AVS Forum banner
1 - 16 of 16 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
12 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
A little bit of background - I've been running home-built HTPCs since the WinXP Media Center days, sometimes cobbled together and sometimes custom built as an HTPC. Last week, my year-old custom built HTPC died for the 2nd time in 2 weeks (I fixed it the 1st time, said screw it the 2nd time.) I'm tired of messing around with figuring out the best/cost effective/silent options, I just want to buy something that will work.


So I'm in the market for a pre-built HTPC that can handle the following:
  • HDTV recording from an HDHomeRun, HDTV playback from local and network drives - this includes recording up to 3 shows while watching a 4th.
  • Blu-ray playback with ArcSoft TMT, currently using v3 but I'm about to test v5
  • MPEG-4 video playback from network drives
  • Streaming video from the internet, specifically Amazon Unbox and "Internet TV" (uses Flash Player) in Windows Media Center
  • Audio out should be via optical, 5.1 or 7.1 channel, as my receiver doesn't have HDMI. Ability to do HD audio in the future (when I upgrade the receiver) would be a bonus


It doesn't sound like a very big list, but the biggest issue I've run into is Blu-ray playback; mainly because 98% of my playback is done by streaming Blu-rays from my back-end media server over a wired network connection, anything underpowered has major problems with this.


I've narrowed my choices down to the Dell Zino 410 (still debating quad-core vs dual-core) or a Mac Mini running Windows 7 because space, looks, and noise are definitely part of the purchase requirements.


I'm working my way through the Zino thread, and it looks like the new 410 series, particularly the quad-cores, can do everything I want. On the other hand, my new MacBook Air running Windows can also do everything on my list, and the Mac Mini has a little more power than my MBA so it should also be able to do everything I want. (But a Mac Mini running Win7 starts to creep away from the "buy something that just works" requirement.)


So at this point, I'm looking for some feedback from anyone with experience with either or both of these setups -especially the Mac Mini setup, as I haven't seen a lot of info on it. How have they worked out for you, any major drawbacks or deal-breakers?


Thanks.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
12 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
True. I also really like the idea of the built-in IR receiver in the Zino, that and the convenience of built-in Blu-ray are causing me to lean more towards the quad-core Zino, although the Mac Mini is sure sexy.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
934 Posts
I have the Min, a late 2009 model (2.66 D2C, 4G RAM). I think it can do most most of what you want. You can definitely do 5.1 audio. I have no HDMI audio on reciever, so I personally don't have experience with it on the mini; and only the new 2010 mini has HDMI output. I use mini-display port to HDMI adpater and toslink audio. I do a lot of HD video streaming from NFL Game Pass, MotoGP, NBA League Pass, Hulu/Hulu Plus, and some other sites with no problems. I even done Netflix and works fine to me, although the netflix devices are a better experience.


I have used OSX 10.6.4 and Windows XP MCE. I literally just got one Windows today (thurs 12/9) and haven't had a chance to set it up. I ran into a few bumps with the upgrade version; apparently they don't do the insert the previous windows disc to establish you had windows. I also have the HDHomerun (HDHR). I have played BR rips, but they were not ISOs, just rips there were 4 to 10 gigs in size. If you want, you can message me and I can let you know how things go when I get a chance to get things install and running.


From what I read, I haven't heard of any HD audio successfully being done. On the my model, HD audio can't be done because of hardware limitations. On the 2010, not sure if it is hardware or nothing has been written into the software to do it, at least on the mac apps. I haven't heard anything from those running Windows7, including boot camp. It's possible no HD on the new model because of hardware limitations (audio or video chips).


The Blu Ray may be your biggest turn off. OSX does not support BR beyond data writing/reading. No direct disc playback of movies. I've heard it can be done with MakeMKV, but it's not user friendly. Most just use an external blu drive. Many do this to rip BRs. I've read some have swapped out the internal drive and put in a BR drive. Either way, direct disc playback audio is limited to the core 5.1 audio.


I cannot comment on the Zino because when I was getting mine back in April 2010, I read there being problems from those doing what I wanted and it was pretty much driver issues.


Lastly, you know will pay a premium for the Apple name. For me, I did not mind since it does what I want and does it well. I wanted small form factor and quite.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
74 Posts
@meglet - what did you go with eventually?


if mac mini, do you record on it? do you use eyetv?


i have verizon triple play service, and i really do not need the phone from verizon and we use the video service to watch CNN. not sure if there is an alternative to live news without cable TV...
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
276 Posts
Really either one will work fine. I'd get the Dell just to save money. But since you have an Apple house and want to keep the continuity or just for looks I wouldn't go against it. For your uses I don't think you'll really notice much of a difference either way in actual day to day use. If you go with the Mac there is an external enclosure that matches it perfectly but I'll be darned if I can find it at the moment.
 

·
Premium Member
Joined
·
646 Posts

Quote:
Originally Posted by meglet /forum/post/19609018


I'm working my way through the Zino thread, and it looks like the new 410 series,

Skip ahead to the finish. The 410 is discontinued.

Quote:
Originally Posted by meglet /forum/post/19609018


So at this point, I'm looking for some feedback from anyone with experience with either

or both of these setups

I have the quad-core, 8GB, blu-ray, etc., Zino 410. I don't like it -- it's noisy

and slower than I'd like -- and I wouldn't buy another.


As a comparison, the design of the Mac Mini is far superior to the Zino and, in

my opinion, of any other tiny-form factor PC. (Personally, I would buy

anything from Apple but it's not because they don't make good equipment.)


You might look at this thread: Assassin's Simple/Beginner HTPC Buying Guide


There are alternatives such as assembling your own from parts or buying a

pre-assembled, white-box system based on these same parts.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
74 Posts
i also like Apple products.

they are pricey generally.


just that in the case of an HTPC, Apple is not there yet.

i will need to buy HDHomerun or something.

and even then i will need to subscribe at $20 per year for a service I am not sure whether I will use much.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
712 Posts
I use a mac mini (bootcamped with Win7) for my living room HTPC. I"m fine with old school 5.1 and it has plenty of oomph for any video playback I want. It has issues communicating with my receiver sometimes when waking up from sleep or resuming which means I have to do a hard reset. This is where the Apple form over function mentality really annoys me. The reset/power button is in the back, recessed flush with the body. It's a small issue in terms of useability, and you think it's no big deal. But for me, every time my fat fingers search for that button, I get so much rage. It's the little things some times...


just fyi.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
74 Posts
and see i am not so kicked about the idea of installing a new OS on a brand new machine. too much tinkering - raises the question if i am using the time right...


so thanks for the small observation also
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
934 Posts
I chimed in earlier on this thread. Still cannot comment on the Dell Zino, but it's been discontinued, so it doesn't really matter at this point.


I'm still using the Mac Mini as an HTPC. I have Windows 7 64 bit installed. Installing the new OS is quite easy really. All you need to install Windows 7. After that, put in the OSX disc, and under bootcamp directly, there is a executable for all the Windows drivers. It's actually a lot easier than searching the net or the disc.


I still agree, Windows is still the most ahead on HTPC front. As for recording, I assume you mean PVR, there are several programs to use. OSX, EyeTV is the most popular and most refined from what I read. I never used because I wasn't willing to pay $80 to try it out. I did try SageTV, and it was ok; I had some issues with 5.1, but I think it was just me and it's video player; recordings played fine in Plex with 5.1. For Windows, although some people aren't its biggest fan, I still recommend Media Center since it's no extra cost, and includes EPG with no extra cost.


With these super small form factor machines, if you want blu ray drive, you'll want to get an external drive. If you shop around, you can pick up a BR drive for cheap, around $100 depending if it can burn BR or not. It's possible to play BR from these drives either with BR suites such as PowerDVD, TMT, and so forth, or Media Player Classic and a codec pack such as CCCP, K-Lite, or Shark007. The later doesn't give you all the bells and whistles of blue ray discs such as BD live, it will play the movie. Here is picture of the machine I use in my office. It's serves as my office pc and media server:


The blue thing is an ASUS external slim BR writer drive, and the below are two Seagate external hard drives where I store my digital media.


Although, today, I would be a slight reluctant to get the newer Mac Minis. Even the refurbs are quite expensive. You can rarely find one near $500 mark. They're usually $700 or more. Although, I would suspect you can build one a lot cheaper; Assassin HTPC has a mini unit for about $550 prebuild. Although, I suspect the Mac Mini is probably the smallest footprint you can get access to, and may be the quitest.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
74 Posts
Thanks for the detailed thoughts.


I am hesitating to step into the world of yet another computer to manage. Am eager to get rid of the cable connection, but at the same time, wondering if I can achieve what I need with Boxee, Roku, WDLiveTV and such.


I understand that I will not have live TV recording. Although I understand that Channelmaster has a device that can record broadcast HDTV - I will need to put an antenna in the attic.


So I am wondering if what I need is

a Boxee, $180

(I have a WDLive - plays all video formats including ISOs),

Roku - for streaming channels - although Boxee should have plenty of what I need - $100

1 attic HD Antenna - $50 and Channel Master - $399.

Labor for the antenna and cable running - $100


I end up paying $730 total and I save perhaps $30 a month -> $360 a year.


It starts becoming not about money.


Anyhow, thanks to all of you in helping think through this dilemma.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
934 Posts
Well, you don't necessarily have to get rid of cable. You could go with the basic limited. Hook up your cable directly to your TV and see what the TV picks up. I use limited basic. We also have a TV antenna too, but it's only on one TV.


The Channel Master thing seems kind of pricey for PVR device. I wondering if you can get some kind of old TiVo or something similar and still use it without the EPG.


As much as I like the Roku box, I have three of them, I wondering if they might be redundant if you have WD Live, other than to put them into more rooms. None of the set top boxes are perfect, nor is an HTPC. The HTPC is the more robust.


A lot of which may best suit your needs is really going to depend on what you want or plan to watch. If sports, I would suggest going to with HTPC. One, no STB has watchESPN; the closest is the Xbox 360. I use my HTPC for online sports packages, and using a VPN lets me get around those pesky blackout restrictions. If you like Hulu, you'll need Hulu Plus for anything other than the PC, and not all content is available.


As for TV, I use the Silicondust's HDHomerun (HDHR2). My HDTV is from 2000, and has no ClearQAM tuner, just ATSC. So for me to watch HDTV from the cable company, I need a tuner, which I can get through the HTPC. I actually don't record shows on the HTPC, but rather my office PC, and I share the records on both machines. I find it best I my PVR machine on 24/7 because the Mini wasn't waking from standbye to record. Thus, assuming you have another PC, you may want to that PC to do stuff like that, and just find a cheap, small, quite for the machine for the home theater. You may be able to use WD Live to play those recordings.


As for money saved, it can be able money, but you have to look more long term. With the money spent, I figured I needed to have my machine for about year and half before it started really saving money for me. It's closer to two years now since I did get the HDHR. I got Logitech DiNovo Mini (wireless keyboard/trackpad/remote), HDFury3 (digital to analog video converter), cables (hdmi, toslink, adapters), and so forth. I don't count the office because I needed a new office pc anyway and got it a year after the HTPC. As a side bonus, it really did clean up the home theater cabinet quite a bit:



On another site, there is a thread on my HTPC experience. A lot of what I did, troubles, solutions, and so forth. It's four pages, but may be a place to read to start thinking about more long term and what you really want. Mac Mini HTPC tinker toy
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
934 Posts
I don't know. From the Mac subforum, it's still in question; I believe there isn't any software that can do it if the hardware is able to. I believe the hardware is there, but you'll need to use Windows 7.


Plus, my receiver is too old to be able to, so it hasn't been something I've been concerned with myself.
 
1 - 16 of 16 Posts
Top