Building an HTPC setup from the ground!

Discussion in 'Apple TV and Home Theater' started by munckee, Jan 12, 2009.

  1. munckee macrumors 65816

    Oct 27, 2005
    Hello all.

    In the next few months, I'm planning a jump to a new apartment, etc. This will involve an entirely new Home Theatre setup (my roommate owns the current equipment, and won't be joining in the move). I'm looking for help/suggestions on the best way to get it set up.

    The only piece I have currently for this use is a 1.83 C2D Mac Mini with 4GB of ram in it. My intent is that this machine will run the system for web-based TV and movies, and music serving.

    To preface...
    I'm NOT an audiophile or a video geek. The equipment will be used for entertainment purposes only, and therefore the quality doesn't have to be "out of this world" - just functional. I'm probably going to skip on cable to start with and use the network sites, hulu, and netflix for my content.

    What software will I need? What other hardware do you recommend?

    I have Boxee - but honestly don't use it a ton due to a couple of drawbacks I've found with it. That might change. I figure I'll need a receiver and some speakers (have some good ones in storage). A big hard drive attached to the system? A solid internet connection (will do Fios if available)? Figuring a ~42" or so LCD. Possibly a Blue-Ray player? Considering an x-box (I know a few friends use the file management system there to browse their content).

    What am I missing?
  2. ftaok macrumors 603


    Jan 23, 2002
    East Coast
    A stand to put your components in ... and possibly a wall mount for the TV. Although you probably don't want to be drilling into walls if you're living in an apartment.

    If you plan on doing any Mac work from the couch, you might want a BT keyboard/mouse or a HT-keyboard if you don't already have one.

    And you'll need lots of cables.
  3. munckee thread starter macrumors 65816

    Oct 27, 2005
    Not worried about furniture (I'll figure that part out). Have a BT keyboard. Will get a mouse to match.
  4. Capt Crunch macrumors 6502

    Aug 26, 2001
    Washington, D.C.
    Here is a slight adaptation on what I do:

    Buy a Mac mini 2.0 GHz or upgrade your own. This is necessary to play all 1080p files.

    If you're not an audiophile, get an HDTV and a home theater in a box. You will need a DVI to HDMI cable and a mini-toslink to optical cable. Get every cable from Get a bluetooth keyboard and mouse. I recommend the Logitech Dinovo Edge which has a touch pad built in and is dead sexy.

    Get the fastest internet connection you can and get a Usenet subscription ( is what I use $25 a month). Download Unison by Panic software and pay for it.

    Next download Plex ( on your mac mini. It is an XBMC offshoot like Boxee, but has an amazing user interface. It also works with Harmony remotes, which I suggest you get one of. Learn how to use Plex, it has a mild learning curve to get the scraper working so that you automatically download DVD covers, descriptions, etc.

    Download MacPAR ( I'll explain why in a sec.

    So here is what I do: I go on to and search for the (legal :)) file I want. I always get the highest resolution possible. Since you are using a mac, avoid WMV files (seriously). I often enter "1080" into the search field along with whatever title I'm looking for, unless I'm looking for TV shows. You put a checkmark on everything you want to download and click "Get NZB." You will download an nzb file. Open this file with Unison. It will begin downloading your movie and often max your connection, even if you have FIOS. This is why you don't use torrents. What you will get is a bunch of .rar files and par files. Open the file that ends with ".par" with MacPAR. This will use the par files to repair any damage to the rar files, and then will reconstitute the rar files into the original movie.

    Rename the file according to how Plex wants it (there is great user documentation here and organize the files appropriately (again, how plex wants it).

    The end result is when you open plex, all your movies and TV shows will be organized and have complete fan art, DVD covers, descriptions, etc etc etc. It is easily controlled by the mac remote, a keyboard, or a harmony remote. There is iTunes and iPhoto integration as well.

    Once you get it set up it is fantastic. I blow people away at parties by the shear content, ease of use, and eye candy. I've got 2 TB of content this way.

    EDIT: Don't download anything illegal. :)
  5. munckee thread starter macrumors 65816

    Oct 27, 2005
    ^ Awesome!! (and slightly overwhelming) explanation! Thanks!

    I really need a 2.0Ghz to play HD content? I don't want to pay to upgrade (either the whole box or just the processor). How much difference does it make?
  6. janstett macrumors 65816

    Jan 13, 2006
    Chester, NJ
    If you're going to enjoy Blu-Ray movies, I hate to say it but you have to go PC. There is no way to play Blu-Ray discs on a Mac. Even if you get the drive, Apple DVD Player doesn't play it.

    if you're going to watch a lot of DVDs even without Blu-Ray, I'd still recommend going PC as you have multiple DVD players (PowerDVD, WinDVD) that have lots of advanced features, upscaling, multichannel decoding, etc.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm a Mac guy, but for my HTPC I couldn't do a Mac for those reasons.

    Also as far as players, just use VLC, it works with everything. The only problem it gives me is with passthrough AC3 (Dolby Digital).

    Get a 1080p set with HDMI (and VGA as a backup). I have to say I saw a blu-ray disc playing on a 120Hz 1080p set this weekend and I was amazed with the smoothness, see it for yourself. But the sets are more expensive.

    I guess the next question is about your receiver and speakers. Do you have something with HDMI input? You'll want that for advanced surround sound you'll get from a stand-alone blu-ray player or other devices coming down the road. You can do Dolby Digital, and you can also do analog multichannel outputs. Unfortunately I don't think you can get the multichannel analog out of the Mac, just SPDIF Dolby Digital (for AC3).

    Also, regardless of whether you go PC or Mac, you have to beware of H.264 High-def, that's going to be the most demanding and it's very popular out there on the torrent sites. That's why people are saying to have a 2.0 GHz processor. The Mac in particular doesn't seem to have any proper H.264 decoding acceleration in QT or VLC; on the same hardware I've seen poor H.264 performance in OSX and better in Windows.
  7. munckee thread starter macrumors 65816

    Oct 27, 2005
    Was figuring I'd just get a stand-alone blue-ray player when the time comes...
  8. detz macrumors 65816

    Jun 29, 2007
    Plex is by far the best HT software I've used...and I've used just about all of them. I had Windows and Linux servers but Mac is by far the easiest and it's very flexible. Currently I use my macbook and it runs HD(ripped bluray) movies fine.

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