Mac Mini + Apple TV = Many questions

Discussion in 'Apple TV and Home Theater' started by Icaras, Sep 15, 2010.

  1. Icaras macrumors 603


    Mar 18, 2008
    California, United States
    Alright, I've scoured the net for this one for god knows how many hours and really couldn't find a good suggestion on this. Please, forgive me for such a long post, but bear with me, as I am really confused! Thanks in advance for reading...

    I Don't Want my Mac Pro to be on to stream content

    Now I've pre-ordered the new Apple TV and actually have been an advocate early on about the lack of built in storage. I own a Mac Pro which houses the majority of the media content in the house. At first, I didn't have a problem with the idea of having Apple TV wake up a machine to stream it, but thinking about this further, I don't really want my Mac Pro to be on every time I want to start streaming content on the ATV. I've realized now that this doesn't seem very energy efficient to power up 40 lbs of hulking workstation power just to watch a video or listen to a tune. That and my studio starts to becomes a sauna once my Mac Pro starts working.

    Does OS X and iTunes need to be currently open on the client machine?

    There are also many questions I'm a little of unsure of. Firstly, does it need OS X to be on? I ask because sometimes my machine is bootcamped into Windows. Would this make my Mac Pro's iTunes library inaccessible to the ATV? Also, does it need iTunes to be open?

    So, for example, if I were working on a Logic project on my Mac Pro in my studio, while my wife decides to watch something on the Apple TV in the Living room, I would hate to be suddenly surprised and interrupted with iTunes suddenly jumping up on the screen. Also, whether or not iTunes does start running on my computer, my guess is that any streaming taking place would also borrow resources from my machine too, which is something I wouldn't want, especially when working on a project. So I don't want that.

    Mac Mini ONLY as dedicated iTunes server = Is it worth it?

    As far as other, work around solutions go that seem to be popular among Apple TV users is connecting a NAS (and I say work around since Apple designed ATV to work specifically with iTunes). Truth be told, I'm new to NAS and have just recently begun learning about them. From what I have learned so far however, I don't think I want a NAS. I don't want to have to install additional software. I want the most direct, streamlined, and minimal setup possible for this, without having to use my Mac Pro.

    For this, I've looked at the Mac Mini, and the prospects of perhaps finally building a centralized home media center. Since this is the most minimal, energy efficient Mac that Apple makes, I'm interested in getting one to be my dedicated iTunes server to work in harmony with the new ATV.

    Now I don't actually intend to connect the Mac Mini to my HDTV and use it, as I will prefer the user interface and the simplicity of the ATV for couch sitting. I just want to sit down, point the remote and start playing things. As convenient as the new magic trackpad is for living room settings, I don't want to deal with more than just the remote. Though I might have it connected via HDMI just in case I would want to use Mac OS and other media applications for whatever reason on my HDTV.

    So really my question is this: is it worth spending $700 getting a Mac Mini solely as just a dedicated, centralized iTunes server that would compliment, and NOT replace a new Apple TV?

    Pros & Cons of a Mac Mini iTunes Server

    As far as I see it, the pros of such a solution would be:

    - Super quiet, super energy efficient, super small machine
    - Direct connection with Apple TV. No software or work arounds needed.
    - Can always remain in OSX (if OSX required to be the current running OS)
    - Frees up other Macs in the house from turning on and working (if resources on those machines are required)

    And the only con I can think of at this point is:

    - Price. $700. More expensive than simply getting a small NAS.

    How to combine household media content into the iTunes server on Mac Mini and keep it up to date?

    So, if I were to go this route and combine all the media content from the household into the Mac Mini's iTunes library, could I just remotely access the Mac Mini from each machine, enable home sharing, authorize each user, and simply drag the library contents of each Mac on the network into the Mac Mini's iTunes library? And everytime I get new content on a particular machine, do I just repeat those steps? Remote control and drag new content in?

    My ideal setup

    Lastly, I have a Time Capsule, and I really wish I could simply connect a USB hard drive to it, and have my iPad or iPhone connect to it as a Mac does, and have the Apple TV stream off that chain, which could completely bypass the need for a Mac Mini. I know it doesn't work that way (yet...?), but I can dream. :)

    I think that's everything. I hope that was clear...:)
  2. DJinTX macrumors 6502

    Sep 15, 2010
    First off I have to congratulate you on such a thorough post. Reminds me of something I would write ;)

    I share your enthusiasm for the new AppleTV and will be interested in some of the answers you are looking for. I think some of your questions likely won't be answered until the new units get into people's hands, but maybe some of these answers are the same as the previous AppleTV.

    As for your Mac Pro and iTunes:

    Yes, it will have to be powered on for the stream to work. This is true for whatever Mac is providing the data for the stream. As for whether or not iTunes would have to be running, I do not believe so, and here's why...

    Currently if you use AirPort Express to stream music from iTunes to a stereo, iTunes is the only way to initiate the stream, and therefore does have to be running. However, with the new AppleTV, I believe you can initiate the stream directly from the AppleTV. Since AppleTV will also be able to stream your iPhoto library, I doubt Apple would require both of these apps to be running on your Mac to be able to pull the data. More likely, I bet the Apple TV is built to be able to see the library files of these apps and access these files directly from your home folder without the App being launched. Again, this is just what makes sense to me and not based on any inside knowledge.

    Mac Mini As dedicated media library/streamer:

    It would be worth it to some, and not to others. This really depends on your wallet. I don't have $700 to spend on this, but it would be nice if I did. Another option might be to find a previous generation mac mini on ebay and save some money.

    Dragging and dropping media from multiple Macs:

    I haven't done any iTunes home sharing since upgrading to iTunes 10, but I assume this function is still there. Assuming it is I don't see why this wouldn't continue to work in order to keep all your macs up to date. I don't know of any automatic way to do this, although maybe other users out there do.

    That's about all I know. Good Luck!
  3. Icaras thread starter macrumors 603


    Mar 18, 2008
    California, United States
    Thanks man. Hopefully, it was comprehensive and not too long too. Judging from the lack of posts, I might have scared people away with the length :)

    Would be nice if you were right about that. And if it's true, I wonder if Apple TV will still stream even if I'm not in OS X (bootcamp). But even so, the reason I am looking toward a Mac Mini is not to power on a Mac Pro as it consumes quite a bit of energy and generates quite a bit of heat, so I think I'm past that option now, lol...

    Good point. I forgot to mention refurbs and ebay.

    Yes, the function is still there and I find it an awesome feature for family in the household. I believe it's a permanent and vital step from Apple to bridge shared content together, with AirPlay in the future continuing that path. I'm quite certain this feature will never leave iTunes going forward.

    But anyway, yea, I'm very interested in how to combine all household Mac iTunes libraries into one, and using just iTunes. No Finder. Homesharing seems to be the obvious answer, but I'm just curious as to what people think.

    Thanks, I appreciate your insight. I might have convoluted this post, as really, I am just finding a reason to justify purchasing and using a Mac Mini as the iTunes server as opposed to something cheaper, but with a bit more steps to the process, like adding a NAS. And I'm finding that this basically just boils down to an individual user's spending limit, like you mentioned.

    Basically, how much are you willing to pay for sake of simplicity, ease of use, and ultimately convenience, and among other things such as power and heat efficiency also factor in.
  4. willieva macrumors 6502

    Mar 12, 2010
    I don't see the point in using a mac mini to stream to an atv. You might as well attach the mini to your tv. All the functionality of an atv plus lots more. I've got an older mini attached to my tv and it's great for watching movies, surfing the web, whatever you want to do.

    Of course the whole atv/ios interaction might add a level of fun that you can't get with a mini. But if you're just looking at it from a streaming media perspective then having a mini and an atv probably doesn't make a lot of sense.

    Plus you can get the apple remote and not have to use the keyboard and mouse most of the time. And there are apps already for using your ios device to control your mac.
  5. ayzee macrumors 6502a


    Jun 12, 2008
    Cheapest option would be to keep a central iTunes library on your main mac or an external hd connected to it. Keep it on 24/7 and use home sharing to stream to devices around the house.

    Or you could keep your iTunes library in a ext hd connected to an airport extreme. Wirelessly connect to your library 24/7 without having to keep your main mac on.

    Experiment with these options before you invest in a mac mini you might not even need.
  6. Icaras thread starter macrumors 603


    Mar 18, 2008
    California, United States
    I see and understand your point in favoring the mini over the ATV.

    However....given now that the price of the new ATV is only $99, diminishes that argument a bit. I mean it is so cheap now as compared to the prior model, that it feels like more of an add on device to showcase your content in a more contextual and "couch-comfy" manner. It might be helpful to look at this coming from the mini first. If I had a Mac Mini as my HTPC to begin with, considering it does everything ATV can and more, the thought of adding a $99 ATV to it doesn't seem as such a big hit to the wallet as one might originally suspect.

    Of course, the easy argument to that would simply be, save $700 and just stream off each Mac in the house. :D But then I go back to my original question of whether or not I need to keep my Mac Pro always in OS X, which sometimes is not.

    As for the Mini connected to the HDTV, I suppose mainly I just don't want to deal with OSX in the living room. I feel that Jobs was right in that people don't really want to connect their computers to their TVs. Average consumers of course. I'm quite sure many users of this forum and power users will disagree, and that they can do way more than what ATV has to offer. But I am not looking for power. I'm just looking for simplicity. But then again, you could also argue though that all I would need to do is use an Apple remote to launch Front Row on the Mini ...:p

    But also, add to the above, proper and user friendly Netflix integration, rather than having to load Safari and stream there, and movie/TV show rentals, which are instantly streamed.

    The one thing I will say that the mini trumps over the ATV, is 1080p support, but I don't rip my blu-ray collection so I don't personally find it too relevant....yet.

    Also, I agree the ATV and iOS device combination will be rather fun to use. :)

    No I don't think you can do this. I specifically searched for a way to simply attach a USB HD to my Time Capsule and have my iTunes library stream from there, but you still have to have one of your Macs with its iTunes connected to that external HD connected to your AEBS, which means the Mac needs to be on as the content goes from the AEBS to the Mac to the ATV. And I'm not sure if adding that third device in the wireless chain is also a good idea. It might introduce more lag and strain to your network. That's my best guess anyway.

    It would be very very nice if I could just do this but I don't think it's possible from the other posts I've read on the subject...
  7. willieva macrumors 6502

    Mar 12, 2010
    Please don't think I was trying to keep you from buying an atv:). I think it would make a fun addition to family. It's just a little redundant right now with a mini htpc.

    Have you tried streaming netflix yet? It looks like crap, at least at the two different houses I've tried it at. Sometimes it's fine, but many times during the viewing of a movie the throughput is obviously suffering.
  8. DJinTX macrumors 6502

    Sep 15, 2010
    I'm going to have to disagree with you on the netflix thing. I think it is entirely dependent on your network speed. I stream netflix over my Xbox 360 (wireless N and Timewarner 7Mbps cable), and it looks great. Sometimes it will tell me my internet speed just decreased and rebuffer with a lower quality feed, but still at least DVD quality. And once in the early days (about a year ago), it downgraded to the lowest video quality, and it was unwatchable, blurry and worse than SD. But other than a couple of hiccups, we love instant streaming over netflix. The only complaint now is that netflix needs to put their whole library on the instant servers. I'm sure this is their future goal, so we'll see.

    In relation to netflix on ATV, steve said specifically that they believe that the ATV version of netflix is the slickest iteration they have seen, so it likely will deliver the good and look really great.

    Well icaras, I am still hoping someone will tell us once and for all if iTunes/iPhoto will need to be running on your Mac/PC to stream to ATV. Hopefully someone knows. Of course with your heat issues on your Mac Pro, if it were me I would just find an older Mac Mini and use it as your iTunes server.
  9. Icaras thread starter macrumors 603


    Mar 18, 2008
    California, United States
    Oh, no, I wasn't think like that. It's no problem. I do see where you're coming from. :)

    To answer your question willieva, I have not yet tried Netflix streaming, but my wife just signed up for an account. I've seen a friend's new iPod Touch stream Netflix and I would say it looks slightly worse than DVD, but not by much. I can see the evident artifacting going on. Otherwise, I still consider it pretty acceptable on a portable device, since it's basically just media on the go that really doesn't demand serious, pristine quality. By the way, we were streaming on a cable speed network, via Time Capsule N.

    But that was on an iOS device. I haven't yet seen Netflix streaming in action on a Mac or home game console, etc.

    Yea, I remember this and I'm excited to see this. When it comes to user interfaces, I always have great expectations with Apple.

    Yea, still waiting. I did however go and check and compared watt usage between the Mac Pro and Mac Mini, and the Mini uses 10w while idle and 85w max during usage. The Mac Pro 2009 uses 115 while idle and almost 250 when in use. That's quite a huge difference of energy usage!

    Good idea on the older Mac Minis. Looks like I'll be keeping an eye on the refurb site now.
  10. Flash SWT macrumors 6502

    Flash SWT

    Mar 14, 2009
    Houston, TX
    Personally I'm in the early stages of planning my new setup (mega question post similar to this one coming in a few weeks). My early thoughts are a Mac Mini in the living room (connected to the TV) with maybe a Drobo attached to serve as the media server feeding the AppleTV units in other rooms.

    Obviously just a guess, but I've been assuming iTunes will need to be running on the source machine. How does it work with the current aTV for streaming, iTunes open or not?

    I'll be very curious to see if the new AppleTV will be "fooled" by implementations like the Firefly Media Server: This is already built into several NAS units like the ReadyNAS and iTunes on a computer sees it just fine (needs an update for iTunes 10). If so this would allow you to offload the storage and serving to a small box that uses little electricity and will have much more storage space then a Mac Mini.

  11. tbayrgs macrumors 603


    Jul 5, 2009
    If you do decide to go the Mac Mini route, take a look at PLEX as an alternative to hooking up an :apple:TV. It takes some time to initially set up (more or less, depending on the size of your media library ;)) but once that's done, it's really a very slick media center that is very robust but also very easy to use and IMO aesthetically blows away the :apple:TV's UI. I have my Harmony remote programmed to interact with PLEX so I never need to get out an Apple remote, mouse, or keyboard to watch my media and most importantly, the wife and kids can get to the media without struggle :D. And unless you plan on adding an :apple:TV to use elsewhere in the house, you won't need to tag your media as PLEX takes care of that for you.

    It has a ton of apps/plug-ins, including Netflix, Hulu, ESPN3, just to name a few--but much something for everything out on the net, so no need to fire up Safari/Firefox, just launch it through PLEX. One downside is you cannot play any DRM protected iTunes movies/TV shows in PLEX but you can launch Front Row right from PLEX and it will automatically return once Front Row is closed.

    Sorry, not trying to shill for PLEX but just wanted to share another alternative that really sounds like it would meet your needs and save you $99.
  12. DeepIn2U macrumors 603


    May 30, 2002
    Toronto, Ontario, Canada
    I'm curious to whats stopping you from using the Time Capsule using:
    1. External USB HDD (slow data transfer for 720P videos and scrubbing, maybe)?
    2. External LAN HDD like a WD MyBook World Ed?

    To be honest I'd replace that Time Capsule for a Synology 210 for the following reasons:
    4TB internal via 2 HDD bays
    iTunes server support
    Time Machine support even across internet (which is what I require just for my MacBook & thus purchasing next month).
    roughly same cost
    3 USB ports
    1 eSata port
    LAN connected to simplified WLAN router (replace the TC with an AE base station).

    That's 4TB, plus a LOT more externally connected via USB & eSATA and its using that server solution mentioned in the previous post; again requires iTunes10 update.
  13. Icaras thread starter macrumors 603


    Mar 18, 2008
    California, United States
    I have done research on using a connected USB HDD to AEBS and from what I've gathered, you still need some mac or computer to access it via iTunes, which I don't want my Mac Pro to do. I've also heard, but please correct me if I'm mistaken, but the Time Capsule is unable to back up any hard drives connected to it. Pretty lame if you ask me.

    I'm not even transferring HD content. Mostly music and just a handful of SD content, but would streaming from the Time Capsule/USB HD be slower? My guess is yes, because the content has to go from the HD to the Mac then to the ATV.

    I don't need 4TB. That's total overkill for me. I don't even need 500 GB at this point to be honest. Again I don't dabble in digital HD video content. I do have a large library of lossless AAC audio though.

    Interesting notion, though I don't feel the need to get rid of my Time Capsule. I still need a router :) And I like the idea of the all in one router/backup HD. It serves me well.

    But I'll definitely take a look at Synology's site and check out that particular model. Thanks for the idea.
  14. Icaras thread starter macrumors 603


    Mar 18, 2008
    California, United States
    No problem. Thanks for the suggestion! I've tried Plex before and thought it was cool. If I end up getting a Mac Mini, I'll definitely look into it again.

    I appreciate the suggestion for savings, but also, an extra $99 is not really an issue for me. I personally feel like it's cheap enough to add on to a Mini. Also, I'm on the other side of the fence. I've already pre-ordered the ATV and am considering pairing it up with a Mini.
  15. steve-p macrumors 68000


    Oct 14, 2008
    Newbury, UK
    I doubt that, at this stage. iPhoto and pictures are a red herring. iPhoto does not have to be open anyway, because iTunes imports the previews into its library for any pictures that you are going to stream or sync. Music when streamed via Airtunes/Airplay is converted to Apple lossless at the iTunes end as it is streamed. There's no great technical barrier for Apple to provide a lightweight iTunes server to run on the computer containing the library, so that it wasn't necessary to run the full iTunes all the time, but there's no evidence of it yet, and they could have done that in the past if they had wanted to. Indeed the sensible thing would have been to split iTunes in two and have a server component and a client with user interface, rather than one big application.

    To the OP, you seem to be saying that now that Apple TV is only $99 you are willing to spend hundreds of dollars to get round the limitation that it has no internal storage. Perhaps you should be looking at the first generation Apple TV after all?
  16. OllyW Moderator


    Staff Member

    Oct 11, 2005
    The Black Country, England
    With the old Apple TV, iTunes must be running on your computer so that the library can be accessed.

    I can't answer the question about iPhoto because all the photos I've got on mine are synced to the hard drive on the Apple TV.
  17. gilford macrumors member

    Mar 15, 2010
    Here's my 2 pence worth.............

    I had an old ATV, I was sick and tired of the problems with it so stumped up and bought a new Mini with HDMI. It's awsome! When they announced the new ATV I ordered one straight away and planned on having both running in the lounge. Now I have had the Mini and Plex for over a month I cancelled my new ATV order this morning :D

    If you can afford it the new Mini is just amazing, you can perform any menial office task sat on your sofa, check your e mail, open attachments, rent a movie, watch catch up TV, the list is endless!

    I have now bought a blu ray drive for it and am in the process of backing up all my blu ray films to be played in Plex, the quality is awsome! Be prepared to buy a few external HD's though, Avatar in 40gb :eek:

    Both are superb products, but the ATV does cripple you to the iTunes way of life which can get tiring, if money isn't an issue go for the Mini, I will put money on it that you wont be disappointed :)
  18. vwDavid macrumors regular

    Aug 20, 2007
    Can PLEX be controlled well with the apple remote?
  19. trip1ex macrumors 68000

    Jan 10, 2008
    Another solution is to build a cheap yet powerful sub-$400 Windows pc..

    Stream from iTunes on the Windows pc to ATV.

    Just pick up a hard drive, dvd drive, case, power supply, cpu, motherboard w/igpu, ram, and Win7 and that's it. PLug it into your network and tuck it out of the way.
  20. Icaras thread starter macrumors 603


    Mar 18, 2008
    California, United States
    The problem with the first generation is now 160GB is too small.

    It's not just internal storage limitations, since in the new ATV, i can simply select any Mac in the house to stream from (and since I won't be making a quick decision on getting a Mac mini, that's what I'll be doing for a couple of months). But it's about not wanting to use my Mac Pro as the streaming machine. Firstly, as an energy savings nut, I believe it generates far too much wattage for a job as menial as listening to a music album on my home theater setup. It will also most likely mean I will need iTunes up and running as OllyW below you mentions, which means OSX should be available anytime someone might want to use the ATV, which it isn't since sometimes since my Mac Pro is bootcamped into Windows.

    So, it gets a little complicated.

    Thanks for the heads up. It's probably a safe bet that the new ATV will work the same way.

    40GB! That's ridiculous! This is including all the features as well, right?

    Thanks for the advice. Yea, it seems generally speaking, that the Mac mini is preferred as the definite HTPC and most definitely offers greater control and flexibility than the ATV.

    Do you have any other Macs or computers in the house with their own iTunes libraries? Do you sync all of them to the mini somehow? Looks like I'd like the mini but I'm a little wary of having to update the mini's library from time to time as I plan to have all media from all Macs combined on it. Sounds like it might be a lot of maintenance that I may not want to keep up with. Is this the advantage of having a NAS?

    When I had it years ago, the remote worked. Not sure about now though. I would imagine it does if it's this popular.
  21. gugy macrumors 68030

    Jan 31, 2005
    La Jolla, CA
    Just a question,

    Can I hook up an external hard drive to my Airport Extreme and watch my media content (library of videos/music from iTunes and photos) without having my Mac Pro on? Does ATV able to read (streaming)out of that hard drive even if my iTunes is off on my Mac Pro?
  22. OllyW Moderator


    Staff Member

    Oct 11, 2005
    The Black Country, England
    Not without hacking it and installing other software.

    As standard, the Apple TV is just an extender for your iTunes content and if you are streaming that content your computer needs to be switched on with iTunes running.

    Mine is hacked and running XBMC, Boxee and nitoTV so I can access my media files direct from my networked hard drive without the computer running.

    Obviously, these hacks will only work with the original Apple TV and are not compatible with the OS on the new model.
  23. DJinTX macrumors 6502

    Sep 15, 2010
    This thread is starting to make me look differently at the Mac Mini. I can't afford one right now, so if I went that way I would have to put it on hold awhile (my wife's PowerBook G4 is about to die, so it's the next Mac on the to do list). Of course I guess I could get the new ATV, treat it as an inexpensive experiment, and if it works well then great. But if not I haven't invested much.

    Yeah I'm nowhere near a final decision ;) I have lots of thinkin' to do.
  24. gugy macrumors 68030

    Jan 31, 2005
    La Jolla, CA
    Do you think once the new ATV is out maybe there is a chance to be hacked and bring this functionality?
  25. gugy macrumors 68030

    Jan 31, 2005
    La Jolla, CA
    I am in the same conundrum.
    I think the Mini is perfect for my needs of using as media player, accept a variety of formats and 1080p. But the cost and the lack of a more sophisticate UI(like ATV UI) is a downer. I know Plex is out there but I heard is not that easy to use.
    I really need something VERY SIMPLE to use so wife and kids can use it without getting frustrate.

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