ATV / Mac Mini Media server - basic questions...

Discussion in 'Apple TV and Home Theater' started by mrjosh, Jan 19, 2016.

  1. mrjosh macrumors regular

    Mar 5, 2009
    Hi all,

    I have been doing a lot of thinking/reading on the best way to expand/enhance my digital media purchasing, storing and viewing. I have read a bunch of threads and googled everything I could think of. I am now completely overwhelmed so thought I would put some questions to you.

    1) Is a mac mini iTunes server a smart, hassle-free and easy to maintain choice?
    2) If so, what is the most cost-effective mini to purchase? Would a late 2009 work? Can I go older or would I need improved specs?
    3) Does Plex offer any concrete advantages over iTunes – my guess here is organization and I can group all my movies together including my DVD collection (if I can possibly get my Purchased movies from iTunes on Plex)?

    At the end of the day, simplicity and ease of use is most important. I want (my spouse) to be able to :
    1) Fire up our Apple TV and have access to all our music, purchased movies, store bought dvd's and home movies and photos, Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now; and
    2) Use iTunes to be able to make random purchases; if I use another media playback system (i.e. Plex), have that system automatically work with/detect changes to our iTunes library and iTunes match.

    We watch our media almost exclusively on the TV (I do not like watching on my phone/computer).

    The mac mini would be connected via ethernet to the time capsule. If necessary, I will purchase an external drive to attach to the mac mini. I would use my current macbook pro to rip DVD's, add to iTunes library and transfer/save them to the mac mini server. Is this a bad idea?

    I have ruled out an NAS for a few reasons, one of which is off-site backup service will not back up an NAS. Also, it seems more complicated and may have more user issues for someone such as myself (i.e., I know just enough to screw things up, and tend to just want things to work - no judgements, please).

    Our current setup:
    3rd Generation Apple TV attached to timecapsule via ethernet cable (would upgrade if I go Plex route)
    Macbook pro
    non-smart HDTV
    iphone 4s
    ipod shuffle
    ancient iPad mini
    iTunes Match
    Time Capsule
    Under 100 movies; decent size music library

    ok, this is a long post for some basic info, but man, I am overthinking this.
  2. MacFanBoi macrumors regular

    Aug 29, 2009
    Looks like you have put a fair amount of thought into your plan and what I read sounds like a good setup. I'll answer what I can for you.

    1. Using iTunes as a media server is simple enough with the right software and a bit of time and allows you to keep your atv3 without needing to upgrade if thats what you want to do. You will have to rip your store purchased dvd's to mp4 using something like handbrake or any other software your comfortable with then to get your movies organised properly in iTunes you will need to add metadata to each video file using either MetaZ or iFlicks or any other metadata program you want and finally add the file to your iTunes library. Where plex has an advantage is it automagically downloads metadata from online sites which saves you a bit of time.

    2. I only started using mac mini's in 2011 when they went to the newer slimline design so I can't say 100% what the performance is like but in saying that the specs for the late 2009 say 2.53ghz core 2 duo so that should be more then enough for just streaming movies since they will all be in mp4 format no transcoding is taking place while streaming so cpu load should be minimal.

    3. About the only advantage plex has over iTunes is the way files are organised and metadata is added automatically which saves you a bit of time but once you get the hang of it there really isn't much to it. Plex also supports a number of different file formats whereas iTunes is really only mp4/m4v but since you plan to rip your store bought movies anyway that wouldn't be an issue anyway.

    As for using plex you won't have to worry about it because its only supported on the atv4 which you wouldn't have to buy if you use iTunes for your media server and plex can't play any files in your iTunes library anyway.

    For myself I run a 5 bay synology nas and plex media server installed on that streaming to 2 atv4 in my bedroom and lounge room and it works great. I like to keep all my files well organised and easy to find so plex was the way to go for me because it did a lot of the work for me which saved so much time when there are so many movies and tv episodes.
  3. priitv8 macrumors 68040

    Jan 13, 2011
    This is only true for DRM-ed content. Basically purchased TV Shows and Movies. iTunes Music has been DRM-free for quite some time now. And whatever you've ripped/added to iTunes yourself, ought also be DRM-free.
    These media files are playable everywhere, even in Plex.
  4. MacFanBoi macrumors regular

    Aug 29, 2009
    Oh yeah I forgot only drm files couldn't be played so his purchased movies he mentioned wouldn't be playable.
  5. rahulr macrumors regular

    Aug 1, 2008
    North Carolina
    I have ruled out an NAS for a few reasons, one of which is off-site backup service will not back up an NAS. Also, it seems more complicated and may have more user issues for someone such as myself (i.e., I know just enough to screw things up, and tend to just want things to work - no judgements, please).

    Hi, no judgments coming from me, but just a little advice. So I have something called the "wife test" if it is too complicated for her to use, then it's not for my household.

    Currently I have about 400 downloaded/burned movies and 350 iTunes movies. I previously had a mac mini server for the iTunes movies, but it was an older model (2007) and didn't work that well, so I switched my setup.

    Now I have the following setup:

    I use a Synology 716+ with 2 3tb WD Red HDs. Synology's setup is stupidly easy and you through a simple web interface will be up and running in no time whatsoever. I have all my media stored on onedrive which syncs with my synology server using the built in cloud sync, it is super simple to setup.

    I use this method because i have a stupidly slow internet here in France. In the US I had fiber with 200mbs down 200mbs up and here I have 10mbs down on a good day.

    The synology NAS has a built in "app" called Download station that will allow you to automagically download TV shows, movies, etc. The 716 can also run plex natively so you don't need a second machine.

    Basically what I do now is any movie I purchase on iTunes i also download using the Download station and then plex picks it up automatically and it appears on my ATV4 within a little while. I do most of my downloads at night so the movies show up in the AM.

    It's a great setup that works every time and allows me to stream 4-6 devices and since it all syncs with the cloud, all my data is backed up
  6. antonypg macrumors member

    May 8, 2008
    I myself use a Mac Mini as my primary media server. It draws very little power, and sits silently in my study. The main advantages are they fact that it is running true iTunes, can act as a time machine drive for my MacBooks, plus I have a Blu-Ray drive attached for performing ripping. As I have a monitor attached I also use the machine for other applications such as movie/photo editing. I have a 3TB drive which I use to house the iTunes library, plus I backup to a NAS.

    It is a 2012 MacMini, and still takes a few hours to rip a Blu-Ray, an hour or so for a DVD. Ripping Blu-Rays is a bit of a pain on a laptop. I use Handbrake and MakeMKV.

    I have tried a few different solutions, including NAS and Linux, but a MacMini works very well, especially if most of your household devices are Apple based.
  7. AFEPPL macrumors 68030


    Sep 30, 2014
    I'd say take a look at the intel NUC rather than the mini, smaller and more powerful while being the same size as an ATV.

    I moved my iTunes server over to a PC from MAC a while back and it's been rock solid. I also use a Synology device to store the data as it much more scaleable and the built in simplicity is a bonus too. The kids can use it, be it on their iPads or ATV so you cant really ask for more in terms of simple but accessible..
  8. T'hain Esh Kelch, Jan 20, 2016
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2016

    T'hain Esh Kelch macrumors 601

    T'hain Esh Kelch

    Aug 5, 2001
    iTunes bought movies can not be played in Plex, and AFAIK there is no reliable way on the Mac to strip the DRM. But since you plan on going AppleTV, it is a minor issue.

    Music in Plex stinks, so expect to go through iTunes for that.

    I have a 2011 Mac Mini with an AppleTV4 setup, and it is remarkable better than when we had the Mac Mini attached directly to the TV. My girlfriend could use the Mac Mini no problem, but she has said on several occasions that she prefers the ease of use of the Apple TV, and honestly, so do i, so we are not going back. Edit: For Plex Server, the Mini is amazing.

    I should mention that the AppleTV Plex client works, but it isn't as feature rich as Plex Home Theater, or the new replacement for that, so there may be small kinks at the moment depending on your media.

    Only real issue we have, is that the Mac Mini has to be manually awaken every time we want to see something in Plex on the Apple TV. Thanks to Apple for ****ing that up, all the way back in 10.7, and still not having fixed it.
  9. Boyd01 macrumors 68040


    Feb 21, 2012
    New Jersey Pine Barrens
    I got a new base model Mac Mini for this during the summer of 2014 (at that time the 2012 Mini was the current model). It's connected to my Time Capsule with gigabit ethernet and just runs iTunes 24/7. All the media is on an external 3TB USB 3.0 drive that clocks about 170MB/sec with the Blackmagic speed test.

    I also have two additional 3TB drives that I rotate for backups (Carbon Copy clones the media drive to the backup drive every night). The internal stock 500GB Mini disk is nearly empty, it just has the original Apple software on it. It is constantly backed up to the Time Capsule.

    Very happy with this setup, it has been completely trouble-free. I have two Apple TV3's and also use my MacBook Air to watch video out on the porch in warm weather. The Mini is connected to a really old 23" 720p Samsung screen and I also watch movies on that in the dining room. The Mini is connected to my home stereo that has speakers in several rooms using a cable from the headphone jack.

    So the Mini has been either playing music or videos for many hours every day for over a year and half without issues. Sometimes iTunes gets a little flakey after a couple months of continuous uptime, but a restart always fixes that. I have the Mini set to never sleep so that it's instantly available without any spin-up time. It is also connected to a big UPS, along with the stereo amplifier. During a recent power outage, I was surprised that it ran for almost an hour.

    Now I have an old 2008 MBP 2.4ghz Core2Duo and also an old Windows Vista desktop PC with similar specs. I considered using one of these as the iTunes server instead of getting the Mini. But those are old machines and I would have needed to spend a little money to upgrade them. So I opted for the new Mini and am glad that I did. Now I have a setup that should continue to be trouble-free for many years. :)
  10. mrjosh thread starter macrumors regular

    Mar 5, 2009
    Wow - thanks so much everyone. I really appreciate the input. I have some thinking to do, but seem to be on the right path. I'll try and update the post, but it will be a while until I make a purchase and change the setup.
  11. mrjosh thread starter macrumors regular

    Mar 5, 2009
    Quick follow-up question. So, I ended up getting a 2010 mac mini with an upgraded drive to act as our iTunes server. I will enable home sharing. Will my wife be able to sync her ipod shuffle from our macbook? I really hope she can sync from any computer as long as home sharing is on. I saw a random thread that called this into question (not sure how dated/accurate the thread is).
  12. priitv8 macrumors 68040

    Jan 13, 2011
    Wired sync will always go, independent of Home Sharing.
  13. McScooby macrumors 6502a

    Oct 15, 2005
    The Paps of Glenn Close, Scotland.
    As an add-on to the above, my parents are technically illiterate so plugged :apple:TV into the mini direct with ethernet so has an easy to use front end (when turning on mini & :apple:TV, I've not set a password on mini & set iTunes to launch automatically, so no need to see it on TV, just screen share from MBP if need be) ,and also set on mini to share internet connection via wi-fi so :apple:TV still has access to internet if need be & can connect to TC, it's been rock solid.
  14. mrjosh thread starter macrumors regular

    Mar 5, 2009
    Thank you both. I thought (had hoped) this was the case.
    McScooby - I think I will end up with a very similar, if not same, set up.
  15. AppleInLVX macrumors 65816


    Jan 12, 2010
    This is a timely post, as I have just these past few weeks waded into this as well. I had an unused Mac Mini my mom bought in 2012 that I inherited, and I picked up a couple bus powered USB 3.0 4TB seagate drives. I plugged these in back, and one holds all the media I have, and once a week Carbon Copy Cloner clones it to the second drive in the middle of the night. The server sits with the rest of the entertainment unit, so I have it hooked directly to the 55" LCD TV through the HDMI port. But, this is just a technicality to keep the screen dimensions, as I have been screen sharing it to the other macs in the house, so I can administer anything that way.

    I currently use both iTunes (for all the content bought from iTunes, and the whole of my music library) and Plex for everything else. I was pleasantly surprized with how easy Plex makes things by way of organizing and prettying it all up with correct meta data. I don't know where it gets the information, but it's been spot on for me as long as you follow the file naming conventions recommended by the Plex web site. I picked up the Plex app for my iPhone more out of curiosity than actual use, and I was again pleasantly surprized at the fact that my whole library is now available to me anywhere. Kind of crazy. As a media server setup goes, I couldn't be happier.

    My next bugaboo is trying to figure out how to get the Mac Mini's file system available to me when I'm NOT on my home network. This seems to be trickier, and I've already broken our home internet once diddling about with settings to try to get that working.

    If anyone has a good resource for that, I'd be very interested and grateful to read it.
  16. bingeciren macrumors 6502a


    Sep 6, 2011
    Have you tried using "Back To My Mac" feature under the iCloud settings?
  17. mrjosh thread starter macrumors regular

    Mar 5, 2009
    I'm not sure about remote access; Plex pass may help but not sure on that (and there is a monthly fee).

    Right now I use iTunes exclusively however I am thinking of switching to Plex for music, if just for the fact that iTunes is a bit of a nightmare - mostly with albums getting split, losing album art, etc. (I have employed multiple fixes, but for some albums nothing works).

    For DVD's I imported, I use iFlicks2 which has been great. I like the idea of my wife being able to go to "computers" and access our master library for everything and not have to go different apps for music, movies, etc. as she accesses from our Apple TV.
  18. priitv8 macrumors 68040

    Jan 13, 2011
    Home Sharing works only on local LAN segment. If you manage to get BtmM working, you can only take advantage of your iTunes Library fileshare to be accessible over WAN thanks to BtmM.
  19. AppleInLVX macrumors 65816


    Jan 12, 2010
    No, I have not. I'm surprised I never encountered this while trying to figure out how to do it.

    ...aaaand I guess this is why. What I'd really like to be able to do is to access a folder or two as a personal 'cloud' so to speak. It sounds like it's not a big ask, but in order to maintain network security and keeping the server accessible, it is more difficult than it seems it should be.
    --- Post Merged, Feb 10, 2016 ---
    I didn't pay for the Plex pass. I just went for the one-time fee to unlock streaming from the app. That's only like 6 bucks.

    I haven't tried music with Plex because I've heard it's not so great from more than one source. That, and I have everything synced up with iTunes Match, and that seems to work OK. All my DVDs are done with Handbrake. It took a really long time, but I got them all digitized. Or at least the ones I cared about. I still haven't done the low tier videos that I'm not sure I'll watch again. Part of me just wants to trade those in, to be honest. It isn't worth the effort.
  20. bingeciren macrumors 6502a


    Sep 6, 2011
    Ok, then I think it will be the easiest solution to access your Mac from practically anywhere. Make sure all your devices are on the same iCloud account. From the System Preferences on your Mini go to Sharing to turn on File Sharing and choose the files and/or folders you want to access remotely. Also, turn on the Screen Sharing as well, which gives you the ability to share your screen from another computer and use your Mini remotely.

    Once you do this, your Mini will appear on all other Macs, using the same iCloud account, under the Shared section of the Finder's side bar.

    This is practically equivalent to having a static IP for your home router and doing port forwarding to access your Mini. This way, you don't need to do any of that.

    By the way, this works for Time Capsules as well and you can remotely access your TC's hard disk the same way. The setting is under the Base Station tab.

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