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questions about a mac mini htpc

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 
Hi,

I've done quite a bit of browsing on this and other forums about building a mac mini htpc. I.m not necessarily looking to build a full blown htpc right now, but I am looking for a way to put all of my BDs on a hard disc. I am attempting to replace the functionality of my Sony CX960 disc carousel. I have approx 120 BDs. I'm doing this since it does not appear that any more carousel players will be produced and I'm really hooked on the convenience that it offers. I was looking at a VidaBox Live NAS, but that entire system will cost at least $3000, although it does offer 1 button ripping and archiving. In the end it seems to be just a transparent Windows HTPC. I thought I could do something in the Mac realm that might be a bit cheaper and something I could ultimately have more control over.

Will this approach result in what I want ? I was going to test it on a MacBook pro before I bought a mini, but I thought I'd check to see if this is the way to go .

1) Use MakeMKV to rip my BDs on to a Thunderbolt or USB3 HD (is a RAID recommended to protect all of the time spent ripping ? )
2) Use PLEX to play the movies.

Any other better approaches ?


It seems that the mkv files are lossless, is this correct ? Also will I have access to BD menus at all ? If not, will I at least have access to and be able to play the best HD sound setup ? How about extra features ?

I was not successful in finding any cookbook type threads as to how to do this or what the result is like so any help or ideas would be greatly appreciated. I absolutely refuse to go the Windows route.

Thanks,
Dan
post #2 of 16
it's very possible. Your options are going to depend on more what OS you prefer to run. Beyond, what you plan to do other than the OP in the future. Mainly in the live tv and DVR realm. OSX is very limited in software. I haven't kept up on it, but I think EyeTV may be your only option now, and I don't think it's certified for QAM channels, just ClearQAM.

Back to your plan....If you're not worried about space consumption on the HDDs--internal or external--then I would just use MakeMKV. You'll have your choices on what audio you want available from what is on the disc. If you want to save space, you'll want to use Handbrake. I personally use MakeMKV and then Handbrake the MKV file to make it smaller. No need to run the optical more than you have to.

From that there, Plex is a very good option for your MKV playback. It's pretty easy to setup. Just need to have good naming conventions on your MKV files and directories. After that, it's just telling where your movies or TV shows are located. THe other benefit, Plex is mobile platform friendly, so you can watch on the go. And you are correct, no menus. You setup Plex to play HD audio by default;, otherwise you can change it easily once the movie starts in the "m" key and go to audio.

I believe XBMC is an option, but I have no idea where their OSX build stands. I mention them because XMBC is a bit more friendly for ISOs. I don't believe XMBC does menus either. On the Windows side, you can setup it up to use an external player that does.

If you really like the special features and watch them more than once, you rip the individually, and just setup another library for them. Like Amazon does with movies and movie extras.

That's the basic run down. I didn't get into settings and so forth. Personally, I would suggest Windows over OSX, not because it's so great. There are more application options, larger community, and in some cases, hardware options. Plus, I don't believe OSX side or either XBMC or Plex can do HD audio.

The Mini itself it fine. I believe for HD audio, you'll need a 2012 model or later. You may want to check on the video side. I've read there could be some issues with the IBM GPU chip and rendering video. Beyond that, get at least dual core 2.0ghz or faster, and 4GB RAM. If you're going to transcoding such as Plex or Handbrake (especially), you're going to want a much faster CPU; I would suggest four cores because they're CPU intense activities; not GPU. I haven't had big issues with Plex on my Late 2009 model D2C 2.66ghz 4GB RAM. But I can't do HD audio.
post #3 of 16
Thread Starter 
Thanks lovekeiiy
The lack of HD audio would be a show stopper . If I must do Windows I am going to wait until my carousel breaks. I have a very new MacBook Pro that at least I can test things out on before firing for the mini. Bummer that the Mac OSX is so far behind ( or the apps) , OSX is so much closer to the open source side that I'm surprised it isn't the dominate OS in HT. Then again I always forget how small a niche we are.
post #4 of 16
I have a synology DS412 with 4 3tb hdd drives it. That gives me 9tb of space in raid 5 (1 redundant drive) and cost about $1100. With that I'm running a 2012 mac mini i5 with Windows on bootcamp. That was another $800 or so with the SSD drive. Including a BD external reader, you'll still come in for about 66% of your cost. So far, the plex client is very stable in the windows environment on the mac mini, and from what I read, there should be no issues playing back lossless hd audio from mkvs in the windows environment, although I have not been able to test out this feature myself as my AVR equipment does not decode the newest soundtracks. But this is another option you can explore.
post #5 of 16
I just don't think there is much demand for HD audio on the OSX side of things. Before 2012, maybe 2011, the HD Audio was literally a hardware limitation because you couldn't send audio over HDMI.

Beyond that, I'm not sure why there isn't HD Audio on OSX. I know there are enough HT enthusiasts on OSX to create some demand on the Plex community. It's possible it's an OS limitation. Then again, there is next to know software to play blu ray movies on OSX either. It can read blue ray discs for data. You can use VLC and there is one suite (I've read it's pretty mediocre experience).

I know for some people HD audio is crucial, which is why I mentioned it. If you really want to know about HD audio in OSX, I would ask it in the Plexapp forums. You'll probably get a good answer, over my speculation.

You can pick up a cheap mini that will work fine playback for $500; just get a refurb. The cost that will stink, is getting a licensed copy of Windows, if you went that route. I believe a cheap retail upgrade copy single license goes for around $100. I think nonupgrade is around $150; there's a registery hack for clean installs or not actually upgrading from a previous windows. After that, it's more question about storage. I would bother with SSD unless you plan to shut down the HTPC. I just put mine in standbye mode. The question is going to be, do you want a file server or just use external drives attached somewhere, such as the HTPC.. Assuming 20GB per movie, you would need 2.4TB of space. For external drives, that's about $200 to $300 for external HDDs. That's just assuming you do just an MakeMKV which only changes the container. Obviously it's more if you do the server thing such as Drobo, which may be something you'll be interested in.

Although, I would suggest trying some of this out on your MacBook. Test the waters.
post #6 of 16
it is an intentional limitation built into osx.. something to do with DRM protection of the HD audio track.
post #7 of 16
Thread Starter 
Thanks everyone for your help. I'm just about to give up on the OSX route. Although I'm a lover of Macs, I realize I'm a hater of Apple. Hard to believe they can get away with as much oppression of technology as they do.
Dan
post #8 of 16
you dont REALLY need HD audio. In blind tests, no one could tell the difference between DD 5.1 and DTS HD, if they are appropriately level matched. I guess the only thing you'd miss out on is a 7.1 soundtrack, but if you dont have those rear speakers, dont let using macs discourage you otherwise.
post #9 of 16
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ou8thisSN View Post

you dont REALLY need HD audio. In blind tests, no one could tell the difference between DD 5.1 and DTS HD, if they are appropriately level matched. I guess the only thing you'd miss out on is a 7.1 soundtrack, but if you dont have those rear speakers, dont let using macs discourage you otherwise.

Thanks I appreciate your comment and I do not disagree with the NEED part. I doubt with my aging ears that I could tell the difference either, however I have a 9.1 capable system with front high speakers. There is no way I'm going to spend hundreds of $$ and take a hit on the audio quality. Its a matter of principal I guess smile.gif
As a blatant contradiction to what I stated earlier, I guess I'm going to bite the bullet and either use bootcamp on a mini or go the pc route.
post #10 of 16
if you're going to use the machine specifically as an HTPC, I would consider just installing Windows only. After the initial install, put in your OSX disc, and run the bootcamp to put in all the missing drivers. The only thing I don't like is that Apple doesn't update the NVidia drivers very frequently, so I download them from NVidia, uninstall the current ones, and install the downloaded ones.

Maybe the IBM video drivers, for the later Minis, are updated more frequently.

Overall, if you have a little tech savvy, it's not a hard process. If you've only been using OSX for a few years, the little differences between the two may drive you nuts. I'm a twenty plus year WIndows user, and went OSX only on my HTPC when I first got it. The little things drove me up the wall. Between no software to use HDHomerun, and removing programs didn't uninstall everything, I had enough. Using the OS wasn't that hard overall.
post #11 of 16
Thread Starter 
I received all the equipment and contrary to what I stated earlier, I set up the mini on OSX instead of windows. I have the mini, a BD burner, an old monitor and a Thunderbolt Drobo system . I rip my BDs to the Drobo using Makemkv and use Plex to play them via hdmi to my HT system. I have the apple remote buttons programmed into my URC mx980 remote and the entire system is almost as transparent as the BD changer was. I'm hoping that someday OSX will support HD audio. If not and I miss it , I can always go the Windows route later on. So far I am quite pleased with the system and its nice not having to wait for BDs to load, skip chapters, etc. another perc is that the Plex UI is a big improvement over that of the Sony changer.
Thanks to all !
post #12 of 16
the plex application is fantastic. Glad it's working for you, it was never smooth for me in OSX. Whenever I'd play a mkv file, then stop, and try to play another one, my pre-amp would lose audio sync and I'd have to manually select the audio track in the next mkv file, and if i changed audio files too quickly, plex would crash. So far this is not an issue for plex in windows, but I would have liked to be able to also use plex in osx. Did you get a mac mini with a SSD drive? If not, you should definitely consider getting that put in. It makes everything instantly available. My mini boots in about 8 seconds and turns off in 2 seconds, and everything inside osx is just as fast.
post #13 of 16
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ou8thisSN View Post

the plex application is fantastic. Glad it's working for you, it was never smooth for me in OSX. Whenever I'd play a mkv file, then stop, and try to play another one, my pre-amp would lose audio sync and I'd have to manually select the audio track in the next mkv file, and if i changed audio files too quickly, plex would crash. So far this is not an issue for plex in windows, but I would have liked to be able to also use plex in osx. Did you get a mac mini with a SSD drive? If not, you should definitely consider getting that put in. It makes everything instantly available. My mini boots in about 8 seconds and turns off in 2 seconds, and everything inside osx is just as fast.


Thanks,

I'm not having any issues so far, knock on wood ! Yes, I did get the SSD in the mini... I knew I wanted that. Luckily though, I havent had to reboot in several days. I hope my luck continues !
post #14 of 16
I'm am long time Windows Media Center man, but have been dabbling with a 2012 Mac Mini for several months. My issue is that there is no true full media experience on the Mac. There was something on Snow Leopard (similar to ATV's interface- front row or something), but nothing like Media Center:
Live OTA TV, Netflix, plugins (MediaBrowser), and music.

I have eyeTV with HDHomerun on the mini which is cool - I can airplay live tv to other apple tv's with an iPad, but thats about it. I f I want to watch movies or music, it's back to pulling out the keyboard and mouse )okay maybe an iPhone or iPad) but still too complex compared to my W7MC. I have an Asrock Vision 3d i3 for my true media center controlled by a Logitech Harmony One. I also have a Ceton Echo (working great). iPad apps: remote potato for watching recorded shows and other m4v movies.

I'm 99% sure the mac mini has 5.1 surround out the S/PDIF, so that's not a problem for my needs. I'm guessing that when you guys said "HD Audio" that means DTS HD (7.1 or 9.1)?

I just love the small, quietness of the mini, my AsRock is starting to chug along in its 3rd year - granted it has been a true media center work-horse. I've even installed W7 on the mini, but was perturbed when the built in remote sensor wouldnt work with my Harmony One which meant one more peripheral hanging off the Mini.
It's like no matter what I'm not getting my cake and eating it too.

I wonder why no one makes a media center software competitor for OS X? I know that ATV is killing it these days, but surely not everyone is only downloading movies for media - there's got to be more cord cutters out there. Maybe I just want a sexy, quiet, small Windows Media Center box???
post #15 of 16
Commercial software? No. I've been running MythTV on OS X for 5+ years. My interest is the PVR and Myth excels at that (but no cable card). Myth also handles movies quite nicely and everything is designed for a 10 foot interface with multiple themes available. The install process, however, is anything but one-click. One has to be willing to dive into the command line and spend some time closely following a multi-step guide.

http://www.mythtv.org/

Craig
post #16 of 16
I've been "playing" with my MacMini as an HTPC in my bedroom. I am using XBMC as a frontend (great for movies and TV series on my NAS) and is also able to play live TV from my HDHomerun Prime (note - my cablecard content is largely Copy Freely). The setup with XBMC is relatively straightforward, other than having to be careful with the build of XBMC since one of the updates to v12 broke DLNA playing from the HDHRPrime. Supposedly, the issue will be fixed soon in an update (perhaps v12.3), but in the meantime you can certain newer custom or nightly builds of XBMC to have functionality with the HDHR Prime.

Below is a link to the thread discussing v12.1 breaking DLNA capability:

http://trac.xbmc.org/ticket/14204

In the same thread, here is link to the build of XBMC that I am using that has an integrated fix:

http://mirrors.xbmc.org/test-builds/osx/xbmc-20130430-61dbc14-curl_range_rework-i386.dmg

Note - I wish that I could use Plex for the live TV, but right now I've had a problem like others where Plex is able to immediately tune one channel, but locks up all tuners on the HDHR and is unable to switch channels. Assuming Plex ever fixes the problem, I will probably move from XBMC to Plex.
Edited by tcs2tx - 6/4/13 at 12:22pm
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