Cutting Cable: Mac Mini or Apple TV?

Discussion in 'Apple TV and Home Theater' started by SeanOhio, Jan 2, 2013.

  1. SeanOhio macrumors newbie

    Aug 8, 2004

    I would like to cut our $150/month cable bill by using either a Mac Mini or Apple TV. I've got a 52" Sony HDTV. (Also, I have an OTA antenna, and we don't need DVR capabilities.)

    My concern is the Apple TV lacks a browser and inability to add apps from which to stream live and delayed content. (For example, I like F1 racing, and it will be live streamed online this season, but through an NBC app or through a browser.)

    My concern with a Mac Mini is that, in addition to the cost, I'd have to buy a keyboard and mouse to make it function. Does Apple Remote work on this? Can I have an Apple TV-like set-up with a Mac Mini? Also, if I'm watching something on a browser on a Mac Mini, will it appear on my TV in HD-quality? (My internet will be wired and I'll use HDMI.) For example, will watching Netflix through Firefox appear in HD as if it were running through the Apple TV app? My TV essentially becomes a monitor--does that make a difference?

    Any other thoughts on which product might be best?
  2. linds15 macrumors 6502a

    Oct 16, 2012
    Great White North
    netflix through your browser will be the same as through an ATV. the remote will work on a mini but it would still have to be used in conjunction with a mouse/keyboard if you are going to be using the browser.
    the answer to your question really comes down to what content you are trying to watch, and whether or not you want DVR, which you have stated you don't. i use an ATV, simply b/c all i need is to stream my itunes, watch netflix and hulu, and i airplay NBA and NFL from my ipad, so for 100 the ATV can display all the content i need
  3. wharzhee, Jan 2, 2013
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2013

    wharzhee macrumors 6502

    Apr 27, 2010
    Regarding abt netflix with an ATV vs a Computer(Mac Mini).... :
    you can't force streaming in HD on an ATV, but you can on a computer(with some shortcut key)..

    others like Hulu: u can install Hulu desktop on ur Mac Mini(and control it with the remote), and dont pay the monthly fee that would otherwise be incurred on an ATV.



    -What sort of set-up? if u mean ATV->TV [hdmi], then yes: Mini->TV [hdmi]

    -what do u mean by HD-quality? if u mean 16:9? 720p? 1080p? then yes.
    for example, when u connect to ur TV(capable of 1080p) via hdmi.
    you can set configuration to 720p/1080p.
    But it's not really a "great" experience for replacing a standard monitor(to use the computer for work).

    It may or it may not. If internet speed is an issue for u, it may affect u.
    While if u use ur computer, u can force streaming in HD[for netflix].

    To watch 1080p shows via a 1080p TV <- the picture quality is awesome
    To work with a computer(or surf) on a 1080p TV via hdmi <- not a great experience (in my opinion)
  4. testerdennis macrumors member

    Aug 7, 2011
    If you have the extra cash then the MacMini for sure. Install XBMC and you will have everything you need.
  5. SeanOhio thread starter macrumors newbie

    Aug 8, 2004
    Thanks. By set-up, I meant a Front Row-like experience. I know it's gone now, but I'm wondering if I can somehow have that "feel" on a Mac Mini, and use the remote.
  6. dvdgorila macrumors newbie

    Mar 1, 2009
  7. mslide macrumors 6502a

    Sep 17, 2007
    You don't happen to already own a Mac that's capable of AirPlay mirroring, do you? If so, another option is to go with the Apple TV and use AirPlay mirroring anytime you want to watch something that requires a browser. That's what we do at home. 95% of the time we use our Apple TVs for all our viewing. The rest of the time is for new episodes of the few shows we watch that are basically only available from the station's web site.
  8. SeanOhio thread starter macrumors newbie

    Aug 8, 2004
    No, I don't, unfortunately. My iMac is too old.

    I do have an iPad; however, my concern is that AirPlay would have low quality since I can't hardwire my iPad to the internet.
  9. wharzhee macrumors 6502

    Apr 27, 2010

    That's true. the quality is low(but if u sit far away from the TV, the difference wldnt be an issue)
    Actually im confused, what do u mean by hardwire ur iPad to the internet?
    You just need a wireless area network(ATV&iPad must be in the same network) for Airplay to work.
  10. kage207 macrumors 6502a

    Jul 23, 2008
  11. glutenenvy macrumors regular


    Sep 6, 2011
    The Netflix experience is better on just about any other device than AppleTV. AppleTV tends to lean towards video staying on auto degraded video. When the internet is less clogged my AppleTV 3rd gen tends to never pick back up to higher quality video without restarting the Netflix stream. In contrast to the XBOX Netflix app and even the Sony Netflix app the in process recovery to a higher stream never seems to happen right on the AppleTV.

    I would suggest going with a MacMini, XBOX, or Playstation 3 if Netflix is the primary concern. However XBOX requires an additional subscription. These three will all also play your Ultraviolet/VUDU movies.

    If you go the Mini route it will work well for Netflix and the rest of your apple centric media. Sometimes the Mini takes a little more time over the AppleTV getting the best screen to show on your TV. Generally if you are using a HDMI connection from your Mini to the TV you can get the best screen in a matter of minutes. In a living room situation you may end up switching screen resolutions a lot if you are picky. One works well to surf and view test whereas the maximum resolution would be best on video.

    In terms of noise, quietest to noisiest, AppleTV, MacMini, PS3, XBOX360.

    In terms of functionality, most to least, MacMini, PS3/XBOX360, AppleTV

    In terms of future proofing, best to worst, Latest MacMini, PS3/XBOX360, AppleTV

    In terms of Motion Gaming, best to worst, XBOX360, PS3

    In terms of Gaming, best to worst, XBOX360/PS3, MacMini

    If you can be comfortable with a keyboard and a flat surface for your trackpad, I'd direct you to the Mini. If you don't have iTunes cloud based media and you don't want to mess with a keyboard and trackpad, I'd suggest you use a PS3 or XBOX360 for Netflix if you think you may be interested in any games. The gaming systems and the mini can also play your personal videos if they are not locked up in drm and encoded for that device. It would be tough to do that on the AppleTV without additional equipment streaming the video.

    What's nice about the PS3 is that it is also a 3d blu-ray player. You would have to be interested in PS3 games for the PS3 to be a real option for you because you could also buy a blu-ray player with apps built in instead for cheaper.

    For ultra simplicity you can buy a TV/sound system/blu-ray with the Netflix app built in.
  12. glutenenvy macrumors regular


    Sep 6, 2011
    For web surfing it would likely look a lot better bringing the resolution down because television screens are now close but still not the same as a monitor. Also any splitter type of device between your computer and television would tend to introduce defects as the stream is encoded and decoded twice.
  13. fryup macrumors newbie

    Jun 12, 2012
    This isn't strictly true. I have a Mac Mini under the TV and no mouse or keyboard. If you have an iPod/iPad/iPhone then there are plenty of apps you can download to replace the mouse and keyboard. I personally use Rowmote Pro, and on an iPad the keyboard is very easy to use.

    Then, as others have said, Plex or XBMC loaded onto the mini is all you really need.

    I hope this helps.
  14. karlmitchell macrumors newbie

    Jun 3, 2010
    For a long time I've had both the macmini AND the Apple TV connected to my TV, watching MOST of my programming through the Apple TV, because I prefer the user interface. I am also experimenting with only connecting the Apple TV to my TV system, and using the macmini in another room as a server.

    What is best for you, very much depends on what you want the system for which comes out best. My approach was to work out both the cost of purchase/installation of each system, cost of maintenance (replacing components every 3 years assumed). Then consider what each configuration gave me access to, and what it didn't, and then work out how much I'd likely have to spend on iTunes in order to get the extra shows I'd need. Bear in mind how often you're likely to replace the macmini and its parts (for me, I figured every 3 years or so I'd get the urge for an upgrade).

    I found at first that I resisted paying for shows on iTunes, as they SEEMED expensive, but they really are necessary if you don't want to lose lots of shows relative to cable.

    I discuss each below, giving my own figures for running costs.

    MacMini only (local): Clunky interface with a remote, takes some work to set up. Best use seems to be a combination of Plex/XBMC/Boxee and Hulu Desktop. Getting an antenna TV Tuner (HDHomeRun with EyeTV) may save you in the long run, especially if you watch anything on CBS, and give more flexibility. This is the more expensive solution, both in terms of purchase cost and power. Assuming you spend $800 (including tax, phone apps, TV tuner, etc.) on setting it up, you'll still save a lot of money relative to cable, but it'll take about half a year. You might end up paying for some shows through iTunes that you could only otherwise get access to through cable. For me, this works out at about $250/year (4 shows). You're also using more electrical power, so maybe $25/year extra? Hulu + Netflix is about $200/year. Cost per 3 years = $2225.

    Apple TV only: Only $100 to get started, so pays off almost immediately. Hulu+, Netflix and iTunes store together cover most things. The interface is really nice, especially for Netflix. Assuming no illegal downloads, you will need to figure out how much you're going to end up spending on getting access to shows from networks not covered by Hulu+ and Netflix. For me that's CBS, SyFy and USA Network, which would amount to approximately $625/year (10 shows), which is still a massive saving compared with cable. Hulu + Netflix works out at $200/year. An additional advantage is the ability to serve recorded shows to wherever you are, making watching TV on iPad even when out of the country very convenient (you'll need a decent ISP with large uplink bandwidth though). Cost per 3 years: $2575.

    Macmini (local) + Apple TV: Best of both worlds. On the apple TV I use Hulu+ (yes, I do pay) and Netflix, and use iTunes for accessing shows recorded on my MacMini via Elgato EyeTV. Cost per 3 years: $2325.

    Macmini (remote) + Apple TV: Compared with the local install, you lose easy access to some Hulu+ shows. You might be able to get away with streaming with Airplay Mirroring from the Macmini, but you'll most likely get a major drop in quality. This setup might make sense, however, if you use the Macmini for some other purpose or if you're serving to multiple TVs. Cost per 3 years: $2325-$3375 (depending on success of airplay mirroring).

    Cable/Satellite TV (low level family package): This cost $50-$100/month depending on supplier. DirecTV was the most competitive for me. Interfaces and convenience were highly variable. Note that many people pay a small fortune for packages they barely use. Consider going for a relatively cheap package and then using iTunes/AppleTV to pay for premium content? Cost per 3 years: $1800-$3600.

    So, as you see, there's not a huge amount in it for me, and in the end it was mostly because I wanted to do things differently that I went for my current solution. Also, the macmini has other uses than just as a TV system.

  15. testerdennis macrumors member

    Aug 7, 2011
    MacMini plus XBMC no cost.
  16. iHailCarlo macrumors 6502

    Aug 10, 2012
    I love my Apple TV, but a Mac mini would give you more options.
  17. StinDaWg macrumors 6502

    Apr 5, 2012
  18. hipnetic macrumors 6502a

    Oct 5, 2010
    The OP didn't really provide enough details about what he wants/needs to watch. I've got experience with the Apple TV as well as Windows-powered nettop boxes, and can offer my thoughts, but I'd need to know more about what your needs are.
  19. SeanOhio thread starter macrumors newbie

    Aug 8, 2004
    I tried Apple TV this week, but unfortunately the AirPlay from my iPad did not provide the quality browsing capabilities I was seeking. I think I'm going to try the Mac Mini next.

    My needs are OTA channels and ability to access live sports online (the sports I follow are online and live, but only through a browser). I also use Netflix. That's pretty much what we need.

    I saw a Mac Mini connected to a TV via HDMI, and Netflix looked great and in HD. I've also read about some remote applications that would enable me to browse from the couch, so to speak. I hate to get another keyboard and mouse.
  20. stellaclose macrumors member

    Aug 31, 2006
    Remote Buddy

    I use Remote Buddy to control everything my mini with the remote. I don't need to use a keyboard and mouse with my setup to open/close App's and navigate. Also it has an onscreen keyboard when you need it.

    There is the express version on the Mac App Store or the full version on their website. I use the full version as its more customizable.

    The other remote software is Sofa Control, but i think Remote Buddy is better (and it has better reviews).
  21. pgyanke macrumors member

    Mar 4, 2011
    NFL through iPad without Cable subscription?

    How do you airplay NFL from your iPad?
  22. linds15 macrumors 6502a

    Oct 16, 2012
    Great White North
    get a UK itunes account, download the NFL gamepass app. i also have unblock US running on my network so i get NFL network and no games are blacked out
  23. musicpenguy macrumors 65816

    Oct 29, 2006
    I think the Apple TV is the way to go - that's my one and only TV box - no cable either - I use it in conjunction with iOS devices (iPad/iPhone) and a MacBook Air - all of these allow AirPlay Mirroring to get virtually any content I want.

    Most of the time I don't AirPlay and use iTunes in the Cloud for movies, TV shows and I also have a Hulu Plus account/Netflix account.
  24. SeanOhio thread starter macrumors newbie

    Aug 8, 2004
    I returned my Apple TV and picked up a Mac Mini.

    Sadly, it wasn't that great either. The resolution and text on the screen were poor. I managed to fix the resolution, but the text was just too choppy (I read other posts that said that's a common issue--it was hard to read from the couch). I used an HDMI-HDMI connection with a 1080p resolution.

    Netflix and Apple trailers, both in HD, still had a bit of pixelation in full screen. I used ethernet, and it was still "off" in terms of HD quality.

    I think I may look into downgrading our cable package for now, and perhaps new offerings will come out in the next year.
  25. StinDaWg macrumors 6502

    Apr 5, 2012
    Dude, I know this is the apple board but get a Windows HTPC. I'm typing this on a 50" 1080p plasma with the DPI at 150 and everything looks great and is readable from 8 feet away.

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