Let's Get Everyone's Opinion! Mac Mini Media Center Setup

Discussion in 'Mac Pro' started by mozmac, Apr 13, 2006.

  1. mozmac macrumors 6502


    Apr 28, 2005
    Austin, TX
    My mom called me up last week while I was on campus and expressed her desire to replace their entire home entertainment system that they bought back in 1989. I would like to make the Intel Mac Mini the center of their new setup. I need all of your help, though. You are the experts, you've tried everything out, and I don't have the money or time (as a college student) to have trial and error with different hardware products.

    Here's the setup I'm looking for:
    Flat screen, HD TV
    Digital Cable TV - Cox Communications (already coming into the home)
    Mac Mini - use as PVR, DVD player, CD player, and MP3 player, also rip DVDs to external drive (a Mini Stack?)
    Simple Receiver that supports 5.1 surround sound (coming from Mini)

    They have TiVo right now, but I would like to replace that with a PVR function on the Mac Mini so they can avoid the $150/year on TiVo.

    Support for playback of AVI files in FrontRow would be nice.

    Core Solo would be better to save some money. I'd like to do this all with a Core Solo, if possible. I can drop in a better processor in the future. What are the different options I have between the Solo and Duo machines?

    The Mac Mini will run off of Wi-Fi to allow for surfing the net from the couch with a wireless keyboard and mouse. It will also allow for streaming of photos and music from other Macs in the house. An ethernet hookup can be added if necessary.

    I would like ANY and ALL your input about this. Please help me get a simple, powerful setup for my parents to use, now that all their children are out of the house. It must be simple to use, that's why they love TiVo.

    Give me your dream and economical setup of how you would do this.
  2. miniConvert macrumors 68040


    Mar 4, 2006
    Kent, UK - the 'Garden of England'.
    I can only really offer you my personal experience with the Mac mini. I hope it helps.

    I went for the Core Duo mini with 2GB of RAM. If you can see any need for using HD content in the near future then I'd imagine this is pretty much what you'd need. Apple's HD 1080p trailers work admirably on this system, but from what I've read this is not the case on a Core Solo.

    I haven't used the PVR functionality of Elgato's EyeTV EZ, and it's the only TV-on-computer solution I've ever used. It works very well, though. If you were going with the Core Solo you'd want to make sure that whever you buy for the TV/PVR functionality does all the encoding/decoding/whatever on the hardware as the processor probably wont be able to keep up. The HDD in the mini is also only 5400rpm so you're going to want some sort of external/stack.

    Whatever you go for, you'll want more than the stock 512mb RAM. Also bear in mind that you'll have a minimum of two remotes for the PVR and Front Row. I can't see why you can't do everything you've suggested, but while the Mac mini is suitable it certainly wasn't designed for this purpose and so you'll need to evaluate whether the end users will be competent enough to use a fully fledged computer for music and TV.
  3. Keebler macrumors 68030

    Jun 20, 2005
    is it for them or you? :)

    that sounds sweet. would probably work, but would it be above their heads? are they tech-savvy enough to deal with all of that? or do you live them and able to help them?

    i love the idea. sounds great.
  4. supremedesigner macrumors 6502a


    Dec 9, 2005
    Gainesville, Fl
    A while ago, can't remember the forum somewhere in macrumor (they seriously need google search!!!!!) about a guy who have front row that is hacked and added DVD movies section that have 2 TB server! :eek: It was very nice and have screen shot of it! Anyone remember, please post it in here! Thanks! This is what I wanted too!
  5. timmillwood macrumors 6502a

    Apr 7, 2006
    i think Apple should buddy up with elagto and work on Front Row and eyeTV integration.

    I would buy one! the only thing stopping me from switching from Sky+ to mac mini with DVB tuner is it seems to much of a fiddle to work eyeTV and Front Row from a remote.
  6. jsw Moderator emeritus


    Mar 16, 2004
    Andover, MA
    I have a mini duo connected to an HDTV (1920x1080) (see here).

    I've found that 1GB RAM is more than sufficient for your purposes - 2GB is nice for "real" use of the mini, but 1GB is plenty for home entertainment purposes. I agree with the poster above though that a mini solo likely isn't up to the task for HD content.

    I agree than an external HD is a good idea - the incremental cost for more HD space within the mini is too much. However, again for home entertainment purposes, disk speed is irrelevant. Even 4200 RPM would be fine. 5400 RPM is certainly good enough, and 7200 RPM is more than you need - it won't hurt, obviously, but it isn't necessary.

    The headphone/optical out on my mini is a bit finicky - maybe it's just mine - but that's using the analog output; optical might be much better. Still, when the plug's in right, the sound is great.

    I also recommend Elgato products, and the new EyeTV 250 looks like a very good option. Keep in mind, though, that TitanTV (what Elgato and others use) is nowhere near as easy to use as Tivo. It works fine, but it isn't as simple.

    I'm pretty sure a decent universal remote could replace the mini and Elgato remotes, but it would need to be a learning remote.

    Honestly, a good DVR with a big HD and DVD burner might be just as good for them and would, in the end, be cheaper and easier if they don't actually need the mini's capabilities.
  7. mozmac thread starter macrumors 6502


    Apr 28, 2005
    Austin, TX

    If I was to get this all setup with the Mini using Elgato's hardware/software, if they were to come out with a more user-friendly version in the future, would I be able to simply upgrade the software?

    My parents only spend money to upgrade their system once every 15 years, so I want to get the latest and greatest in their right now so that it'll last them for a long time and be easily upgradable. They have TiVo now, but I'd like to get rid of it so they don't have to pay annual fees.
  8. Peace macrumors Core


    Apr 1, 2005
    Space--The ONLY Frontier
    Elgato's EyeTV can export recorded video in .AVI format.I do it all the time.
  9. mozmac thread starter macrumors 6502


    Apr 28, 2005
    Austin, TX
    Can Elgato import AVI files? How about Front Row?

    I have a bunch of AVI files that I'd like to be able to watch from the mini, while keeping the system as simple to use because those who use it are not as tech savvy as I am.
  10. jsw Moderator emeritus


    Mar 16, 2004
    Andover, MA
    Sure, you can upgrade the software, at least for a number of years - the old Elgato EyeTV USB I bought in 2002 is still supported.

    Just to be clear, it isn't so much that the software is hard to use - it isn't, and the 2.0 version is excellent. It's just that Tivo is nearly unbeatable for ease of use, that's all. However, each rev of EyeTV catches up and gets a bit closer.

    Well, you wouldn't need to import anything into Eye TV (Elgato's software for their products) - it's sole purpose, really, is to let you record programs (and, with many Elgato products, also import audio/video from, say, a VCR or what have you). I'm not sure about Front Row, but I'm sure you could convert AVI files into something readable by Front Row, and I'm sure Front Row will improve over time.
  11. thegreatluke macrumors 6502a


    Dec 29, 2005
    If they want to keep their TiVo, they can.

    Sony now offers a lifetime subscription on their series 2 TiVos. (My parents just bought one with it today!)

    It's not available on the website; you have to call.

    Also, with the series 2 TiVo, they can use TiVo Desktop (I believe there's a Mac version now) and import shows into their Mac. The series 2 has a USB port on the back, so they can just connect the two. They can also, if they want, hook the TiVo up to a USB TiVo Network Adapter and the Mac mini can connect wirelessly.

    If they have a series 1 TiVo, the series 2 TiVo is available for $69.99 at severable places now after rebate. It's a really nice upgrade; the TiVo series 2 is amazing. I know it's for $69 on Amazon and at Circuit City, but I don't know about other places. (Sorry to sound like an ad.)
  12. B-Dog macrumors newbie

    Mar 29, 2005
  13. twoodcc macrumors P6


    Feb 3, 2005
    Right side of wrong
    i think you should go for it! i always wanted to do this with a mini, maybe after i save up some money ....

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