but with the fast pace of development it is sometimes difficult to get an answer.
That's because even if you slowed things down to a crawl, there's still no one right answer for everyone.
Whenever someone asks about cutting the cord advice, I always find it hard to give good advice initially because there's usually something that's really important to that person that isn't always disclosed up front, something that only comes out later like, I have to be able to control everything with a single remote, I want to be able to watch ALL of my content from within the same interface, whatever I do it has to be so simple that my wife and child have to be able to control everything, etc. If there's one thing we've learned here discussing home theater on Macs is that everyone brings something different to the table in terms of personal requirements, so it is best to disclose more about your intents than less.
If I were in your shoes, I'd put the Mac Mini in for Live TV (if you need it) and time-shifting and an AppleTV for everything iTunes and renting etc. That way you switch between devices rather than software packages which is much less error prone (and actually sustainable). The ATV2 is still only 720p, however, recordings are still looking pretty great, IMHO.
I agree with every word of this.
If I were to download shows/movies from iTunes would I need to use Front Row (or something else) to view them?
I don't purchase any media from iTunes, but you may have a bit of a problem getting Front Row on a 2011 mini, and neither Plex nor XBMC supports playback of iTunes DRM'd content. If you plan to spend a lot
on iTunes video, I'd recommend getting an aTV2 even if you also plan to keep a mini as an HTPC
because, well, I love mine, it'll handle iTunes DRM'd video, Netflix streaming on the aTV2 is better, often better quality and always a better user experience, than on a Mac, add the many conveniences of AirPlay, add seamless integration with iOS devices, add the cool Apple remote app on the iPad into the mix and it's a darn nice little $99 add-on.
Either that, or just plan to play your iTunes store content back fullscreen within iTunes itself. Instead of dealing with a physical mouse or keyboard, you'll find a wealth of good remote control and screen-sharing apps that make things very easy. We always have an iPad on our living room coffee table, but iPhones and touches also work well as remote controls. Our favorite remote control apps have been mentioned often in the forum, I'm sure you'll have no trouble finding them and trying them out.
with the switching from EyeTV to Plex to Front Row would I need to use a keyboard or is there a remote that could do this function?
It's been a while since I switched from Plex to XBMC, but I have things set up to use just the little Apple remote to open XBMC. For me, it's that Apple remote or an iPad w/ various apps as remote control. It is easy to watch any EyeTV recording from right within XBMC, a few button presses on the little Apple remote away and very simple, just like selecting any other type of content. I used to watch EyeTV recordings with
EyeTV, now I only go into EyeTV once or twice a week to schedule and delete, that's it. I never use EyeTV itself for playback. (I'm happiest with EyeTV when I expect very little from it.)
This approach works for me because I gave up watching "live tv" many many years ago back when we got our first Tivo--now it is second nature for us not to know when anything is actually on in real time, we simply don't care--if switching back and forth between live tv channels is still a priority for you then you may be much more frustrated in your pursuit of cutting the cord and moving everything to a Mini. It also works for me because I off-loaded all Netflix instant watching to the Apple TV.
Clearly it's not a priority for me having one all-encompassing front end to control and access everything under the sun...Netflix, live TV, Hulu, EyeTV, all my dvd and blu-ray rips, iTunes music, downloads, torrents...so the best thing you can do is spend some time with the latest version of Plex to see how well it handles switching back and forth from the various apps and plugins that you value using the types of remote you already have, i.e. a Harmony, an iPad, another Mac with VNC, whatever. Then figure out what you like best and what you dislike, and you can only figure that out by actually living with it for a while. Then force yourself to live with an alternative for a while, if you start with Plex, next try XBMC (which I actually prefer to Plex, though there are plenty of knowledgeable folks who have compared these side by side and decided they liked Plex better.)
Then you'll have a better idea what might be a dealbreaker versus something you can live with or workaround. And we'd be in a better position to offer you specific suggestions and alternatives.