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Old Apr 21, 2012, 02:19 PM   #1
BizProf
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2006 Mini (CD 1.83) & 1080p: opinions appreciated!

Howdy folks,

I realize there are many threads that partially address this issue, but I was hoping to get some fresh ideas from the knowledgeable MR community. Thanks so much in advance!

CURRENT HTPC SETUP:
- HTPC: dedicated 2006 Mac Mini Core Duo 1.83, 2GB, Snow Leopard
- primary media app: Plex Mac client, Plex Media Server
- media library: external RAID drive (USB)
- connection: wifi via AEBS, 1.5 Mbps (slow, so limited use of streaming)
- display: Panny 50" plasma, via DVI to HDMI adapter
- audio: Mini optical out to receiver
- additional: Plex iOS for various iDevices, PS3 for BDs

I've happily used the above setup for several years, primarily for viewing 480p/5.1 rips of my old DVD library and other non-HD material. However, I've started backing up my blu-rays (MakeMKV on a much faster machine), and viewing them in the HT requires a lengthy Handbrake re-encode to 720p (due to the processing/graphics constraints of the old Mini). I can't see doing this for my 300+ BD collection Plus, I find myself reluctant to view 720p versions when the BDs are readily available (albeit marginally inconvenient).

THE QUESTION: In a nutshell, what are my options for viewing my 1080p content in the HT? That is, short of shelling out for a new Mini (my wife would kill me given I've bought a MBA, iMac, iPad, & iPhone already this year):

1) Would adding an ATV3 be a viable solution, enabling me to stream 1080p content from the Mini (of course, after the necessary conversions to iTunes-friendly containers)? Is AirPlay (from the Mini or iPad) an option?
2) Utilize the PS3 using a media server app?
3) A different device (e.g., Roku, etc.)?
4) Other solutions?

All equipment (except the AEBS) is currently housed in the same cabinet, so I don't necessarily need a wireless solution. I realize the ATV currently precludes the use of Plex (which I love), and HD audio remains a challenge, but I'm flexible... And finally, like most of us, I love to tinker, so I'm generally not afraid of DIY upgrades, etc.

Again, I really appreciate your thoughts, folks!
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Old Apr 21, 2012, 05:14 PM   #2
Jantelagen
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BizProf View Post
Howdy folks,

I realize there are many threads that partially address this issue, but I was hoping to get some fresh ideas from the knowledgeable MR community. Thanks so much in advance!

CURRENT HTPC SETUP:
- HTPC: dedicated 2006 Mac Mini Core Duo 1.83, 2GB, Snow Leopard
- primary media app: Plex Mac client, Plex Media Server
- media library: external RAID drive (USB)
- connection: wifi via AEBS, 1.5 Mbps (slow, so limited use of streaming)
- display: Panny 50" plasma, via DVI to HDMI adapter
- audio: Mini optical out to receiver
- additional: Plex iOS for various iDevices, PS3 for BDs

I've happily used the above setup for several years, primarily for viewing 480p/5.1 rips of my old DVD library and other non-HD material. However, I've started backing up my blu-rays (MakeMKV on a much faster machine), and viewing them in the HT requires a lengthy Handbrake re-encode to 720p (due to the processing/graphics constraints of the old Mini). I can't see doing this for my 300+ BD collection Plus, I find myself reluctant to view 720p versions when the BDs are readily available (albeit marginally inconvenient).

THE QUESTION: In a nutshell, what are my options for viewing my 1080p content in the HT? That is, short of shelling out for a new Mini (my wife would kill me given I've bought a MBA, iMac, iPad, & iPhone already this year):

1) Would adding an ATV3 be a viable solution, enabling me to stream 1080p content from the Mini (of course, after the necessary conversions to iTunes-friendly containers)? Is AirPlay (from the Mini or iPad) an option?
2) Utilize the PS3 using a media server app?
3) A different device (e.g., Roku, etc.)?
4) Other solutions?

All equipment (except the AEBS) is currently housed in the same cabinet, so I don't necessarily need a wireless solution. I realize the ATV currently precludes the use of Plex (which I love), and HD audio remains a challenge, but I'm flexible... And finally, like most of us, I love to tinker, so I'm generally not afraid of DIY upgrades, etc.

Again, I really appreciate your thoughts, folks!
I stream my media from a USB connected HDD via the new beta of Plex Media Server which added support for DLNA - the media server protocol PS3 supports. This is on a 2.66 C2D 4GB RAM iMac. This is my experience:

+ Plex handles media better than many other streaming clients, I was able to stream a 720p rip of Titanic stutter free. Admittedly, it was on the iMacs internal HDD which might have been the reason for it not stuttering, surely the USB HDD must be bottlenecking the stream speed.
+ It works on a limited network connection from what I've heard, but I have a steady connection (although my iMac, router and PS3 is separated by concrete walls) so I'm not sure.
- Doesn't support subtitle files yet.
- You have to have a pretty organized media library if you want it to work with Plex, as you may already know. Recognizing the new additions is a problem for Plex and you should be ready for several resource hogging library scans daily.
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Old Apr 21, 2012, 06:47 PM   #3
davidoloan
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An Apple TV3 would be the perfect solution.

I did this with a low powered windows pc for a while.

I found that you need at least 2 gb of ram. With 512mb album art took forever to appear. With 2gb it was much faster. If you can upgrade from 2gb I think you will see further improvements.

The other thing to do is connect your mini by Ethernet to your switch or router, and preferably connect your apple tv by Ethernet.

It doesn't take a powerful computer to send the data for streaming.
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Old Apr 21, 2012, 09:19 PM   #4
BizProf
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Quote:
Originally Posted by felixkry View Post
I stream my media from a USB connected HDD via the new beta of Plex Media Server which added support for DLNA - the media server protocol PS3 supports. This is on a 2.66 C2D 4GB RAM iMac.
Thanks for the reply. Your iMac is a good deal beefier than my old Mini, so I'd be surprised if it didn't handle 720p (and most 1080p content) quite well. Not quite sure if you're running the Plex Mac client on your iMac along with PMS, or if you're streaming to another device (PS3, aTV, Plex-enabled TV)?


Quote:
Originally Posted by davidoloan View Post
An Apple TV3 would be the perfect solution.

I did this with a low powered windows pc for a while.

I found that you need at least 2 gb of ram. With 512mb album art took forever to appear. With 2gb it was much faster. If you can upgrade from 2gb I think you will see further improvements.

The other thing to do is connect your mini by Ethernet to your switch or router, and preferably connect your apple tv by Ethernet.

It doesn't take a powerful computer to send the data for streaming.
Thanks, davidoloan -- I had suspected that streaming itself didn't require too much horsepower. But I've only ever streamed from the Mini to my iPad/iPhone via the Plex iOS client, which transcodes the content to the appropriate res. I've never had an ATV before, so I have zero experience with exactly how the performance of the streaming machine affects the ATV performance (e.g., album art, responsiveness, etc.). Otherwise, were you satisfied with the performance of the ATV & the relatively low-powered PC?

Unfortunately, connecting the Mini to the router via ethernet is not an option for me (different floor/side of the house). Actually, it is connected to a 2nd AEBS, which only extends the wifi of the 1st AEBS. I do intend to connect the ATV to the Mini via ethernet -- will that make a difference?

Thanks again for taking the time to reply, all.
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Old Apr 21, 2012, 10:49 PM   #5
davidoloan
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BizProf View Post
Otherwise, were you satisfied with the performance of the ATV & the relatively low-powered PC?
Very satisfied. Streaming of Video was perfect at all times. Never a glitch.

Quote:
Originally Posted by BizProf View Post
I do intend to connect the ATV to the Mini via ethernet -- will that make a difference?
You can't do this as far as I know. You have to connect the iTunes computer to your network either wirelessly or by ethernet and you have to connect the Apple TV to your network either wirelessly or by ethernet but you can't connect the computer directly to the Apple TV.

Quote:
Originally Posted by BizProf View Post
Unfortunately, connecting the Mini to the router via ethernet is not an option for me (different floor/side of the house). Actually, it is connected to a 2nd AEBS, which only extends the wifi of the 1st AEBS.
You will run into some performance issues doing it this way.

I have a 720p blu ray rip which is around 18gb. With my Apple TV wired to a gigabit switch, then wired to an Airport Extreme and at the other end with my itunes computer wired to the same switch, when I press the play button I wait about 1 second and it starts playing.

If I leave the computer wired to the switch with ethernet, but use the Apple TV wirelessly with the same Airport Extreme it will take quite a long time before it starts playing. This is OK if you know which film you are going to watch and you are not going to change your mind. But if you want to flick through your library and watch a minute of 5 or 6 films before you choose one it gets frustrating. It will play standard definition and Apple 3GB films wirelessly without too much delay but my own rips are always bigger.

Also your wireless bandwidth will already be reduced unless you have used ethernet to connect your two Airport EXtremes to create a roaming network.

Quote:
Originally Posted by BizProf View Post
I have zero experience with exactly how the performance of the streaming machine affects the ATV performance (e.g., album art
If you have 500 album art pictures in albums or movies, then the Apple TV will remember as many as it can. But as soon as it runs out of space it will delete the old ones. So if you click down through a list of 300 albums, all the art will be there, but if you then zoom right up to the top it might have to reload them. It seems to ask the computer to hold some of them in its ram because increasing the ram on the computer dramatically increased the speed at which they appear when the apple TV no longer has them in it memory. Also if you then watch a large film and then a large podcast it is very likely that the Apple TV won't have enough room to store all the album art so will need to ask for it again from the computer. It sounds like I am making a big deal about the album art, but it has a fair impact on how much you enjoy using homesharing. The more Ram your computer has the better it will serve the Apple TV. Using WiFi, album art pictures can take much longer to come than using your gigabit ethernet connection on the mini.



I think the only issue you have to solve is building up your network. Since you have all your equipment in the one cabinet if you added a small gigabit switch then you would only have to get one ethernet cable to the Airport Extreme (the 1st one if the 2 are connected wirelessly). You can usually get an ethernet cable down the TV aerial conduit. The mini is probably fine but again if you can upgrade the ram....

Wireless will be fine if you can encode the Videos to the same size as Apple do. I can't achieve the same quality without a bigger file size.

Last edited by davidoloan; Apr 21, 2012 at 11:08 PM.
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Old Apr 22, 2012, 03:58 PM   #6
BizProf
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Great insights, davidoloan...thanks. Yep, I've got some network issues to work out, but I think I've got a decent handle on my options. For the front end, I'm still deciding on ATV vs. Roku, the latter of which can more easily utilize my existing Plex media server...

Thanks again for the detailed response!
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Old Apr 23, 2012, 12:07 PM   #7
AdrianK
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I would highly recommend a Broadcom Crystal HD for your mini. It fits in the mini-PCIe slot (bye bye, airport) and will handle video decoding in XBMC. I have one in my ATV1 and it rips through through 30mbit 1080p blurays with ease, the 1GHz CPU isn't taxed at all. You will need to install drivers on OS X to get it going.

The main drawback though, is that VC1 content inside an MKV will not be accelerated. It won't even play unaccelerated without turning off CHD support in XBMC. VC1 inside m2ts flies though. MPEG2 content in MKV does appear to work as well (at least, my 720p60 mpeg2 HDTV rips play fine).

If the lack of WiFi is an issue, a small USB dongle should fix that.

Also XBMC is (I believe) the only OS X app to support the CHD. Though apparently VLC have recently added experimental support, not sure about that.

Honestly these cards are so cheap that they're definitely worth a least trying.
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Old Apr 23, 2012, 12:45 PM   #8
BizProf
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Originally Posted by AdrianK View Post
I would highly recommend a Broadcom Crystal HD for your mini. It fits in the mini-PCIe slot (bye bye, airport) and will handle video decoding in XBMC. I have one in my ATV1 and it rips through through 30mbit 1080p blurays with ease, the 1GHz CPU isn't taxed at all. You will need to install drivers on OS X to get it going.

The main drawback though, is that VC1 content inside an MKV will not be accelerated. It won't even play unaccelerated without turning off CHD support in XBMC. VC1 inside m2ts flies though. MPEG2 content in MKV does appear to work as well (at least, my 720p60 mpeg2 HDTV rips play fine).

If the lack of WiFi is an issue, a small USB dongle should fix that.

Also XBMC is (I believe) the only OS X app to support the CHD. Though apparently VLC have recently added experimental support, not sure about that.

Honestly these cards are so cheap that they're definitely worth a least trying.
Thanks, Adrian. This (and maybe a CPU upgrade) seems to be a viable option which I'm also considering -- particularly since the latest Plex build, like XBMC, now supports the Crystal HD. In many ways, I'm leaning toward this route, particularly since I favor the slick interface of the Mac Plex client (vs. ATV or Roku Plex channel, e.g.). I've decided to invest some time/resources into a wired LAN (long overdue) for the HT, so losing Airport is not an issue.

Again, appreciate the suggestion...cheers!
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Old May 1, 2012, 01:00 PM   #9
BizProf
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In case anyone is interested, I ended up installing the Crystal HD card in the Mini -- wow, what a difference. It plays most of my 1080p BD rips (straight up MKVs) without a hitch. Average CPU usage dropped from over 150% to under 50%. I can even hold off on a CPU upgrade for now...

I highly recommend the upgrade to anyone wanting to breathe some life into an older Mini-based HTPC (in particular, XMBC or Plex users).
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