Apple TV vs. Mac Mini

Discussion in 'Apple TV and Home Theater' started by alecp763, Nov 2, 2010.

  1. alecp763 macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Nov 2, 2010
    Location:
    Minneapolis, MN
    #1
    Hi, I'm new here but have done alot of research on this already and need some help/opinions.

    I currently have a 13" Macbook pro, and am using a really long VGA cable to connect it to my computer to watch movies, tv shows, and listen to music. I want to get either an apple tv or a mac mini to leave connected to my tv so I don't have to use the cable (which drains battery life, requires my mac to be on, etc.) I'm just not sure which is best.

    I have all of my music, movies, and tv shows in itunes-compatible formats imported and organized in itunes. I use hulu some, and have netflix (but just use my xbox360 for that at the moment.) I'm getting an iphone soon (I used to have an ipod touch, so I'm not new there either), and am hoping to take advantage of the remote app and possibly the "Airplay" feature that apple is (supposedly) releasing soon.

    It seems like I have three choices:

    1. Mac Mini: More expensive, but it can do just about everything. I would prefer to just do this and just save up some more money to afford it, but the major problem is itunes syncing. Is there a way to sync the library on my macbook and the library on my mini so that everything (playcounts, artwork, ratings, etc) is in sync? I've found some possible options but haven't been able to find an absolute solution.

    2. Apple TV (1st gen): Seems like it would work for music/movies/tv shows, just not hulu/netflix, which isn't a huge deal, but would be nice. I would have to do a hardware-hack and install a larger (probably 500gb) harddrive in it. Is there any way to use hulu/netflix and still sync normally to itunes? I like the synchronization option that treats the TV like an ipod.

    3. Apple TV (2nd gen): Since my main computer is my laptop, (from what I can tell) this is not an option because the 2nd gen only plays music via network streaming, and I would like to have my laptop asleep and still listen to music/watch tv.


    Thanks for your help, it is greatly appreciated!
     
  2. optophobia macrumors 6502a

    optophobia

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2007
    Location:
    Hudson MA
    #2
    you are correct. The third option would be no good for you at all.
    So now you are down to 2 options, straight off the bat.
     
  3. Omne666 macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Sep 16, 2010
    Location:
    Melbourne, Australia
    #3
    Certainly the mac mini is the more versatile solution, but having all three, the front row interface on the mini is poor, the atv2 as you say is already out.
    ID pick up a used atv1, atvflash it, and throw on an external hard drive. It'll give you hulu and a lot more.
     
  4. jav6454 macrumors P6

    jav6454

    Joined:
    Nov 14, 2007
    Location:
    1 Geostationary Tower Plaza
    #4
    I'll take the Mini... Has HDD where I can actually save the movies. Also, I get to buy and keep them.
     
  5. Bokes macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Mar 4, 2008
    #5
    you can load all your media onto the mini- including non-itune friendly files- and play them down through your HT. If you do not want to turn on the television to play music- Boot up the MBP and control the mini with screen share.

    You can also throw a huge external on the mini.
     
  6. Omne666 macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Sep 16, 2010
    Location:
    Melbourne, Australia
    #6
    Id still go the atv1...atvflash it, and its no less then the mini, but with a helluva better interface. It'll play all those other media files by adding the necessary codec (like the mini), and you can purchase content on it from iTunes store and it'll store it also.
     
  7. Ballis macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    May 27, 2008
    Location:
    Oslo, Norway
    #7
    Id check out Plex if I were you (www.plexapp.com)
    It uses a mediaserver backend and will syncronize and centralize your library for all osx and ios devices, meaning you will be able to access your audio and video even on the go, over 3G with your new iPhone. Official support is likely to come to the new Apple TV once Apple launches an App store for it. Meanwhile, you can jailbreak it and use a port of a current ios version (Klexi) soon to be availiable. Check out the video below to see Plex running on the new Apple TV.

    http://ambertation.de/de/klexi/img/PLEX_on_ATV_2.m4v

    For ios devices, it relies on the mac hosting the library reencoding on the fly though, so this sollution comes with a loss in quality.
     
  8. HE15MAN macrumors 6502a

    HE15MAN

    Joined:
    Sep 3, 2009
    Location:
    Florida's Treasure Coast
    #8
    I went with the Mac Mini, 2 TB external, and Plex. Could not be happier. Had 10-15 friends over at multiple times and they all think it is about the coolest thing ever and two has since bought their own.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2mVY-SnyB4
     
  9. patrick0brien macrumors 68040

    patrick0brien

    Joined:
    Oct 24, 2002
    Location:
    The West Loop
    #9
    All good reasons to have a full Mac (mini) over an ATV, except one. You cannot rent in HD on the Mini. And many movies and TV shows you cannot buy in HD on the Mini.
     
  10. maturola macrumors 68040

    maturola

    Joined:
    Oct 29, 2007
    Location:
    Atlanta, GA
    #10
    For what it worth, I got a setup equivalent to having both and it works so great.

    I got a old dell hackintosh running SL Blueray Drive and about 2 TB of storage and just got an ATV2. I used my Hackintosh for Hulu, and to storage all my Media (TV Shows, Ripped DVDs and BlueRays), and I got Netflix and i can watch all my shows using the ATV2.

    Got rid of cable 2 months ago and I haven't miss it yet.
     
  11. alecp763 thread starter macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Nov 2, 2010
    Location:
    Minneapolis, MN
    #11
    Thanks for the responses, I got a couple questions:

    With the atv1, using atvflash as someone suggested, would I still be able to sync the atv normally with itunes to preserve and update playcounts/ratings? That's an important part of itunes for the way I use it. If I can, that seems like it would make the most sense.

    With a mini, I have the same problem, except it seems to like it would be even harder to keep ratings and plays synced to a separate computer. Does plex save the data and sync to both computers?
     
  12. dgalvan123 macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Feb 16, 2008
    #12
    Some references:

    Chris Breen of Macworld has done a bunch of articles dealing with this type of issue.

    http://www.macworld.com/article/146755/2010/02/boxee_beta_appletv.html?lsrc=mod_rel
    This talks about installing Boxee on a first generation apple TV. Back then, the prime motivation was to run netflix, which is not an issue for the ATV2. But Breen found the Boxee/Netflix software ran slowly on the ATV1, not surprising given the 3-year old hardware.

    Regarding using a mac mini as a home media center, Chris Breen talks about that here in a series of articles from 2009:
    http://www.macworld.com/article/140087/2009/04/macmini_mediacenter_getstarted.html
    In general, he found it could, indeed, do just about anything. He used the method of getting as much stuff as possible into Front Row, though of course you could use Plex.

    The main problem he found was that the system was not user-friendly enough for his family. Hence, his family ended up never using it. So, if you are going to be the main person using it yourself, it seems like this is the best option. If you have a significant other who is not as tech-savvy or tech-interested, it might sit unused most of the time. That's where Apple TV fits in: I find it is user-friendly enough for my relatives and family to use without getting frustrated.

    My personal experience: I tried to use my old Powerbook G4 (1.67 GHz) as a "mac mini" that I left permanently hooked up to my TV. I stripped down all the software inside to just have what I needed to view web video and to play my iTunes and iPhoto libraries, which were maintained on a separate "main" computer. I really only used iTunes for music at the time, so while copying/synching the iTunes library across the computer would have been possible (not sure about playcounts, though), I found myself satisfied just using FrontRow on the Powerbook G4 to stream the iTunes library from my main mac. Same with iPhoto library: just go to "sources" in front row, choose my library sitting on my other computer, and use that. I did copy over my iPHoto library from my main to G4 computer (manually, drag and drop across the network), and even wrote up a little automator script to do an rsync of the iphoto library from the main computer to the second computer, but it only worked sporadically. And I eventually found it just easier to leave my main computer on and use the powerbook to stream the photos over the network.

    Like Chris Breen though, I found my permanently-connected-to-TV-Powerbook to be not user-friendly enough for my wife to enjoy controlling it from the couch. We used iPhone apps to control it (Rowmote to replicate the apple remote, and Airmouse as a trackpad/keyboard), and that worked great as long as we stayed in the FrontRow interface (fine for iTunes music, movies, and iPhoto library). But if we wanted to watch some web video, we'd need to switch from Rowmote to Airmouse (for the trackpad) on the iphone, then go to the website we wanted. This worked fine for me, but my wife found it to be enough of a hassle that she just didn't want to do it. I think part of it was that I maxed the resolution on my mac to take advantage of our 1080p TV, which made many of the mac icons very small, and hard to see from the couch. You can make the dock icons as big as you want, and the text in safari can easily be made bigger, but for example the close/maximize/minimize buttons remain very small on the screen. Also, our Powerbook was a bit underpowered for streaming web videos from abc.com or other such sites, which meant the video was choppy. (This of course wouldn't be an issue with a new mac mini.) The end result of all this was that we'd use the connected powerbook to watch movie trailers, play music, and show photos to visiting family, but we'd only use the web video streaming when we missed a show. The quality of the streaming web video is usually lesser than what you could get from iTunes. Oh, and my wife didn't bother using it at all, I was always the one using it. Add in the perennial pains of keeping your software on the mac updated, updating the iphone apps and their coresponding mac-connection apps, and the experience was not exactly seamless.

    Now, with the ATV2, my wife is happy to use it to look at video podcasts, rented shows, netflix, and of course our itunes and iphoto libraries. Much more user-friendly an experience. Not sure what I'm going to do with the old powerbook now. It's just sitting there unused.
     
  13. xheathen macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Aug 5, 2010
    #13
    Please forgive my ignorance but I'm slightly confused - I was under the impression that the new 2nd gen aTV picked up any movies you buy on your primary computer via iTunes, and streams it to your TV. And in addition to that, it plays your music library, netflix, rent movies, etc.

    Is that not the case? Or is it because you have a laptop versus a desktop? Or maybe I'm just reading it wrong.
     
  14. alecp763 thread starter macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Nov 2, 2010
    Location:
    Minneapolis, MN
    #14
    You are correct; however to stream music, movies, tv shows, or any content that you have on your computer to the aTV, the computer has to be awake, which I don't want to have to do since it's a laptop.
     
  15. dgalvan123 macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Feb 16, 2008
    #15
    If you are using a mac running Snow Leopard, go into System Preferences, Energy Saver, and check the "wake for LAN access" box. That way, the mac can sleep all day, but then when you use the apple tv and go to "Computers", the mac will wake up automatically without you having to wake it up yourself.
     
  16. newagemac macrumors 68020

    Joined:
    Mar 31, 2010
    #16
    That works for great desktops but with a laptop I think you have to have the power cord plugged in with either the clamshell open (but still sleep) or a secondary monitor attached.
     
  17. dgalvan123 macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Feb 16, 2008
    #17
    Not sure about that: I'm doing this on a MacBookPro that basically acts like a desktop for us, and I rarely close the clamshell. You might be right. . . but I don't see why that would be a problem. If you're streaming from your laptop, you're going to want it to be plugged in. And it shouldn't be a hassle to just leave the clamshell slightly open.

    I'll test it tonight and see if ATV2 can wake the laptop when the clamshell is closed tonight (no external monitor attached to it).
     
  18. alecp763 thread starter macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Nov 2, 2010
    Location:
    Minneapolis, MN
    #18
    I know that it can wake itself up to stream music, but the things is I don't want to stream at all. It uses battery and I would rather have either a mini or an aTV that stores all my music locally, so I can preserve the battery on my macbook.
     
  19. aduteau macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Oct 14, 2007
    #19
    I have a mini in the living room, with both Plex and Boxee installed on it.
    My wife thought that having a keyboard and mouse in the living room to control the mini was killing the experience and making it not user friendly ...

    thats when I found this software: RemoteBuddy
    http://www.iospirit.com/products/remotebuddy/

    My god ... I only use the Apple remote and thats it ... I boot up the mini, the Remote Buddy software starts automatically, I then chose with the remote if I wanna use Plex or Boxee ... and thats it ... when I am finished ... I turn off the mini with the apple remote ... this software is a god send !

    Now with the mini I have the best experience of both worlds ... Plex and Boxee, with horsepower to run both, and it actually feels like I am watching real TV without the keyboard and mouse :)
     
  20. Chase R macrumors 65816

    Chase R

    Joined:
    May 8, 2008
    Location:
    PDX
    #20
    I'd go for the Mini. However, I'm not sure how it would do with some of those high-bitrate 1080p MKVs (~12GB size). I know my 2.4GHz C2D struggles with them sometimes... Mainly the really "colorful-ish" ones like Avatar.
     
  21. robanga macrumors 68000

    robanga

    Joined:
    Aug 25, 2007
    Location:
    Oregon
    #21
    I have both a Mini as an HTPC and an ATV2. In prior times I have built or purchased Windows Media Center HTPC, XBMC on an old Xbox, used both Xbox 360s and PS3's as interfaces for HT and even built a hybrid Windows/Linux HTPC.

    The Mini is great, yes you can do more with it, but there is a much larger "Fiddle factor" in hooking a PC to a TV. Plain and simple if you just want to see iTunes content (from other Macs), rent iTunes content, Netflix and enjoy YouTube etc, the ATV2 is the way to go.

    Its simplistic joy.
     
  22. mclog macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Sep 8, 2010
    #22
    I would think Mini's with 9400M should have no problem with high-bitrate content if using Plex as it supports hardware accelerated h.264 decoding.
     
  23. Bye Bye Baby macrumors 65816

    Bye Bye Baby

    Joined:
    Sep 15, 2004
    Location:
    i(am in the)cloud
    #23
    I have the new mini and I am now running Plex.

    For a long time I did not like Plex for many reasons. the current version is a winner. hands down.

    However I need to run FrontRow as well as I have a lot of iTunes content that alas is DRM. A real pain in the backside.

    I have an apple tv that I use for all my purchased content as well on other TVs and the mini on my main TV.

    Do you have iTunes stuff?
     
  24. Bevz macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Oct 23, 2007
    Location:
    UK
    #24
    If you're feeling flush, why not get a mini to use as a file server and get ATV 2 to stream from it.... Ok, it's the expensive route, but at least it's expandable for the future if say, you wanted another ATV2 in your bedroom.... Just a thought ;)
     
  25. Chase R macrumors 65816

    Chase R

    Joined:
    May 8, 2008
    Location:
    PDX
    #25
    If you're using Plex, yes, the Mini will have no problem with it (hardware acceleration). VLC on the other hand, only decodes H.264 via software, which takes MUCH more power.

    I just haven't had the best of luck with Plex and maintaing proper aspect ratios (only with downloaded 1080p MKVs).
     

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