Mac mini as a media center HT and HiFi: Experience after 6 months

Discussion in 'Mac mini' started by oaltun, Feb 11, 2014.

  1. oaltun, Feb 11, 2014
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2015

    oaltun macrumors newbie

    Jul 27, 2013
    Inspired by Donka's excellent post, I set up my entire Home Cinema + Hi Fi system around my Mac Mini. I've been using it more than 6 months, so wanted to share my personal pro's and cons of such a setup:

    Almost 90% of the time, my sources are digital, I listen to digital music (mostly lossless), I watch mkv files for movies and tv shows. Rarely I watch BD's and play games from PS 3 and also rarely I listen to CD's. So I figured having one source (Mac Mini) for everything would be the logical choice for me.
    Also my living room is not large enough to accommodate a separate HT system and a HiFi system.

    Equipment and why
    Media Source: Mac Mini 2.5GHz i5 dual core (late 2012), 8GB, 500GB HDD
    I have a mac book pro, iphone, and ipad - so to make everything work in harmony, Mac Mini was the obvious choice. I never even considered a PC (once you go mac...), and all these network players cannot handle the complexity of my music collection (more than 10000 songs) - I need my iTunes playlists and flexibility...
    The 2.5GHz version is definitely enough for almost all the tasks, but sometimes it's rather slow when it has to do a few things at the same time (itunes match, play movie and download for instance). So sometimes i wonder if I should have gone for the quad core...
    I have an external 2TB HDD attached to the Mac mini where I keep all the movies and tv series.

    Logitech K811 bluetooth keyboard and apple trackpad to control mac mini directly

    Airport express connected to the amplifier to sometimes wirelessly listen to music and podcasts instead of from mac mini

    My other components:
    Hegel H300 amplifier (connected to Mac via USB)
    Pioneer SC 2023 receiver (connected to Mac via HDMI, and connected to Hegel H300 via pre-outs into Hegel’s HT in ports)

    iTunes for all music
    iTunes Match: That's a must given multiple apple devices to listen to music
    PLEX for movies and TV shows - this is a no brainer.
    PLEX is set to output sound to HDMI regardless of the Mac Mini settings - this way I don't have to everytime change the sound output of the Mac Mini.
    Spotify to discover new music
    VLC and XBMC for iso files that Plex cannot play
    XLD to convert flac files to Apple lossless
    Rowmote pro to control imac from mobile devices (see Donka's post for full review)
    Remote app in ipad and iphone to control itunes during music play
    Screen sharing from macbook pro to sometimes connect to mac mini from another room or just too lazy to lean forward to the logitech keyboard while I have my macbook:)
    VTAudioSwitch: to switch between USB output vs HDMI in Mac Mini
    Audirvana Plus: To improve the quality of sound from iTunes
    Unlike Donka's post, I did not see any need to install LogMeIn, Keyboard Maestro and all other software he mentions that didn't mention in my post.

    What Works:
    Having one system as HT and HiFi was actually a good saving (able to use front speakers as part of HT system and no need for extra players), which I could invest into better quality Amp and Speakers.
    Mac mini as a source is also a great pleasure – Plex is amazing software to manage HT, and iTunes (even with its flaws) is the best media player available in the market IMHO, to manage a big music library, sync all with iTunes match and play podcasts as well.
    The music sound quality is awesome, thanks to USB connection from the Mac into the internal DAC of the amp. I have discovered so many more details in some of the songs that I have known for years.

    Overall I'm very happy with this setup since almost 2 years now (this is a Jan 15 edit).
    The one annoying thing is that I could not manage to have my Harmony remote manage everything perfectly – there are always problems. For instance it would “wake” Mac Mini but suddenly the music starts to play. It also is not able to change the sound output of Mac Mini, which has to be done manually. At the end I do not use it any more, pity for my investment.

    Hope this is useful to anybody with similar concerns. Any input or suggestions are welcome.
  2. blanka macrumors 68000

    Jul 30, 2012
    Since I do EVERYTHING with the Mini, I connected the HDMI to the screen directly, and the optical audio out to the receiver. I never have to change inputs on the receiver, as everything comes from the mac.
    I programmed the receiver remote to work as Apple Remote, so I can control XBMC with it and change volume and surround settings at the same time with just 1 remote.
    With the direct to screen cable, the 3 minute black out setting from energy controls works as well. With no activity, the screen turns off after 3 minutes.
  3. noremacyug, Feb 11, 2014
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2014

    noremacyug macrumors member

    Feb 5, 2014
    Mac mini as a media center HT and HiFi: Experience after 6 months

    I just picked up a mini a few days ago for this purpose. I've had numerous htpcs I've built over the past few years now as well as dedicated devices like the wdtv live, roku and a jailbroken atv2. Nothing has run as beautifully as the Mac mini running xbmc with aeon nox skin...... beautiful!!! I ran plex for a bit and skinned it with the night skin. Looked ok, but I just like xbmc better. I have no need for transcoding and the other features the plex server offers. Xbmc plays everything I've tossed at it so far. Gonna try some 30Gb mkv's here soon to see how it handles them. Based on current CPU use when watching things, I'm expecting no problems. I plan on adding other nodes throughout the house, which will prolly be android mini pc's running xbmc.

    The mini is great in the htpc/server roll it's currently in. I bought the osx server app and can use my mini for time machine backups now as well as some other services. I hope to find more uses for it as it has plenty of CPU cycles available. All in all, it's been the best htpc I've owned so far.

    The apple remote on my harmony works perfectly, but I'm guessing a windows media remote could work as well. I might try this because the windows remote has some more individual buttons which would be nice from time to time. I've also used a keyboard "device" in the harmony and that worked great on windows xbmc, haven't tried it in osx yet.
  4. Zephyre macrumors newbie


    Aug 22, 2011
    Geelong, Australia
    I am in the process of setting a Mini up as a media center - and am wondering whether using Plex for music as well as TV Shows/Movies is an option?

    Is the audio output the same quality as the Mini?
  5. oaltun thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jul 27, 2013
    Plex is a great option for Music too. There is no difference vs iTunes in sound quality.
    The only reason I prefer iTunes is that I have thousands of songs that I rated and organized into playlists since years in iTunes.
  6. T'hain Esh Kelch macrumors 601

    T'hain Esh Kelch

    Aug 5, 2001
    I tried using Plex for music and found it awful (For movies and TV shows, it is amazing though). I can't say if they changed things since I tried it out (2 years ago), but I currently run iTunes for all music and love it.

    Especially with the iTunes remote app, I just give my close friends access to the library, and then they can play around with a playlist during parties. Works like a charm.

    And of course, the iTunes remote app is very girlfriend-friendly.. ;)
  7. phrehdd macrumors 68040


    Oct 25, 2008
    Really nice to see people using a Mac Mini for an HTPC. It has a great footprint and newer model Minis certainly have enough power.

    I really like XBMC and only wish that creating play lists of music was a bit easier to do. Playlists via iTunes is an easier proposition for me with respect to creating the playlists. Other software worth investigating would be JRivers media software.

    To date, I have set up several XBMC on Mini for friends who moved on to newer computers. They kept their Minis and 'retooled' them for media centers.

    While I have a full AV set up, I also have my older quad 2.0 Mini with Linux and XBMC installed. I use this when I have friends over to watch movies. They absolutely are impressed with the front end screens of XBMC and the scraping feature.

    Again - glad to see folks using the Mini for an HTPC.
  8. Jambalaya macrumors 6502a

    Jun 21, 2013
    Didn't see this first time round but very interesting thread.

    I use my Mini as HT (it's normally connected to the TV only occasionally to a monitor for "work") partly as I found the ATV would drop out due to WiFi issues and partly as we didn't have the space for a separate desktop location. I am currently looking for some new speakers to connect my beloved old AMP (NAD from late '80s which I cannot bear to throw out for sentimental reasons) and then get it all hooked up to Mini/TV so this is very useful info.
  9. Donka macrumors 68030


    May 3, 2011
    Just wanted to say that due to a young family, I had to move things around and the Mac Mini is now in a separate room being used as an office but it is still serving up Plex and still working great over the home network to various TVs. It just goes to prove how flexible a performer it is provided you have the right clients.
  10. slayerizer macrumors 6502a

    Nov 9, 2012
    I do own macs but my HT setup are not mac based.

    I installed two servers running Linux (Intel i3). One server is a perfect replica of the other but with versioning up to 7 days. So if I erase or overwrite something I have up to 7 days to get my stuff back.

    Once my primary server I have Plex and Samba file shares & web server.

    I can connect to it via windows,mac,ios,android. In my home theater room I have an another i3 box (with ssd and a silent video card). I chose Windows because my favorite software to playback movies is Arcsoft Movie Theater. It can bistream 7.1 audio from any bluray to the sound card which is hooked to my receiver (with 7.1 speakers). I also have JRiver installed onto it. When I launch JRiver, it connect to a remote library in my computer room. So if I change or update something there, I don't have to replicate my libraries.

    TV Shows and casual movies: Plex
    Music: JRiver (support FLAC, iso and much more)
    Arcsoft : For kick-ass HD content.

    My audio files are also available via Plex. I can also connect to my Plex remotely via a web browser to watch tv shows or listen to music.

    I have three appletv that were modified to connect to my Plex server(s). I can start watching something in any room, continue on my ipad, switch to my phone, etc...

    I have more than 15TB of HDD on each servers. I do integral RIP of bluray to keep the video and audio intact (I have over 350 blurays and 350 dvd, legally owned). Each servers have 3 network cards. One is dedicated to replication, the two others are bridged into a single 2GBPS virtual nic.

    I can use all my appletv at the same time (for different shows) and it still works perfectly

    Some pictures of my HT room.

    I use the Pioneer as a preamp and route all my 7 channels to external emotiva amps.

    I have 5 gigabit switches (8,8,8,16,16 ports). Everything is wired in gigabit (receivers, appletv, bluray, tv, computers).

    I tried to wrote a plan involving a mini but storage is always an issue. Thunderbolt arrays are really expensive and USB external storage is a NO for multiple concurrent users.

    I have 3 distinct HT rooms and they're setup with Harmony remotes.

    My wife is loving it, she's the primary user!

    other than that, I have an imac but plan to get a mini when it's refreshed someday.
  11. Digglez macrumors newbie

    Jun 24, 2010
    I have been using my Mini as a Plex server/Player for over a year and it works really well. The HT interface looks amazing on my TV and people are usually floored when I show it off to them. There are a couple of annoyances however. The main one is outlined in the following thread.

    Warning: If you are happy with the way things are running on your mini, the following thread may cause you to obsess over an issue that you never noticed before...
  12. Jambalaya macrumors 6502a

    Jun 21, 2013
    Wow !
  13. whe73 macrumors newbie

    Nov 26, 2011
    iTunes opens and plays automatically

    I've had a Mac mini setup as our HTPC for probably 4 years now. And I love it. Except for one thing that drives me nuts. Often, but not always, when I use my Harmony remote to switch from say TV to the Mini, itunes will open and start playing a song or video.

    Is this the remote doing something? Or???? How is it opening an app? It doesn't open any other apps.

    Has anyone else experienced this and fixed?
  14. Donka macrumors 68030


    May 3, 2011
    If you don't need to use any remotes with your Mac mini you can disable the Ir receiver.

    system preferences------security----general ------disable remote control receiver

    If you do need to use remotes with the Mac, look at the following
  15. oaltun thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jul 27, 2013
    I gave up on using my harmony remote long time ago with Mac Mini, too many strange errors... now I have a logitech wireless keyboard and a trackpad on the sofa table, and I also sometimes use apple remote / apple remote app / rowmote when I'm not at my sofa...
  16. andeify macrumors 6502


    Jun 10, 2012
    I just got a Harmony 350 remote and it seems to work fine with my Mini.

    Very happy using the Mini as a Media Center/Server
  17. ServiceTag macrumors member

    Oct 21, 2008
    3 years using Harmony One for all HT including Mac Mini and it never failed. The only problem is a remote itself - a couple buttons already starts slipping..
  18. giggles macrumors 6502

    Dec 15, 2012
    Didn't read the whole thread, but I see you mention switching audio output being a chore, for that you can use a little menubar utility called "SoundSource".
  19. knarzie macrumors regular

    Aug 5, 2008
    Does anyone know whether a Mac mini can outpu put two different audio signals simultaneously?

    I've got a Mac mini connected to my tv via HDMI for plex duties. I'd like to use it for music duties as well (USB>DAC/headphone amp).

    Would I be able to watch movies on TV through PLEX/VLC and output the itunes audio signal via USB at the same time, or is that not possible?
  20. giggles macrumors 6502

    Dec 15, 2012
  21. oaltun thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jul 27, 2013
    Jan 2015 update

    Thank you, in fact I resolved this issue some time ago by setting PLEX audio output to HDMI. This way Mac Mini sound output is always at USB connection for Music. Silly of me not to think of this in the first place. I updated the original post accordingly.
  22. gpspad macrumors 6502a

    Feb 4, 2014
    So how do you play the usb output? What amplifier takes a usb input?
  23. oaltun thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jul 27, 2013
    The one with an integrated DAC:) I think many modern amp's started to have this. For old amps, you can use an external DAC which will connect to your USB port, and increase the sound quality from your digital music files significantly. Mine is a Hegel H300, check out
  24. knarzie macrumors regular

    Aug 5, 2008
    Unless I misunderstand, this doesn't answer my question. This tells me how to output the same signal to two or more devices. I would like to output one signal (plex/vlc) via hdmi, while also playing music in iTunes through USB
  25. Donka macrumors 68030


    May 3, 2011
    I don't believe there is a way to do that but I'm not the best person to confirm.

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26 February 11, 2014