So what do you guys think about the new Mac Mini as an HTPC? - AVS Forum
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Old 10-23-2012, 09:45 PM - Thread Starter
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I didn't put this in the Mac section, because I wanted the opinions of PC users too smile.gif I've read in a lot of threads that the new Mac Mini is overpriced and useless as a desktop PC, but folks seem to ignore its potential as an HTPC, seeing that it has a small form factor and all.

I'd rather have something running Windows, and I realize that some PC HTPCs can be had, but is there any at this price range and form factor that's not a Best Buy or Fry's POS special? I don't want to get some piece of crap from Korea for $300 that's gonna die in 3 months.

Basically, what I want to do is this ...

- Stream from online services such as Netflix, Amazon, etc
- Play movies off the hardware in whatever format I throw at it
- Mount movies from .ISO files placed on the hard drive
- Play emulators, basically everything up to and including arcade games from the mid-90's. Assume the Intel GPU is up to the task ...

So is the Mac Mini the most optimal device for its size?

And before you say 'just build your own', please keep in mind that I am half blind and terrible with mechanical things smile.gif
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Old 10-23-2012, 09:50 PM
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As a WMC user, if I were going to wipe the OS and install Windows on it, I would need to add an external USB CableCard tuner and optical drive for Blu Ray. Not worth the price when you factor all that in IMO. Better off just buying/building one encapsulated unit. Other than that then hardware wise there really isn't anything wrong with them. It would do what you want fine. The only thing you would really need to worry about is what storage option to choose. Any of the CPUs should do you just fine.
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Old 10-23-2012, 10:04 PM
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I admit I don't have any Mac fondness but it seems to me that a machine that's 'overpriced and useless as a desktop PC' would be even more overpriced as a HTPC. At $600+ for a stripped down one you could have someone build you a real nice Windows machine.
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Old 10-23-2012, 10:49 PM
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A locked down rip off like all of Crapple's products. Build you own. Much more interesting and cheaper.
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Old 10-23-2012, 11:38 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by olyteddy View Post

I admit I don't have any Mac fondness but it seems to me that a machine that's 'overpriced and useless as a desktop PC' would be even more overpriced as a HTPC.

Well, you're really comparing apples to oranges here. I could build a desktop PC that is more powerful and cheaper than the Mac Mini, but doesn't mean I'd want to stick it in my living room smile.gif I want something small and quiet, in a similar form factor as the Mac Mini, NOT a full, mid-tower build.
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At $600+ for a stripped down one you could have someone build you a real nice Windows machine.

Thought about that... I know a guy who builds them, but after I pay him for the build + the price for a Windows license, that's at least $100 on top of the price of the hardware. The whole package would have to be at least $100 cheaper to make it worth my while. As in, $500-ish.
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Old 10-23-2012, 11:49 PM
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This is my $300 build:

http://www.avsforum.com/t/1429850/my-dirt-cheap-300-htpc-build-please-rate

Win 8 is $15.

Cheap small and quiet. You cannot record TV or add expansion cards though - the price of smallness.
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Old 10-24-2012, 02:45 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gideon Waxfarb View Post

Well, you're really comparing apples to oranges here. I could build a desktop PC that is more powerful and cheaper than the Mac Mini, but doesn't mean I'd want to stick it in my living room smile.gif I want something small and quiet, in a similar form factor as the Mac Mini, NOT a full, mid-tower build.
Thought about that... I know a guy who builds them, but after I pay him for the build + the price for a Windows license, that's at least $100 on top of the price of the hardware. The whole package would have to be at least $100 cheaper to make it worth my while. As in, $500-ish.

I agree with you. You really can't build a Mac Mini for Apple's prices. You can get close. Similar case, similar chip. It just isn't the same though. If you want the HD4000 graphics you need the i3 3225 at least. So you can't get away with a cheap Celeron or Pentium. While not strictly necessary I like the headroom. It's also able to do MadVR which I think is nice. Then there's the build quality. I see people bashing Apple on this forum a lot. I don't know how many of them have actually used Apple equipment. It's just nicer. Everything is just more solid. You can literally feel the quality. You will not be able to build something as nice as a Mini no matter the price. I have Apple laptops, and I build Windows PC's. So I use both, and I believe both have their place. I just think that automatically bashing Apple isn't the right thing to do.

To the OP. I believe in your case the Mini would be fine. It should do everything you need. I think your's is the perfect scenario to use the Mini instead of building your own. Good luck.
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Old 10-24-2012, 09:43 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gideon Waxfarb View Post

Well, you're really comparing apples to oranges here. I could build a desktop PC that is more powerful and cheaper than the Mac Mini, but doesn't mean I'd want to stick it in my living room smile.gif I want something small and quiet, in a similar form factor as the Mac Mini, NOT a full, mid-tower build.
Thought about that... I know a guy who builds them, but after I pay him for the build + the price for a Windows license, that's at least $100 on top of the price of the hardware. The whole package would have to be at least $100 cheaper to make it worth my while. As in, $500-ish.

You can in fact build a an equivilent or more powerfull pc that is as small and quiet as a mini. There is this relatively new form factor that has been around for a few years now called ITX, maybe you have heard of it? This isnt 10yrs ago where you were pretty much limited to giant ATX full towers or slightly smaller mATX rigs. There are many ITX compenents around to match any style of small system you want these days, including ones that look exactly like minis, as well as barebone setups where you just need to ad proc, ram, and drives to. wink.gif
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Old 10-24-2012, 10:10 AM
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Drop me a PM when the mac can play CopyProtected content from my CableCARD tuner for the same price as my HTPC.

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Old 10-24-2012, 10:13 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gideon Waxfarb View Post

....
Basically, what I want to do is this ...
- Stream from online services such as Netflix, Amazon, etc
- Play movies off the hardware in whatever format I throw at it
- Mount movies from .ISO files placed on the hard drive
- Play emulators, basically everything up to and including arcade games from the mid-90's. Assume the Intel GPU is up to the task ......

Sorry some people didn't read your post thoroughly that building your option wasn't something you could do well.

More on point, yes the Mac Mini can do what you want. Is is the cheapest option, not even close. When thinking of the Mini, think of it as a laptop in the desktop pr a laptop replacement for a desktop. It's a bunch of laptop parts, thus is why the price is higher. Thus, when comparing to a PC, to be fair, you need to compare to a laptop.

I have been using a late 2009 Mac Mini (2.66ghz D2C, 4GB RAM, 9400M Nvidia intergrated video) and it works fine. Here's a picture in my theather; it's on the top shelf, left most device


There is thread on another forum about my experiences you may find interesting: Mac Mini HTPC tinker toy.

From what you're wanting to do, you can do most within OSX, and probably all of it. I have used Hulu and Netflix on the mini in OSX. I've also used other online video services such as MotoGP, Youtube, and CBS to name a few. Not sure about what emulaors are available in OSX. I'm sure OSX has come kind of codec pack so you can play stuff like MKV. Plex can handle most, but I'm not sure about ISOs, but VLC does. XBMC may be an option too.

Where you're going to want Windows 7 is if you plan on using it to DVR functions. You'll have to get an external TV turner (Silicondust or Haupagge are popluar). In OSX, EyeTV is the most popular, but it's not free, where Media Center is no extra cost in Windows 7. If you want to do direct disc playback of blu ray, you''re going to want Windows 7/8. A lot options for playback software. OSX has one program, and I've read it works, but can be less than desirable experience. I read it's possible in VLC, but it's really user unfriendly. OSX doesn't support HD audio, at least as of yet.

Although it's an additional cost, you can put together or buy a USB blu ray drive. I got external slim blu ray burner for about $70 after the discounts and rebates.

If you do decided to go the Mac Mini route, I would actually suggest going the refurbished route. They may be not be the newest models, but you can save a good $150, and they have one year warranty, all the manuals and disc. You just don't get box it came in when new.
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Old 10-24-2012, 10:22 AM
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I saw that list. I had a short list too about two years ago but as I learned more my list got longer. The Clarkdale i3 has been able to keep up with my growing list as I utilize more open source software and then added CableCARD tuner about 6 months ago. Will the apple be able to accomadate a growing list of demands on the system?

Some other points:

It doesn't have HD Audio? What is this 2009? This has been on-chip since then but OSX doesn't support it? Can you customize the codecs at least?

It also doesn't play ISO's or mkv's? Can you make that happen with free open-source software?

A mini-ITX build is still less or mabye the same cost but it does so much more.

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Old 10-24-2012, 10:31 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by C17chief View Post

You can in fact build a an equivilent or more powerfull pc that is as small and quiet as a mini. There is this relatively new form factor that has been around for a few years now called ITX, maybe you have heard of it? There are many ITX compenents around to match any style of small system you want these days, including ones that look exactly like minis, as well as barebone setups where you just need to ad proc, ram, and drives to. wink.gif

No you can't build something equivalent to the Mac Mini in terms of size and noise output. Certainly not something more powerful. I've been building Mini-ITX systems for years and you can't just get to Mac Mini level with off-the-shelf parts.

The new Mac Minis are really, really, really tiny. I believe they might be even smaller than my 3.5" external hard drives (WD My Book). Even with Intel's new Thin Mini-ITX platform, you'll be hard pressed to build a PC that's as small as the Mac Mini. You can get pretty close and there are certainly plenty of choices in terms of small and elegant cases (my favorite M-ITX set-up right now is the Lian Li PC-Q05B + Intel DQ77KB) however, unless you build your own case and device some form of custom cooling, you won't get to Mac Mini size and quiet. (and this is speaking as someone who wouldn't buy a Mac)
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Old 10-24-2012, 10:42 AM
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They run Ivy Bridge i5's or i7's with 4GB RAM so how is that more powerful than anything I can get off the self (or from newegg)?

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Old 10-24-2012, 10:53 AM
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Originally Posted by Gideon Waxfarb View Post

I don't want to get some piece of crap from Korea for $300 that's gonna die in 3 months.

So, you would rather pay $800 for something built in China that will not do what you want it to do without some tinkering?

Since you can't build, Assasin can build you one that will do more than MAC Mini for less.

MAC Mini should be sold for $200 for what it does. A $100 appliance from Roku, Logitech, or Western Digital will do most of the things on your list out of the box, except for emulators.

6 TV's in the house on FiOS and we only pay $4.99/month to connect them all!!! Power to the CableCard and WMC7!!!
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Old 10-24-2012, 10:53 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gideon Waxfarb View Post

I didn't put this in the Mac section, because I wanted the opinions of PC users too smile.gif I've read in a lot of threads that the new Mac Mini is overpriced and useless as a desktop PC, but folks seem to ignore its potential as an HTPC, seeing that it has a small form factor and all.
I'd rather have something running Windows, and I realize that some PC HTPCs can be had, but is there any at this price range and form factor that's not a Best Buy or Fry's POS special? I don't want to get some piece of crap from Korea for $300 that's gonna die in 3 months.
Basically, what I want to do is this ...
- Stream from online services such as Netflix, Amazon, etc
- Play movies off the hardware in whatever format I throw at it
- Mount movies from .ISO files placed on the hard drive
- Play emulators, basically everything up to and including arcade games from the mid-90's. Assume the Intel GPU is up to the task ...
So is the Mac Mini the most optimal device for its size?
And before you say 'just build your own', please keep in mind that I am half blind and terrible with mechanical things smile.gif

You can stream from the apple store on a mac mini. Netflix too.
You CAN NOT play many formats on a mac mini. You're limited to apple's proprietary formats.
I don't think mounting ISO's would be a problem.
I am unfamiliar with emulation support. As all things computer, Apple does inherently lock down their device. You might find support for your specific emulator difficult.

The small form factor and apple's stubbornness on open source material truly limit the flexibility of their HTPC solutions.

This makes the MacMini the BEST small, crippled solution on the market. Something this small and/or limited cannot be had at any price. And do some, that's a value.
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Old 10-24-2012, 11:02 AM
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Originally Posted by Sammy2 View Post

They run Ivy Bridge i5's or i7's with 4GB RAM so how is that more powerful than anything I can get off the self (or from newegg)?

The hardware on Mac Mini's isn't impressive. And it's not supposed to be.

For $600 you only get a low-end Ivy 2core chip? Mugatu be kidding me...

But then again, the Mini isn't supposed to be a powerful computer. It's supposed to be small, and just powerful enough to adequately run mainstream software. In which it does.

As with ALL mac, you pay a premium for the software, and get older less powerful hardware.
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Old 10-24-2012, 11:29 AM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by NorCalJason View Post

You CAN NOT play many formats on a mac mini. You're limited to apple's proprietary formats.

Why? Doesn't VLC work on it?
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Old 10-24-2012, 11:45 AM
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Originally Posted by Gideon Waxfarb View Post

Why? Doesn't VLC work on it?

"The Apple TV is limited to video in the MP4 format, whereas Mac Mini users employing the appropriate QuickTime codecs can watch other video formats like Divx, Xvid, and the Matroska (Mkv) container, or almost all other formats using an open source player such as VLC, without resorting to hacks. The current Intel models of Mac Mini can display video via the HDMI port at a maximum resolution of 1080p.[16]"

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mac_Mini

Using VLC + BluRay hack you could play a BluRay file, but you'll have no way of accessing a physical disk to do so. There's no physical media drive.

You'd need to purchase an external BluRay Drive to do so, then use the VLC hack.

Even if you go down this path, you will not be able to bitstream HD audio formats. Apple doesn't support it.
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Old 10-24-2012, 12:00 PM
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VLC is not too friendly in an HT environment w/o a ten foot interface.

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Old 10-24-2012, 12:03 PM
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I think it might be easier for people to understand things that a Mac Mini can't do.

As they come from Apple, A mac Mini cannot:

Play any physical media
Watch or record live TV
Stream content from the computer, to other devices
7.1 Surround over HDMI
5.1 Surround over HDMI (it has limited support over optical/coax)
Bitstreaming over HDMI
Convert HD Video Files on the fly, to stream to other devices
24fps without audio problems

With additional hardware (External HD, External BluRay Drive, USB Tuner) and software (Eye TV, XBMC, VLC), and some tweaking by users (hacks) some of these can be resolved. If you were to spend the time and money, you'd still be left with a Maxi Mac Mini that still cannot do:

7.1 Surround over HDMI
5.1 Surround over HDMI (it has limited support over optical/coax)
Bitstreaming over HDMI
24fps without audio problems

If you REALLY REALLY REALLY just want a little apple box on your shelf...

You could also ditch the OS, and install Windows 7 on your Mac Mini, attach your external media drives, hard drives, and tuner dongle. Install JRiver and get everything to work as a PC without issue.

biggrin.gif
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Old 10-24-2012, 12:04 PM
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I completely agree with NorCalJason


Can you build a Core I5 or Core i7 cheaper? Absolutely.
Can you build one significantly cheaper that has the size and asthetics of a Mac Mini? You would be hard pressed to do it. If you have to pay someone else to build it, absolutely not.

All other concerns are OS/Software related. You can easily install Windows using Boot Camp and those go away.
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Old 10-24-2012, 12:14 PM
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For HTPC use, you don't need an i5 and definitely not an i7 so there's a pretty good savings right off the get go.

There's plenty of aesthetically pleasing mini-ITX cases to chose from in this form factor.

BTW, I tried JRiver and hated it for video playback. I went back to MediaBrowser which also works inside an extender too. I don't think JRiver does that.

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Old 10-24-2012, 12:24 PM
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Originally Posted by vladd View Post

All other concerns are OS/Software related. You can easily install Windows using Boot Camp and those go away.

You'd then still be left with mediocre hardware.

Because of the small form factor, they use mobility processors, ram, hard drives and graphics. And not even the good stuff either... For example:

The top of the line i7 is a 2 core chip, hyperthreaded to 4 cores. And it isn't very powerful... It's HALF the processing power as a Desktop i7 2600.

http://www.cpubenchmark.net/cpu.php?cpu=Intel+Core+i7-2620M+%40+2.70GHz
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Old 10-24-2012, 12:33 PM
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Originally Posted by Sammy2 View Post

For HTPC use, you don't need an i5 and definitely not an i7 so there's a pretty good savings right off the get go..

Mobility i5's and i7's aren't the same as desktop units.

Mac Minis use mobility chipsets.

Mac Mini i5 is only a duel core processor.
Mac Mini i7 is only a duel core processor with hyperthreading (not even 4 logical cores).

Mac Mini i7 seems to be comparable to Intel's Desktop i3-3225
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Old 10-24-2012, 12:47 PM
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Originally Posted by Sammy2 View Post

They run Ivy Bridge i5's or i7's with 4GB RAM so how is that more powerful than anything I can get off the self (or from newegg)?

I meant more powerful at the same size. You can certainly build something more powerful but it'll definitely be bigger than the Mac Mini if you want it to stay whisper quiet. Personally, I'm willing to sacrifice the ultra-small size (I like small builds but I don't need them to be that small) for customisation and higher performance. There are plenty of aesthetically pleasing M-ITX cases close enough to the Mac Mini's size. I love my Lian Li PC-Q05 + DQ77KB + i5-3450S + 16GB RAM + Samsung 830 256GB build. It's really amazing how much processing power you can pack in such a slim case nowadays.
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Old 10-24-2012, 12:57 PM
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Originally Posted by Sammy2 View Post

For HTPC use, you don't need an i5 and definitely not an i7 so there's a pretty good savings right off the get go.
I agree but the OP didn't specify the type of movies he would be watching. If 3D Blurays, I wouldn't use anything less than an I3-3225 (for HD 4000 graphics).
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Originally Posted by Sammy2 View Post

There's plenty of aesthetically pleasing mini-ITX cases to chose from in this form factor.
I have yet to find one that looks as nice as the Mac Mini AND is near the size (7.7 x 7.7 x 1.4 inches), which is what the OP seems to want.

Let's assume that there is a case to fit the bill (please let me know if there is) and that it is about $100, there is a limited selection of motherboards that would fit that case but...

CPU: $145
Motherboard: $150 (can get cheaper but would never fit that size case.)
RAM: $40
Hard Drive: $80
Case: $100
Someone to build it: $50

For $50 more, you could get the I5 Mac Mini.

Now if size is negotiable, we could probably shave another $100 - $150 off that price.
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Old 10-24-2012, 01:01 PM
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Originally Posted by NorCalJason View Post

You'd then still be left with mediocre hardware.
Because of the small form factor, they use mobility processors, ram, hard drives and graphics. And not even the good stuff either... For example:
The top of the line i7 is a 2 core chip, hyperthreaded to 4 cores. And it isn't very powerful... It's HALF the processing power as a Desktop i7 2600.
http://www.cpubenchmark.net/cpu.php?cpu=Intel+Core+i7-2620M+%40+2.70GHz
But it is still (mostly) sufficient for HTPC use. HD 4000 graphics would be better though.

The main issue is that as the size factor decreases, the price factor increases.
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Old 10-24-2012, 01:07 PM
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By the way the i7 is a quad core chip. Though there is no reason not to stick with the base model for HTPC use.

Make MKV is available on Mac so there is a way to get blu-ray on a Mac albeit not full support.

Plex, which is a off shoot of XBMC can play any file format. It can also bitstream Dolby and DTS through HDMI, not the HD codecs though.

I really wish people would stop just spouting off incorrect facts. Okay you don't like Macs. You can do just about everything HTPC related on a Mac, just a little differently. Like I said before though, you can not build a Mac Mini. You can get close, and in the process your going to get awful close in price. Especially if you've got to pay someone to build it for you. Assassin's ITX build with HD4000 graphics costs more than the Mac Mini. I'm just saying that it costs when you try to go small.

So we've got the hardware. It was already said by other posters, just install windows. If you don't like OSX just run Windows. With Windows and a HD Homerun you aren't limited in anyway. This is probably what I would do in his situation. I just don't like people bashing the Mini who don't have all the facts.
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Old 10-24-2012, 01:08 PM
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Originally Posted by NorCalJason View Post

I think it might be easier for people to understand things that a Mac Mini can't do.
As they come from Apple, A mac Mini cannot:
Play any physical media
Watch or record live TV
Stream content from the computer, to other devices
7.1 Surround over HDMI
5.1 Surround over HDMI (it has limited support over optical/coax)
Bitstreaming over HDMI
Convert HD Video Files on the fly, to stream to other devices
24fps without audio problems
With additional hardware (External HD, External BluRay Drive, USB Tuner) and software (Eye TV, XBMC, VLC), and some tweaking by users (hacks) some of these can be resolved. If you were to spend the time and money, you'd still be left with a Maxi Mac Mini that still cannot do:
7.1 Surround over HDMI
5.1 Surround over HDMI (it has limited support over optical/coax)
Bitstreaming over HDMI
24fps without audio problems
If you REALLY REALLY REALLY just want a little apple box on your shelf...
You could also ditch the OS, and install Windows 7 on your Mac Mini, attach your external media drives, hard drives, and tuner dongle. Install JRiver and get everything to work as a PC without issue.
biggrin.gif

There is so much wrong here I don't know where to start.

I can do every one of the things that you say the Mini can't do, using OS X and Plex, which is free. Now, if you had said 'bitstreaming TrueHD and DTS-MA over HDMI,' I would concede that, as there are no drivers for these formats in OS X. But you can certainly bitstream DTS (and that includes the DTS core of DTS-MA) and DD over both HDMI and optical, and you can play LPCM soundtracks (and soundtracks that you convert from DTS-MA or TrueHD to LPCM) in Plex as well. I have auto-refresh-rate switching set on Plex, and never have audio issues.

I have a home-built HTPC with 2 Ceton tuners, MediaBrowser with MPC/MadVR, full 3-D, etc along with 3 Mac Mini's as HTPC's in my house -- all controlled with Harmony 900's. I find it telling that my wife and my nanny have had so many hiccups trying to get the Windows HTPC to work flawlessly that they just don't use that room at all for HTPC purposes.

My Mini's with Plex, OTOH? They never have problems. No fear. No phone calls asking me to 'fix' it.

What it boils down to is that the Mac Mini with OS X with Plex (and EyeTV if you want OTA or SD cable capability) will do everything folks want for an HTPC except:

1) Cablecard support
2) Lossless transmission of DTS-MA and TrueHD

So, if you have cable box or Tivo already (I personally prefer my Tivo's to my Cetons), the real difference is bitstreaming those 2 lossless formats. That's what it boils down to.
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Old 10-24-2012, 01:18 PM
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Originally Posted by duff99 View Post

By the way the i7 is a quad core chip. Though there is no reason not to stick with the base model for HTPC use.
Make MKV is available on Mac so there is a way to get blu-ray on a Mac albeit not full support.
Plex, which is a off shoot of XBMC can play any file format. It can also bitstream Dolby and DTS through HDMI, not the HD codecs though.
I really wish people would stop just spouting off incorrect facts. Okay you don't like Macs. You can do just about everything HTPC related on a Mac, just a little differently. Like I said before though, you can not build a Mac Mini. You can get close, and in the process your going to get awful close in price. Especially if you've got to pay someone to build it for you. Assassin's ITX build with HD4000 graphics costs more than the Mac Mini. I'm just saying that it costs when you try to go small.
So we've got the hardware. It was already said by other posters, just install windows. If you don't like OSX just run Windows. With Windows and a HD Homerun you aren't limited in anyway. This is probably what I would do in his situation. I just don't like people bashing the Mini who don't have all the facts.

Agreed. I am not a fan of Apple by any stretch of the imagination, but given the OP's requirements on size, asthetics and the fact that he does not want to build, the Mac Mini (+ Window or Plex) would be a good fit.
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