The Mac mini as a Media Computer

by Anand Lal Shimpi on 2/16/2005 12:05 AM EST
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  • Stokestack - Monday, July 21, 2008 - link

    You picked one of the worst possible DVD sets to use for comparison. These discs are NOT from film. They are clearly crap-quality encodes from lame, interlaced VIDEOTAPE sources.

    You don't even have to freeze the images to see that.
    Reply
  • p0wermac - Wednesday, June 18, 2008 - link

    http://www.ammesset.com/downloads/firerecord/FireR...">http://www.ammesset.com/downloads/firerecord/FireR...

    download that and the newest FireWire SDK's from developer.apple.com

    ~p0wermac

    Reply
  • Squidlet - Sunday, January 15, 2006 - link

    After building my Media Center and showing it installed with all of it's Demo
    applications. Most people I have show it to where blown away by this version 1.01 application.

    GenieCommands is a unique programmable software application
    that allows you to control all your applications and media via simple
    menus, in a theatre or lounge room environment. The Media Center
    is a computer like the Mac Mini combined with the Geniecommands software that
    provides an all-in-one entertainment system for your entire family.

    While attached to your television screen it allows you to enjoy your
    favorite entertainment such as; watch DVDs, record TV or pause TV,
    listen to music, share your digital photos, access the internet and more

    We have provided a complete set of demo menus to get you started,
    with links on where to download additional software. These menus
    can then be edited to suit your lifestyle or create a new one.

    GenieCommands provides a kiosk push button environment
    where users can get easier access to the best of what the industry has
    to offer in software. This is achieved through simple user defined
    graphic menus, to access all the scripts and to control almost any
    application.

    www.Geniecommands.com
    Reply
  • Squidlet - Sunday, January 15, 2006 - link

    After buiding my Media Center and showing it installed with all of it's Demo
    appliactions. Most people I have shopw it to where blown away by this version 1.01 appliaction.

    GenieCommands is a unique programmable software application
    that allows you to control all your applications and media via simple
    menus, in a theatre or lounge room environment. The Media Center
    is a computer like the Mac Mini combined with the Geniecommands software that
    provides an all-in-one entertainment system for your entire family.

    While attached to your television screen it allows you to enjoy your
    favorite entertainment such as; watch DVDs, record TV or pause TV,
    listen to music, share your digital photos, access the internet and more

    We have provided a complete set of demo menus to get you started,
    with links on where to download additional software. These menus
    can then be edited to suit your lifestyle or create a new one.

    GenieCommands provides a kiosk push button environment
    where users can get easier access to the best of what the industry has
    to offer in software. This is achieved through simple user defined
    graphic menus, to access all the scripts and to control almost any
    application.

    www.Geniecommands.com
    Reply
  • MrCoyote - Friday, March 25, 2005 - link

    INTERLACING...That's what you see in those DVD pictures. It's no specific problem to that box. It is occuring, because the software is not de-interlacing the video. It happens on PC's too. Hook the box up to a standard interlaced TV, and the "problem" will go away. Reply
  • fitten - Friday, February 18, 2005 - link

    #11, the Mac was not the original all-in-one. There were *many* machines from the late 70s and early 80s that beat it. Commodore64, Apple ][c, Atari XE, heck, even the TRS80s. Reply
  • michael2k - Thursday, February 17, 2005 - link

    "it's similar to how apple disable's the dual display screen spanning on a perfectly capable radeon 9200 to segment the iBooks from the Powerbooks. there's no good functional reason to not have this sort of stuff enabled."

    Well, I can think of two functional reasons not to have this stuff enabled:

    1) No need to test this feature before distribution
    2) No need to support this feature in the field

    Those two aspects of manufacturing and tech support probably saves Apple some money :)

    By extension, that also saves consumers some money too.
    Reply
  • Childs - Thursday, February 17, 2005 - link

    H.264 will probably be the next preferred codec for htpc on the Mac. I've been meaning to test it out on my Mini, but haven't had the time.
    Reply
  • triadone - Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - link

    a liked the review. i'm unclear as to whether a TV or monitor was used for the DVD playback. if a TV would resolve the interlacing issues it would be nice to know. most ppl interested in using it as a HTMac probably wouldn't want it hooked up to their monitor, but their TV for playback.

    it is good that Anand is pointing out the limitations of OS X's hardware handling of video. it's similar to how apple disable's the dual display screen spanning on a perfectly capable radeon 9200 to segment the iBooks from the Powerbooks. there's no good functional reason to not have this sort of stuff enabled. i hope that apple is ready to take on their effort to expand their marketshare with the mini. i.e.-a traditionally PC-oriented site like Anandtech starts covering Mac products and giving them some recognition as well as constructive feedback...let's hope they listen instead of just doing their own thing. they'll have to learn how to "think different" and integrate the feedback from reviewers to better their product. it will be interesting if apple will be as responsive to their product reviews in similar fashion to how video and motherboard vendors are. i.e.-poor review = swift delivery of new firmware or drivers. i hope that apple can do this as i feel it will have everything to do with bettering the already solid product that the mini is.

    btw, USB 2.0 isn't a good option for Mac as of yet, unless u r a powermac user. specifically i'm referring to el gato's eyetv USB 2.0 product. it requires a baseline dual G4 system to handle the USB processor overhead along with on the fly video compression. not cool for my 1.2Ghz iBook. =(

    like others i would have liked to see divx/mpeg-4 evaluations. i use mpeg-4 and divx streamed wirelessly from my 250GB PC drive to my ibook without issue. simply due to the HD limitation, one would think that the primary function of the HTMac would be to act as a front end for media stored on the network, or at least that's how i use my iBook around the house. :)
    Reply
  • jsbhburg - Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - link

    The combination of the new 10.3.8 OS update, the QuickTime MPEG2 Playback Component and the EyeTV 1.7 software has tested out great on an eMac G4 1.25 GHz with the same 9200 Radeon video card. No dropped frames on 720p and very little, if any, on 1080i.

    Try out EyeTV 1.7 from elgato. It is dramatically better than VLC.

    Joe
    Reply
  • unithom - Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - link

    In case my profile doesn't show my link, my diagram of my setup is at: http://www.unithom.com/avstuff/

    Apparently Apple has access to the hardware based MPEG decoding routines in the GPU but doesn't make those publicly available to folks like ElGato. So their DVD player works smoothly but EyeTV hits the CPU pretty hard. Note: it uses /tmp to store the cache as it processes, so keeping your EyeTV library on an external drive should help; less conflicting read/writes when on two separate disks.

    I borrowed a friend's 1.25 Mac mini to try out with my EyeTV 200 (analog) and EyeTV 500 (digital). The 200 worked fine. The 500 recorded okay, and played back 'fullscreen' (my 37" Sharp Aquos is at something like 1344 x 768 via DVI, dot for dot mode) pretty well .. maybe a dropped frame here or there, but nothing that made me freak out. Even if I wasn't happy with playback I could always use the Virtual DVHS app mentioned in the article; it played back the LOTR clip available on BitTorrent just fine, recorded and played back fine, and I also recorded from the EyeTV 500, edited out commercials, and played back the stream via VDVHS. All worked fine.

    I too was bummed that Apple didn't think to include a digital out like they did on their AirTunes-enabled Airport Express. But for now, I'm ordering the M-Audio Sonica Theatre with coax 7.1 output.

    re: storage space, my solution is fairly simple. Two 400 GB firewire drives. (One backs the other one up periodically, straight mirroring - but only once a day or whatever). I'm paranoid about losing data ever since I dropped a 250 GB external and DriveSavers pronounced it DOA...

    Re: remote controls. Watching live TV, even HD TV using EyeTV is a real pleasure. It has an IR remote. It lets you do 7 second instant replay and 30 second commercial skip just like TiVo, timeshifting your TV. People like myself are petitioning ElGato to include access to IR codes received via the SDK, e.g. the ability to map specific signals to run applescripts, shell scripts, and so forth. One guy on AVSForum wants to use an IR remote to output serial commands to his tuner and TV. There is already the IRTrans and iRed software available to do this as well.

    More eyeTV goodness: You can watch and record at the same time. There is an easy to use editor for removing commercials and then you can 'compact' your show (typically 1 hr -> 42 mins) to save space and junk the commercials. EyeTV 500 doesn't respect broadcast flag as long as you buy before June whatever-it-is. (And good thing, too. Screw them.)

    Originally I used the EyeHome, which is a sort of thin client; it browses pages served by a (sadly, closed) Tomcat server running on the Mac. It serves eyeTV recordings, ripped movies, iPhoto Library slide shows, iTunes songs/playlists, and lets you browse webpages on screen. But network latency makes it fall off. No on-screen 'time elapsed/remaining'. Can't get back to where you were easily if a program dies (happens WAY too often especially when trying to ffwd/rew, then hit play again... zoop, dies.) The interface is fairly hard to navigate.

    So I'm eschewing the eyeHome for a Mac mini. With a bluetooth module, and a wireless keyboard/mouse bundle, that's a far better remote IMO for doing other stuff besides EyeTV playback.
    (I already have wireless mouse/kbd and BT for an iMac G5 and though there is a slight wake-up delay and slight mouse-moving delay -- can't be helped, it's still really nice for a more clutter-free experience. For the living room, it'll be essential.)

    I found myself missing iTunes for playing music, iPhoto for doing slide shows, Safari for web browsing -- you get the point. So, having an actual computer in place of eyeHome will be nice.

    People keep saying that some kind of breakout box for the Mac mini needs to happen. IMO it's already here, it's the EyeTV. That plus external drives, and i.Link support -- just make sure all your devices have two ports (eyeTV does; other world computing sells the Mercury external enclosures with 2) or that you have a firewire hub, etc.

    Happy HTPCing!
    Reply
  • mlittl3 - Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - link

    Thanks #20. That would work perfectly and not take up too much space or add more noise.

    I was thinking about harddrive space with regards to size and noise. I guess you could buy a 100 GB 2.5" drive from a third party and install it. That would be pretty cool.
    Reply
  • T8000 - Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - link

    When viewing interlaced content on a PC, I usually do not use de-interlacing, as the slight resolution improvement is not worth the artefacts.

    Can the Mac also play DVD's without de-interlacing? And does that solve all artefacts?

    Also, with mpeg4, you are not unlikely to fit over 100 movies in VHS quality on a 80 GB PC/MAC.
    Reply
  • sprockkets - Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - link

    Interesting. I didn't know HD recording was possible. You can get an HD tuner card for a computer, but is limited to over the air broadcasts, so big deal.

    It seeems that there is a way then to record from firewire, but then again, with bull encryption. Like someone is going to pirate a 10 GIGABYTE recording over the internet!
    Reply
  • HardwareD00d - Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - link

    So what kind of software is available to let me record video through my cable box's firewire connector for the PC? Anyone?

    How much disk space will a 2 hr HD video stream take up? I'm guessing around 8-16 GB?

    Reply
  • Doormat - Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - link

    My thoughts:

    -as poseted by #20, use m-audio USB TOSLINK out to surround sound reciever. Works fine with the Apple DVD player.
    -Wait until video core upgrade comes along in v2. I wont buy it unless it handles 1920x1080P/30 flawlessly (yes, 1080P will be available on HDTVs this year, no content available but available as an input). That would require something like a 9600 with 64MB vram.
    -use the Mac Mini as a HTPC client box, having a server someone else in the house with many video capture cards and some sort of remote scheduling front end (doesnt MythTV or one of those have a OSX front end available?). Also, the large server could also handle the massive storage requirements needed for HD.

    I personally want to use it as a client for a Kalidescape-style system, plus to surf the web and play MP3s on my 61" DLP TV. I'm hoping apple does a refresh for the Fall/back-to-school time (with more video horsepower, even if I have to pay extra for it).
    Reply
  • paulbeers - Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - link

    bob661 -

    Yes true you can get an external hd. One can also get external TV Tuners. One can also get...yadda yadda...but all of these devises require more space and will generate more noise and more cables and more plug ins...etc. I even own an external drive enclosure. What Myth TV now will do for you is allow you to set a box wherever (close or office or bathroom if you would like) and that will do all the recording and can have all the loud 7200 rpm hard drives spinning away and it will never interfere with your enjoyment (if you have ever had an htpc in your living room that isn't virtually silent which I have) you know how annoying that proc fan can get reaallllyyy annoying.
    Reply
  • michael2k - Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - link

    You want something like this, mlittl3?
    http://www.m-audio.com/products/en_us/SonicaTheate...
    Reply
  • mlittl3 - Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - link

    Since the Mac Mini has USB 2.0, are there any external USB audio solutions from any of the sound card manufacturers like Creative that supports Mac OS X? If so, this would be a way to get 5.1 and 7.1 audio onto the Mac Mini. However, this would require a little more space. You would have to stack the device on top of the mini.

    I can't possible see hard drive space being a problem. Just get an external firewire or USB 2.0 drive like #18 said.

    Lastly, Anand, it would be cool if you could make a section on your website for people to send in photos and solutions on how they set up their Mac Mini as an HTPC. There are a lot of combinations and externals that could be used and it would be interesting to see what people come up with. The comments section to these reviews is just not enough.
    Reply
  • bob661 - Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - link

    #14
    Since the mini has USB ports just connect an external hard drive to the ports. You can get hard drive enclosures for $30-$40 and install any hard drive you want in there. No need for a server.
    Reply
  • Thresher - Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - link

    This was an excellent read.

    I have a PowerBook and PowerMac G5 and never knew about the Firewire cable box. I am excited about hooking that bad boy up.
    Reply
  • CrankyTodd - Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - link

    Anand,
    Regarding playback of HDTV Mpeg-2 streams, El Gato's EyeTV software for their EyeTV PVR products is currently far and away the best performer. The software is a free download from their site, and doesnt require you to own one of their PVRs.

    Incidentally, by default it EyeTV won't open certain filetypes... this is an interface issue, not a capability issue. Holding down ctrl-apple while clicking on "Open Quicktime File" in the file menu will allow you to select any file.
    Reply
  • MIDIman - Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - link

    Superb article.

    "The result is that playing a DVD eats up between 40% - 60% of the 1.25GHz G4 in the Mac mini..."

    This and the visual problems are huge fallbacks as DVD and mp4 playback likely one of the best uses for a mac mini. Granted, not including certain HTPC features (digital audio, CATV in) shows that Apple isn't necessarily orienting this towards such users, but I have a number of friends who plan on purchasing this specifically for this purpose - DVD player, Internet on TV, etc.

    IMHO, this issue alone makes mini-itx desktop-based systems a much more usable alternative. They haven't quite reached the size, but I think they're well within an inch or two.

    Here's a second hand for seeing mp4 codec captures and how the mini handles them, as well as some method of getting in on the nvidia hardware decoding.
    Reply
  • paulbeers - Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - link

    What about the new Myth TV port for Mac OS X. I know it just came out probably too late for this article, but it is VERY interesting. It doesn't make the Mac Mini an HTPC by itself (the mac mini actually only acts as a front end with a "server" on the network to do all the recording). This actually makes the mac mini even more interesting to me, as per I can build a cheap and basic pc with as many tv cards and storage as I want that could be built from the many parts I have sitting around my house (and be as loud as I want because it isn't in my living room) and have the mac mini in my living room (attractive and quiet) actually playing the content.

    I do agree with Reflex that the lack of digital audio out is a disappointment, and I am riding the fence right now as to whether to buy a Mac Mini or wait for Part Deux as per I am disappointed with the GPU mostly. I would love to hear everyone else's opinions on the matter.
    Reply
  • Gatak - Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - link

    As for deinterlacing... Well, that shouldn't be a problem if you are connecting to a TV which will render the fields as single frames (as all TVs do, except some new TFT and plasma screens).

    When rendering on the monitor it should be using BOB mode - each field scaled up to a full frame and then rendered at twice the normal framerate (as you have double amount of frames). Even better if there are some smart motion compensation features together with BOB =).
    Reply
  • AtaStrumf - Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - link

    I'm quite surprised you didn't even try testing how the Mac mini handles different Mpeg 4 video codecs, diffrent audio codecs, different subtitle formats, etc. basicly how it plays "DivXs". With there still not being a perfect set top Divx player I guess I was hoping a MAC mini could serve as one.

    I also missed any mention of how to connect a mini to a SD TV. We have said here under comments, that there is a DVI->S-VIDEO adapter available for MACs, but I think you should make note of it in your article since I'm sure many don't read the comments section or at least not all of them.

    I agree that stereo sound is a bit of a dissapointment, but I don't think all that many people have surround sound in their living rooms to really miss a 5.1 sound output.
    Reply
  • hopejr - Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - link

    #10, you're forgetting that the first Macintosh, which came out in 1984, was an all-in-one (and I think the Lisa was too). Reply
  • Reflex - Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - link

    First off, they neglected to mention the largest thing that keeps the mini from being an acceptable HTPC: Lack of a digital audio output. If you want to watch your movies in stereo audio, great, but thats only half the experience that DVD offers.

    Put me in the "Cool deal, but I'll wait for v2 crowd". I am interested but its shortcomings are just too much yet even at that price...

    #8: The iMac and iPod were not the first in their class. All-in-One cheap PC's have existed since 94 or so, I know because I owned an old Compaq Presario integrated PC(486 w/14" monitor built in). And MP3 players existed for several years before the iPod. I will say that Apple was the first one to do these things *well* and actually attract media attention to them, but they were not even close to the first in those markets....
    Reply
  • faboloso112 - Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - link

    great article...keep it up! Reply
  • Zebo - Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - link

    " had phone calls and emails from reporters and other news writers asking me if the mini was a threat to the PC"

    Apple is innovative no doubt about it, but if the Mini works for Apple then dozens of PC clones will come out with thier own PC Minis negating the threat. I kinda feel sorry for Apple sometimes. Always breaching new ground with innovative products only to be copied. IPOD, IMAC are other instances of that.

    Anyway great read as usual from the Master.:)
    Reply
  • Saist - Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - link

    I made the suggestion to ATi that they look at conspiring with Apple to add the Digital TV tuner used in the X800 and X600 AIW cards to a "new" mac mini, and port the multimedia center over. Figured that the Mac Mini would rock as a HTPC.

    Also, bubbled to the surface later, about just porting the multi-media center, and adding a USB driver for the USB TV-wonders...
    Reply
  • gekko513 - Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - link

    You can buy mpeg-2 playback capabilities for Quicktime 6 for $19.99. Maybe that takes advantage of hardware accelerated mpeg-2 decoding? Reply
  • msva124 - Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - link

    Are the first four paragraphs of the article in any way related to the use of the Mac Mini as an HTPC? Reply
  • OCedHrt - Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - link

    I want firewire on my cable box, I don't remember it having one! Reply
  • Jynx980 - Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - link

    The first screen on page 6 looks like hes dodging bullets from The Matrix Reply
  • Jigga - Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - link

    LOL, "HTMac" sounds like a character on some 80's TV cop show. Reply
  • Lifted - Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - link

    I want a Big Mac. Reply
  • yvesmailhot - Saturday, September 11, 2010 - link

    Used with eCrisper software makes a great kiosk with a large HDTV

    Yves
    http://ecrisper.com
    Reply

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