio interface, then digital out to an AVR--makes a wonderful iTunes lossless system. If you currently have a mini, and your buzzing isn't a ground loop problem, stick a cheap M-audio in there, go coax or optical into your AVR and start enjoying your lossless music now with what you have. (If you have a wireless network, another inexpensive option for you is to stick an Airport Express right there with your G4 mini--connect it via ethernet to your mini in WDS mode--and then use its optical minijack out for lossless iTunes playback. Works quite well, I did that for a year or two in a bedroom before I upgraded. And don't be so wary of wireless audio until you've tried the Express, Apple lossless to an Airport Express wirelessly and out the optical minijack is pretty impressive from an audiophile perspective.)

AC-3 will always be more a function of the software, the player, you'll have no trouble passing it through from the Mac hardware perspective. Even the G4 mini could pass AC-3 as long as you routed it through a M-audio.

You also didn't mention which HDTV you have, that'll be the real determinant anyway as far as how smooth this whole "connecting to my HDTV" process will go for you, and whether you can get 1:1 pixel mapping, what kind of hassles you'll have with overscan, etc.

As far as playing back the illegally downloaded video content that might have AC-3 embedded in it, I think you'll find that most folks just use VLC--it's quite a versatile player for that sort of bt stuff, and yes, it passes AC-3 if the codec allows it. (Apple, Quicktime Player and AC-3 isn't the smoothest of routes to rely on.)

As wildrock hinted at, the Blu-Ray questions are premature, but the first Mac to get the capability will undoubtedly be the Mac Pro, so you should be fine there if and when that ever rolls out.

Mac Pros are very enviable.
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post #5 of 10 Old 01-31-2007, 03:30 PM - Thread Starter
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Thanks for the input, chefklc!

Quote:
Originally Posted by chefklc View Post

what's a "buzzy" mini?...

Sorry, I probably should have been a bit more clear there. I meant a mini 3.5 mm plug to RCA cable - not a Mac Mini. I currently have one such cable running from my Dual G4's analog audio out port to my AVR and for some reason it's got some buzz on the line. I don't think it's a ground loop. I have had a ground loop in my system before (from my coax cable line), but installed a ground loop isolator and remedied it. I think it's just some kind of interference. Regardless of the buzz, however, I've been wanting to move towards a more robust audio connection for some time, and the optical out on these new machines is calling my name.

Quote:
Originally Posted by chefklc View Post

You also didn't mention which HDTV you have, that'll be the real determinant anyway as far as how smooth this whole "connecting to my HDTV" process will go for you, and whether you can get 1:1 pixel mapping, what kind of hassles you'll have with overscan, etc.

I'm actually in the market for one right now... lol, I've been in the market for over a year and my tastes and what I want have evolved (read: grown more expensive) over time. I'm eyeing some of the new 1080 50" Panny and Pio plasmas set to debut this Spring and Summer. I'm basing my decision on their ability to do 1:1 pixel mapping as well as multiples of 24 Hz (in addition to other things). The 1:1 pixel mapping for downloaded TV shows isn't essential though. TV shows are generally designed to be viewed with a little overscan anyway. 1:1 pixel mapping will really only become a factor for this Mac Pro HTPC when I start entertaining ideas of adding a BD or HD-DVD drive to the machine. For that, 1:1 pixel mapping is something I'd like to have. But, as you and wildrock mentioned, that's an unknown right now.

I guess one of my main questions has to do with how software programs like Quicktime, VLC, or Apple's DVD Player handle full screen playback. I like the idea of simply hitting Apple-F and having a 1080p QT Trailer displayed pixel for pixel on my display. I'm just not sure if any of those programs actually do that. Since, for me, it really only matters once I install a next-gen DVD player in my machine anyway... I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

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Originally Posted by chefklc View Post

Mac Pros are very enviable.

Yes they are. Thanks again for the input.
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post #6 of 10 Old 01-31-2007, 04:03 PM
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OK, that's what you meant by mini buzz, everything I speculated about the G4 mini, though, applies to your situation with the dual G4 Powermac--don't go analog out--you'll significantly improve things right now if you went firewire or usb out into an M-audio then digital out into your AVR. I know the built-in optical out of all the newer Macs is calling your name, I'm just thinking it might be a while until you actually take delivery...I can personally vouch for the Firewire Solo, it made an awesome iTunes and AC-3 (DVD) combo with the G4 mini, though many here used less expensive M-audio interfaces as well. I wouldn't justify spending $180 on the Solo now, but I see these for sale all the time, since they're no longer needed as people upgrade to newer machines. I wouldn't be surprised if you could also find an inexpensive used PCI card to give you digital out as well, since more and more folks are unloading their G4s. Might be worth doing something, especially if you're still a few months away from purchase.

And again, just word to wise, as you eye all those plasmas, try to keep track of other users here who have successfully connected Macs to them, and take note of their efforts. Let that influence and inform your buying decision.

And in terms of the one touch fullscreen type controls, I think you're going to have to live with your setup for a while, that's another one of those situations that's highly personal. So give yourself a chance to get used to the Apple remote, explore a coupla front ends and interfaces, remote software like iRed Lite or Mira, etc. What's going to be workable or enviable for you is bound to be different for me, etc. Plenty of guidance here as you get your feet wet.
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post #7 of 10 Old 01-31-2007, 05:43 PM - Thread Starter
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Some great advice in there, chefklc. Thanks. I'm a little reluctant to pour any more money my current machine, but if a deal comes along I just might change my mind. The M-Audio devices do look like a great solution for people wanting digital i/o via firewire.

Quote:
Originally Posted by chefklc View Post

And again, just word to wise, as you eye all those plasmas, try to keep track of other users here who have successfully connected Macs to them, and take note of their efforts. Let that influence and inform your buying decision.

Great advice. Yeah, every model and manufacturer has their unique oddities when it comes to interaction and I need to familiarize myself with them. Since I'm going to be eager to pull the trigger on one of these new models soon after they hit the streets, I'm going to try to do as much research on their predecessors, the current Pannys and Pios to see how they are faring with macs. Hopefully, that will give me some insight on which one to go with.
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post #8 of 10 Old 02-02-2007, 09:35 PM
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Install this AC3 codec and this will solve any problems you might have. I was about to order the M-Audio Transit before I found this little goodie. I've been getting full Dolby Digital EX and DTS out of my Onkyo reciever with it by playing my files in VLC (0.8.6a).

MacBook Pro 2.16, 2GB

http://trac.cod3r.com/a52codec/
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post #9 of 10 Old 02-07-2007, 11:52 AM
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Originally Posted by wtaymore View Post

Install this AC3 codec and this will solve any problems you might have. http://trac.cod3r.com/a52codec/

I am interested in installing this feature on a G5 tower. Can you tell me specifically which components of this download need to be copied into the library. Also, does the feature work with the Apple DVD Player?
Thanks
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post #10 of 10 Old 02-07-2007, 01:09 PM
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Make sure the MacPro is quiet enough to stick in your cabinet in the same room as the TV. I've got a Dual Core G5 PowerMac and the fans are LOUD. I understand that the Intel chips generate much less heat, though.
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