1080 and other codec solutions

Discussion in 'Apple TV and Home Theater' started by graff156, Feb 9, 2008.

  1. graff156 macrumors newbie

    Feb 9, 2008
    I'm hoping this hasn't been covered already, if so, sorry, please point me to previous posts.

    It would seem to me that Apple doesn't really have a decent 1080 solution (yet). I'm hoping someone out there has found something that works and point me in the right direction.

    I had an old G5 tower with a decent video card in it, which was connected to my 1080p TV. It was great. I could basically do anything I would normally do on my desktop. There were however a few shortcomings:
    1) It didn't have bluetooth, so wireless keyboard/mouse would have needed something to be added.
    2) The CPU/GPU were not QUITE enough to play 1080 video files. The codecs took too much processing.
    3) It was kinda loud to have next to the TV.

    Looking at Apple TV units, they seem to have some limitations:
    1) They are limited to 720 (not 1080)
    2) They will only play a few codecs, and want you to re-encode everything thru iTunes. (I loved watching movies in various codecs, like SD AVI files for example.)

    So I figured a MacMini would be the answer... They have the bluetooth built in. They have updated CPUs like dual core Intels.. They are quiet. Even have a DVD player built in.

    BUT when I went to the Apple store and tested playing a 1080 video file on a 23" cinema display, the MacMini couldn't quite refresh the video fast enough. So the movement was a bit "stuttered". I looked into the GPU built on the motherboard, and discovered it's the POS outdated video chipset. The older MacBook's also shared this chipset. (Intel GMA 950 graphics processor with 64MB of DDR2 SDRAM shared with main memory).

    With only 64MB of shared VRAM, it's no wonder the refresh rate sucks at 1080.

    I was hoping that Apple would update the Mini's, and adopt the new chipset from the new MacBooks (Intel GMA X3100 graphics processor with 144MB of DDR2 SDRAM shared with main memory). I'm guessing that this would solve the refresh rate issue, and allow me to enjoy 1080 video in any codec.

    I guess the one other problem with the Mini is having digital optical audio out, to connect to my surround sound home theater.

    SO.. In a million words or more.. I'm wondering if anyone can suggest a solution for playing 1080 clips in various codecs.. Other than going out and buying a huge MacPro. I'm trying to avoid this because it's too expensive, and takes up too much room.

    Many thanks in advance for any advice.
  2. northy124 macrumors 68020


    Nov 18, 2007
    Are you are talking 1080p if you are could you put the p in after the 1080p and 720p
  3. Cave Man macrumors 604

    Cave Man

    Feb 12, 2007
    Neander Valley, Germany; just outside Duesseldorf
    It's been discussed off and on.

    Apple really doesn't have anything dedicated for 1080 video playback. The only dedicated device is the ATV (at 720). The iPods might fall in here, too, but only in a moment of desperation. :)

    The NVIDA 7300 chip has H.264 decoding built-in, even for 1080 video. The question is, is it up to snuff and will Apple ever unleash it (software-wise, that is). That's why the ATV can have such an anemic cpu - the video decoding is done by the gpu.

    The GMA 950 doesn't do H.264 decoding and relies upon the cpu. By the way, both the GMA 950 and NVIDA chips have 64 mb of vRAM (system vs. dedicated).

    The clear example of the need for the cpu is that the Core Solo cannot even do 720 H.264, but all iterations of the Core Duos can: both machines have the same gpu in the GMA 950.

    I just finished playing a 1080 trailer from Apple ("Iron Man") and I have Safari, Mail and Photoshop CS3 running on my 2 gig 1.66 gHz Core Duo, and it didn't stutter at all. But those trailers are encoded at a relatively low bit rate to keep file size down (and to play well on things like Mac Minis, I'm sure). By the way, the trailer also has 5.1 AAC audio to it. I sure wish Apple would permit QuickTime to convert it to AC-3 on the fly...

    Actually, it only uses 128 mb as vRAM. The other 16 mb is used to manage it.

    The x3100 (GMA 965) doesn't do H.264 decoding on board either. But the Santa Rosa chipset has an 800 mhz bus, vs. 6xx bus on the current Mini. That ought to be worth something.

    Why is that a problem? I have my HT Mini connected in this way.

    Well, wait for a better computer, accept the lower bit rate of H.264, or get all your HD content in MPEG-2 (which the 950 and 965 can decode on their own). There are probably other solutions, but this is all I can think of at the moment.
  4. graff156 thread starter macrumors newbie

    Feb 9, 2008
    Yes. "P". The TV is 1080p. I'm not sure how much it matters compared to the numerous other issues.. but if this helps, it's progressive, not interlaced.
  5. graff156 thread starter macrumors newbie

    Feb 9, 2008
    Thanks for the detailed reply.

    I think the problem is:
    1) using a mini, you only get 2 channels (L&R), not 5.1+
    2) it's analog. less of an issue, but the optical would be straight digital, so my amp could process the sound cleanest, especially when converting to another digital emulated soundstage (like THX, theater, etc)

    Ok so I guess it sounds like I wasn't completely off base with my assessment of the current situation. I have way too much content in various codecs to convert everything, not to mention the loss of quality, especially if it needs a lower data rate..

    Thanks again for the detailed reply.
  6. apfhex macrumors 68030


    Aug 8, 2006
    Northern California
    The Mac Mini in fact does have digital optical audio.
  7. Cave Man macrumors 604

    Cave Man

    Feb 12, 2007
    Neander Valley, Germany; just outside Duesseldorf
    The digital optical port on the Mini will output DD or DTS to your receiver, which will then decode it. The DVD Player app does this natively and you can put movies into MOV format with AC-3 DD 5.1 tracks. It requires a round-about way to do it (Handbrake>AVI AC-3 passthrough>MOV in QTP; installation of Perian and a one-time mod of a plist file), but it does work. I have about 20 of my 5.1-intensive DVDs encoded in this way and the Mini plays them just fine and passes the AC-3 files to my Onkyo receiver, which happily plays them in 5.1 surround.
  8. EvilRob macrumors member

    Jan 22, 2008
    The current model of Mac mini has a 'combo' socket that outputs both stereo audio to 3.5mm jack or S/PDIF optical to an appropriate plug. Adapters for the small form factor optical connector to the more common and larger TOSlink jack are available at hifi stores and some consumer electronics stores (hopefully some other posters can share where they've found the adapters).

    There is a little bit of trickery required to preserve digital output from various container formats, and to make sure it gets to the output, but nothing too terrible.
  9. graff156 thread starter macrumors newbie

    Feb 9, 2008
    Audio corrections

    Thanks guys. I had thought a while back that the Mini had digital audio, but when I saw the mini plug I thought differently. Should have read the detailed specs showing this clever mini/optical combo invention. clever.

    Now if I could just get it to play 1080p smoothly. :rolleyes:
  10. Cave Man macrumors 604

    Cave Man

    Feb 12, 2007
    Neander Valley, Germany; just outside Duesseldorf
    You might give Perian a look-over. It will do a number of codecs, but I'm not too familiar with much of it (I only use it for its ability to passthrough AC-3 from MOV containers).
  11. graff156 thread starter macrumors newbie

    Feb 9, 2008
    Actually, I don't have problems having Quicktime play the codecs (which is why I think you're suggesting using Perian?), it's that ATV only supports a few codecs, so you need to convert files for it to play them. I'm trying to avoid conversions.

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