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View Full Version : Which Mac Mini or Apple TV to get for HTPC needs ?




FrenchPB
Aug 23, 2013, 07:42 AM
Hey all,


I'll soon move into a new apartment in which my iMac will be in a different room than the main TV. As a consequence, I'd like to set up an HTP in the living room, connected to the 55-inch screen. I download a lot of sports games and videos in 702p et 1080p HD videos, and also TV shows and some movies.

Based on that, I'm wondering whether I need a Mac Mini, an Apple TV 2 jailbroken to install flex, or just and Apple TV 3 (to get the 1080p quality) but that'd ask me to encode all video files on my iMac and find a way to control play/stop from my iPhone if that's even possible ?


If I choose a Mac Mini, what spec should I be concerned about to have an HTPC that will easily decode very high quality video files for years to come (processor ? RAM ?) ? Which config, version, year should I get ? Maybe I should just wait for October to see if they unveil a new Mac Mini, unless you guys tell me I'd be better of getting an old one or a refurbished one since it will "only" be for HTPC purposes.



Mr Rabbit
Aug 23, 2013, 08:35 AM
I've been using an early 2009 Mac mini, 2Ghz Core 2 Duo, as my HTPC since they first shipped. Over the years I've upgraded it to 8GB and Mountain Lion but aside from that it's the same as it shipped. It's connected to my 50" Samsung through an HDMI to mini display port adapter and to my receiver through a 3.5mm headphone jack to RCA adapter. Content is stored on two external firewire hard drives totaling 3TB, though this needs to be upgraded in the next few months, and is backed up to an 4TB hard drive connected to a Time Capsule in another room. Playback is controlled with an Apple bluetooth keyboard and occasionally (if I need a trackpad) a Rii mini bluetooth keyboard/touchpad (http://gadgetsin.com/rii-mini-wireless-bluetooth-keyboard-with-touchpad.htm).

I use VisualHub to join files together or convert as needed, Plex to play media on the TV (and serve to the Apple TV in my bathroom, the iMac in my bedroom and to my iOS devices), Sickbeard to grab new episodes, SabNZBD to download content and Hazel to push files to their appropriate library locations.

With all of that said... I much prefer Plex on the mini than on the Apple TV. I'm running the original jailbroken installation of Plex from 2010/2011 on the Apple TV in my bathroom and it definitely works, but it's just nowhere near as smooth (in my opinion) as the full fledge player on both the mini and my iMac. I watch mostly 720p or lower content but do have some 1080p stuff in my collections, no issues watching any of them on any of my devices.

Considering my setup performs very well, with issues few and far between, on an almost 5 year old Mac I would say you'd be fine using a base Mac mini or an older refurbished/used model. I would upgrade the RAM to at least 8GB or 16GB if you can afford it, $80 to $170 respectively. Processor speed/type won't be terribly important as long as the Mac is less than 3 years old, if it's not much of a cost difference then you might get a faster processor but I wouldn't lose sleep over it.

blanka
Aug 23, 2013, 01:50 PM
The 2009 Geforce 9400M Mini is the first that works flawless as HTPC. Buy a 2009 or 2010 if you can find them for a good price any time, and forget about Apple TV's.
- Mini does 24p
- Mini does Blu-Ray
- Mini will run great and have up to date software for at least 10 years, an apple TV is pretty much useless after 3-4 years.

phrehdd
Aug 23, 2013, 02:53 PM
I agree with the others - the Mini has so much more in the way of advantages.

ATV - really a box to get you into the iTunes rentals and purchases. Limited in what it can play. The only way to play other items is a work around (Plex comes to mind as it has thoughtfully provide a nice one).

Mini - with Plex or XBMC you get the entire package - you can play various media files that ATV cannot, you get great forum support, you still have iTunes available (if you keep OSX or Windows on the Mini).

If you have 1080p files with HD Audio (such as DTS-MASTER) and plan to pass the audio to your AVR/receiver, then you will need to install Windows or Linux on the Mini to get the pass through. OSX by design will not pass through properly HD audio. If something has changed with Plex or XBMC to allow pass through of HD Audio without reducing it to core (DTS or Dolby) then please jump in and correct me.

The Mac Mini is a really slick little box with lots of possibilities.

linds15
Aug 23, 2013, 03:57 PM
to play on the other side of the spectrum...
consider sticking with your current iMac as a server and get an ATV for your tv. this way if you get a 2nd, 3rd or fourth tv down the road all you need is another ATV to get all your content served up.

downside is you have to convert all your media to itunes compatible, but once its done you're good to go. i converted about 2TB worth of video over a couple weeks, and since moving back home can now use an ATV in any room to get whatever i want to watch

jeff92k7
Aug 23, 2013, 04:07 PM
...the Apple TV in my bathroom...

Now that is commitment to apple products.

talmy
Aug 23, 2013, 04:51 PM
There is an script called PlexConnect you can run with Plex installed (on a Mac) that will stream to an unaltered Apple TV, taking over the Movie Trailers channel. Works great.
http://elan.plexapp.com/2013/06/04/introducing-plexconnect-an-appletv-client-which-thinks-different/

Here I use a 2009 Mac mini server to run the Plex Server (and other server functions) 24/7. I've got two 2009 base model minis and and ATV3 for entertainment servers.

Mrbobb
Aug 23, 2013, 08:55 PM
U can keep using your iMac for media server purposes, it doesn't need to be near the TV. Buy an ATV, and it will "pull" stuff out from your iMac, ideally with CAT5 but 802.11n/AC (with QOS) should work fine.

FrenchPB
Aug 24, 2013, 09:59 AM
It's connected to my 50" Samsung through an HDMI to mini display port adapter and to my receiver through a 3.5mm headphone jack to RCA adapter.

Does the headphone jack to RCA carry any HD surround sound ?
If using HDMI, can you plug your HDMI cable from your Mac and from all your other sources to your receiver (if it has HDMI ins), then from the receiver to the TV ?

Buy a 2009 or 2010 if you can find them for a good price any time, and forget about Apple TV's.
- Mini does 24p
- Mini does Blu-Ray
- Mini will run great and have up to date software for at least 10 years, an apple TV is pretty much useless after 3-4 years.

That makes a lot of sense. However, instead of a Mac Mini, what about the possibility of getting a MBA + Apple TV3 ? Could airplay stream 1080p video with good quality ? I guess no HD sound though... but I could use Mavericks new extended display functionnality to watch HD videos on the TV while browsing on internet on the MBA... that's a big plus.

If you have 1080p files with HD Audio (such as DTS-MASTER) and plan to pass the audio to your AVR/receiver, then you will need to install Windows or Linux on the Mini to get the pass through. OSX by design will not pass through properly HD audio. If something has changed with Plex or XBMC to allow pass through of HD Audio without reducing it to core (DTS or Dolby) then please jump in and correct me.

The Mac Mini is a really slick little box with lots of possibilities.

Any possibility OSX Mavericks can change something about that ? I don't see myself getting a Mac Mini as an HTPC to run Windows on it :confused: I guess I could just get a small PC and use it as an HTPC instead... that'd be much cheaper but no :apple:

to play on the other side of the spectrum...
consider sticking with your current iMac as a server and get an ATV for your tv. this way if you get a 2nd, 3rd or fourth tv down the road all you need is another ATV to get all your content served up.

downside is you have to convert all your media to itunes compatible, but once its done you're good to go. i converted about 2TB worth of video over a couple weeks, and since moving back home can now use an ATV in any room to get whatever i want to watch

I download a lot of sports games, very large files that'd take hours to encode into itunes. That could work well for movies and TV shows, just not with sports. As a consequence, that solution could work in the master bedroom, just not in the living room for me.

There is an script called PlexConnect you can run with Plex installed (on a Mac) that will stream to an unaltered Apple TV, taking over the Movie Trailers channel. Works great.
http://elan.plexapp.com/2013/06/04/introducing-plexconnect-an-appletv-client-which-thinks-different/

Here I use a 2009 Mac mini server to run the Plex Server (and other server functions) 24/7. I've got two 2009 base model minis and and ATV3 for entertainment servers.

Script is interesting, that means I could stream video files from my iMac to an Apple TV3 without having to encode the video for itunes ? Could 1080p videos really stream flawlessly, that's a lot of data going through the air ?


Thanks guys for those answers.

talmy
Aug 24, 2013, 05:16 PM
Script is interesting, that means I could stream video files from my iMac to an Apple TV3 without having to encode the video for itunes ? Could 1080p videos really stream flawlessly, that's a lot of data going through the air ?


Yes, iTunes isn't involved at all. When I first got an Apple TV (as a gift) the script didn't exist so I just imported into iTunes a few videos rather than my entire collection. Also, I had to keep iTunes running on the server, which I don't normally do. I try to avoid iTunes because of the five computer local sharing limit (I've got seven Macs here). No such problems with Plex.

I haven't had any streaming problems.

blanka
Aug 25, 2013, 02:54 PM
You can't tell the difference of DTS-HD or DTS core. So the Mini is fine.
Check this for the why:
http://xiph.org/video/vid2.shtml
The most important of BR is that it tries to be as close to the original movie as possible, unlike DVD which was more aimed at TV broadcast with compressed dynamic range and weird image telecine.

And to the MBA+ATV airplay question: it looses the 24p and DTS/MKV posibilities, so important for a good HT.