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Old Apr 29, 2012, 10:38 AM   #1
hipnetic
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Join Date: Oct 2010
Interesting uses of the Mac Mini

I read through another thread where there was some debate as to whether the Mac Mini was a good value or a rip off (this other person thought that for the same or less money people should be building Hackintoshes). In fact, there are people who purposely seek out the Mac Mini hardware. For $550-600, there aren't many (any?) PC's this small and powerful. If you care about the physical design of it, I'm pretty sure there are definitely none.

I've seen where some people are using Mini's in their cars.

In my case, I'm interested in a Mac Mini as a Windows Media Center computer. You read that right...I'm not even looking to run the Mac OS on it! My story is this:

About six months ago, I bought a refurb HP Tower with Intel i7 chip for the purpose of Handbraking my Blu-ray discs. Around that same time, one of my two high-def TiVo's got fried. Since I had this new box and it came with Windows Media Center, I figured I'd give that a shot. I had used WMC in the past (when last I tried it it was under Vista) and thought it was neat, but back then my desktop was a bit too loud to use in the bedroom and there were no cablecard options, whereas when I got this new desktop there were a couple of external, affordable cablecard tuner boxes (e.g., the SiliconDust HDHomeRun Prime). After first testing things out with a couple of older USB ATSC/ClearQAM tuners I had lying around, I decided that the usability/reliability seemed good and purchased the HDHomeRun Prime. Shortly thereafter, I cancelled my TiVo subscriptions and got an extra XBox 360 (I already had one that I hardly used - I don't do much gaming) to use as Media Center Extenders for other rooms.

So that all has been working very well, but I'd rather not have that big tower in my bedroom. The fan hasn't been a big problem - I can hear it, but it's not a high-pitched noise, so it's not bothersome (my wife is the one who tends to complain about those things - she's a light sleeper - and she hasn't complained about it). But hopefully a Mini might be quieter still. Plus I'd like to dedicate the tower back to what I initially purchased it for (converting my movies to MP4 files). I could convert movies overnight, but then the CPU would ramp up and the fan would get louder - which would then probably cause my wife to raise an issue).

We've slowly become more of an Apple family. We all have iPhones, my company-purchased laptop is a 13" MacBook Air, and my wife has the latest iPad (I've been using her iPad 2 hand-me-down on occasion, but usually prefer to use the Air even for browsing, since I like to post to forums and prefer having the hard keyboard).

I'd love to see Apple or a 3rd party offer DVR functionality which supports cablecards (all channels, not just ClearQAM), and recording files directly as MP4 files, but I'm not holding my breath (eyeTV supports the HDHomeRun Prime but only for ClearQAM, requires a manual step to convert shows to MP4, and charges for the TV guide data). For now, under Windows 7, this machine actually works OK with iOS devices. I can run AirVideo on the box and watch shows transcoded-on-the-fly on any iOS device in my house. And I might decide to dabble more with MC-TVConverter which is a utility that can watch your recorded TV folder and convert (e.g., using Handbrake) the shows to MP4 files. The latter approach would provide better quality (and ATV2/3 compatibility), but would require waiting for the conversion process to finish before you could start watching the show. With AirVideo, you just have to wait for the actual recording to finish. Again, though, a better native Mac OS option would be ideal, but with Apple's push for iTunes TV show purchasing, I'm skeptical that we'll see them offer it (perhaps eyeTV will further improve their product, though).

If anyone else is doing something similar, I'd be interested in trading notes. But I also started this thread to hear about other unusual uses of the Mac Mini.

On a closing note, in regards to whether the Mini is a "good buy"...someone in that other thread mentioned that due to great resale value, you could conceivably update to the latest version of the Mini every year, for a fairly low upgrade cost (I'm guessing about $100).
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