Mac Mini: As a Media (Movie) Centre

Discussion in 'Apple TV and Home Theater' started by YetiMac, Jul 1, 2012.

  1. YetiMac macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Oct 28, 2011
    Location:
    Fylde Coast, UK.
    #1
    Hi all. :)

    Long time Mac user here, but new to using Mac's as a media centre, so any help welcome.

    I've been looking into building a home (family orientated) media centre built around a Mini plugged into a large 50" flat screen TV via HDMI. Can it be done and which model is best for the task? The main reason is to stop discs being damaged by little fingers ! Option to use Apple TV and download media is not really viable due to a slow-ish broadband connection (roll on fibre optic!).

    I'd like to be able to rip DVD / Blueray discs and then have them stored on a high capacity RAID external HD setup. My aim is to rip each disc without a compromise on picture quality.

    Can you please point me in the direction of the best guides for the process, including software etc.

    My biggest concern is to find some sort of Mac software that can work as a media interface, which is simple enough for an eight year old to use and navigate.

    Any advice most welcome :)
     
  2. iamdavekennedy macrumors regular

    Joined:
    May 14, 2012
    Location:
    London / Belfast
    #2
    Hi Yeti,

    I use a 2006 Core Duo 1.83Ghz Mini with 2GB of ram and that serves my needs perfectly, we have it sitting ontop of an Iomega MiniMax 2TB hard drive which stores all the media.

    The set up is pretty simple, the Mini is set to start up with only XBMC & Spotify running (or iTunes if it's your preference but I usually let XBMC handle local mp3 audio) so the mini boots up and into XBMC giving me a beautiful interface through which to view movies with artwork/trailers/information etc!

    This is controlled by an iOS app called Constellation which allows viewing of the XBMC library on an iPhone/iPod Touch or iPad, which is great as you can avoid scrolling through movies on screen and just hit the one you want on your device (you can still view imdb ratings, trailers, movie info on your device too)

    I find that is the most succinct way to do it, however, it can also be controlled by the Apple Remote that came with the Mac Mini. Both of these processes are pretty easy, and the Apple Remote option especially simple for younger children!

    Spotify is controlled by Spot Remote for iOS and again simple to access and control from a device, the best thing about this is the TV doesn't need to be on if you're outputting to an amplifier/sound system so we can put music on without having to have the TV on which is handy as an alternative to a standalone music system in the living room!

    Last thing I'll say is basically this has been a cheap setup, if you can afford it by all means get something newer with more RAM and a more up to date processor etc, but for a Mini you can pick up for under £200 on Gumtree/Ebay it's an absolutely fantastic media centre and we're yet to have any issues with even huge 12GB (only download of Alice In Wonderland I could find at the time) HD files!

    I can't comment on the CD/DVD/BluRay part of this as I've now gone completely optical media free in favour of digital copies which serves well as it means my somewhat huge movie collection isn't taking up a wall worth of space in my living room!

    Now, the bad thing!

    The only downside I personally have to this, is that because current OS are beyond the minimum requirements for my system, I can't install anything past Snow Leopard on it.. this isn't a major issue at all, still runs fine and never lags as I've mentioned, but we use AirPlay a lot in the house if we're sitting around chatting and showing eachother things or playing games on the iPad and want to share it to the larger screen.

    We've had to purchase an Apple TV to allow us to do that, so if the elements of Airplay appeal to you it could be beneficial for you to either do as I've done, or to spend a little more on a newer (than 2006) model of the Mini that allows for upcoming AirPlay support in Mountain Lion!

    Hope that is of some help to you, if anything isn't clear just let me know!
     
  3. iknowyourider macrumors 6502a

    iknowyourider

    Joined:
    Mar 26, 2008
    Location:
    onanorthboundtrain
    #3
    Dave, Thanks for that great outline. I'm a Mac mini fan and used a 1st gen C2D mini for a media center for several years. My son needed a computer so I traded him my mini for his ATV2. We have really enjoyed the simplicity of the ATV but we miss the mini.

    Thanks again, Mick
     
  4. YetiMac thread starter macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Oct 28, 2011
    Location:
    Fylde Coast, UK.
    #4
    Thanks for such a superb, detailed thorough write up Dave - a huge help :)

    So it looks like I'm on the right track with the Mini, and perhaps a Lion friendly variant would be the best option for some future proofing - loaded with Ram too? I know I'll also need an external DVD / Blueray player for reading the BR discs.

    Looks like the user friendly interface by XBMC is going to be the ideal solution. Just the type of thing I was after, where movies are easily navigated visually as it were, by the movie cover image / poster. We don't have an iDevice, so Apple's own remote will have to make do for now.

    The next things I need is guide as to what to do next - any pointers ? :)
     
  5. coffejor macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2010
    #5
    Hi Yeti,

    I have an '08 Mac Mini with Core 2 Duo running Snow Leopard for my HTPC. This system has worked very well for me, though I do have occasional handshake issues with my TV (but that may be due to a cheap HDMI cable). I tried the AppleTV as my main HTPC but, even jailbroken with XBMC, I found it to be too limited for my primary system (though it's perfect for my bedroom TV).

    I highly recommend XMBC for easy media browsing (I have the XeeBo skin and LOVE it, very intuitive) and Remote Buddy to really give you control over your system. If you are looking to stream media from a media server, I recommend Plex as a receiver / file browser. I have a FreeNAS box that I use for streaming my music to iTunes and my DVDs to Plex (it also acts as a Time Machine) and it works pretty well.

    Hopefully this helps and send a PM to me / post if I can provide any more information.

    ~Jordan
     
  6. YetiMac thread starter macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Oct 28, 2011
    Location:
    Fylde Coast, UK.
    #6
    A couple of days later and things are moving forward :) ….

    XBMC: Prior to hunting for a secondhand Mac Mini, I've had a play with XBMC on the Macbook and I've enjoyed setting it up so far. All good so far.

    DVD Rips: I've used the following software for ripping DVD's: MakeMKV, Ripit and Mac DVD Ripper Pro. I then renamed the ripped DVD folder to an XBMC friendly .mkv folder name and XBMC recognises the file just fine, for example: The.Matrix.1999.mkv. My question is, are these pieces of software producing a mirror copy of the DVD, which is what I'm after so there is zero loss of quality.

    Media Info: I've implemented the scraping by setting IMBD as the source for info and all of the movies now have the cover image and plot info, although there was the odd glitch where Videodrome info replaced X-Men details ! Managed to work that out after a bit of tinkering.

    Skins: Have been downloaded and set up, but I'm still liking the standard interface and the similarly Apple looking Quartz design. Coffejor - I'd like to try Xeebo, but can't seem to find it anywhere on the available list through the XBMC interface - can you please point me in the right direction?

    Blu-Ray: Can anyone please offer any pointers as to where to start in terms of ripping Blu-Ray discs (lossless copies - storage space is not an issue) and setting them up ready for XBMC?

    Any further advice welcome. :)
     
  7. Chrisbbarnes macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Jul 21, 2010
    #7
    Mac mini as media center

    I have the same set up that you are wanting.

    Mac Mini plugged into a 46" Panasonic HD TV. (1024*720).
    Plex as server and player. (type plexapp in google).
    I have two Lacie network d2 drive as storage for (1 - TV shows & 2 - for Movies). I am going to get a new a Lacie 2 big NAS for my HD movies that I have just started to convert. (this will give double storage or raid option).
    I use Handbreak for all standard DVD and Make MKV for Blu-ray stuff.
    All works perfectly for me.
     
  8. YetiMac, Jul 3, 2012
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2012

    YetiMac thread starter macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Oct 28, 2011
    Location:
    Fylde Coast, UK.
    #8
    Sounds very similar to how I'm hoping to set things up ;) I'm just going to explore PLEX to see how well that compares to XBMC.
     
  9. coffejor macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2010
    #9
    Hi Yeti,

    Glad to hear that things are moving forward with your setup.

    You can find info on the XeeBo distro through the designer's release post on the XBMC forum. You can download the most current repository right from the author's signature (I assume that you are using XBMC 11.0 "Eden"). I highly recommend the "alternate home screen" layout, which allows you to to create a tiled list of your favorites. There are quite a few skins on the forum that are not part of the official Eden distribution, but which can be added.

    When you start using XBMC, I strongly recommend downloading the BlueCop repository and enabling Hulu and FreeCable. The former is self-evident and the later scrapes the free web content from a number of major networks.

    Lastly, I still strongly recommend Remote Buddy: this program truly makes the Mini a treat to use as an HTPC. Out of the box, RB works great with the Apple remote, but setting up a Harmony remote can take some major tinkering (though, as I have done this, I may be able to give a couple of pointers).

    Good luck and let me know if you have any more questions / need more clarification.

    ~Jordan
     
  10. danwilliams macrumors member

    Joined:
    Sep 15, 2008
    #10
    Plex and XBMC are basically the same thing. However, there are subtle differences that may help you decide between the two. Check out the following link:

    http://xbmc.tumblr.com/post/8890700647/plex-and-xbmc-differences

    Both are excellent software applications.

    I also strongly suggest RemoteBuddy. It's an excellent piece of software. I have a Harmony One remote control and coupled with the RemoteBuddy software, I can control my MacMini media server from the coach with one remote. I have it set up with over-the-air TV, CD Player, Plex, Netflix, etc... And it is all wife and kid friendly!
     
  11. coffejor macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2010
    #11
    Dan:

    Not to hijack Yeti's thread, but what are you using for Netflix? I haven't found a solution I liked, I tried XBMCFlicks and was really disappointed.

    ~Jordan
     
  12. SpinalTap macrumors regular

    SpinalTap

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2003
    Location:
    Bournville, UK
    #12
    I have a Mac Mini Server as my main computer and a separate Mac Mini as a HTPC (which is fed by a ReadyNAS Duo - where my uncompressed movies are stored - running PLEX).

    However, I've recently purchased an AppleTV3. Utilising Devolo AV200+ homeplugs (that have mac-specific software for monitoring your network), I have re-ripped my movies to the second hard drive on my Mac Mini Server - which is located at the other end of the house. All movies are viewable on my AppleTV.

    Such is the quality of the video playback from my Mini Server to the AppleTV that I have dispensed with the services of my Mac Mini HTPC/ReadyNAS.

    This means that I don't have to waste a dedicated Mac Mini solely for HTPC duties. Moreover, I can spend all my money on one bells-and-whistles Mac Mini for all my computer usage knowing that I can get a superb viewing experience with my main computer to the AppleTV.

    I shall soon take advantage of the Apple recycling scheme to trade-in my Mac Mini's for the next Mac Mini (with USB3 - for bluray ripping).

    By using an iPad to mirror content such as BBC iPlayer to my television via my AppleTV is another reason for not keeping my Mac Mini HTPC.

    As for software, I use a combination of iVI Pro, Rip-It, and VideoDrive. For bluray ripping (when I get a bluray burner), I have PavTube iMedia Converter/Byte Copy.
     
  13. slipper macrumors 68000

    slipper

    Joined:
    Nov 19, 2003
    #13
    I used to have a HTPC with a 2.4GHz Core2Duo Mac Mini running XBMC.

    My opinion would be at minimum get a Intel Core2Duo Mac Mini but preferably an Intel i5 Mac Mini. A Core2Duo Mac Mini will play HD rips fine, but it'll studder badly when quickly scrolling through your movie list. Doesn't sound too bad, but its a true pain in the ass when you have hundreds of movies to scroll through.

    For HTPC software, i tried Plex, XBMC, and Boxee. Boxee sucked so i didn't play around with it much. Plex and XBMC were both really good but i gave the edge to XBMC because it was easier to change file information on the fly. Again, it doesn't sound like a big issue but when you have hundreds of movies, it gets to be a big pain in the ass. XBMC makes it simpler and quicker.

    Whichever HTPC software you choose, it will pull information from athe movie database you choose such as IMDb (imdb.com) or The Movie Database (themoviedb.org). It'll pull the cover photo and movie description from the website automatically and display when you scroll through your movies. The initial set up will be a pain in the ass because you need your movie titles to correspond with the database that you choose. For instance if your movies file name is "Termenador Two.mkv", the software will not be able to pull a cover photo and description from the movie database website. You need to go to the database website and find the movie and change the file name to match. So you would want it to read "Terminator 2 (1991).mkv"

    Hope this helps
     
  14. danwilliams macrumors member

    Joined:
    Sep 15, 2008
    #14
    The main use of Netflix is by my kids. They do this on the small TV via the Wii. In the "man cave" with the huge TV and the MacMini, I view Netflix via Plex's plugin.
     
  15. YetiMac thread starter macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Oct 28, 2011
    Location:
    Fylde Coast, UK.
    #15
    Slipper - that's a great help in terms of the spec of which Mac mini to buy, especially with consideration to the lag and potential stuttering when browsing movies. I'll aim for a i5 as a minimum spec.

    I'm still playing and exploring XBMC and Plex. I like the 'Quartz' Skin in XBMC the most and think it references the Mac interface quite well (Apple TV and the old FrontRow). Although I do also like the Plex Media Server and the capacity to create specific folders for media, very easily and quickly.

    Decisions decisions ! At least until Apple actually create a more versatile movie viewer not chained to iTunes (will it ever happen?) then at least Plex and XBMC seem to function well :)
     
  16. mikeb13 macrumors member

    Joined:
    Jun 19, 2009
    #16
    I recommend Plex. It's a great piece of media software.

    I wish Apple would bring back Front Row. They should sell it in the Mac App Store for $5.

    Another piece of software to check out is the Kylo browser (http://kylo.tv/). It's free and put's every video source in one program.
     
  17. tbayrgs macrumors 603

    tbayrgs

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2009
    Location:
    Florida, USA
    #17
    I second your suggestion about getting an i5 if your budget warrants it however I wonder if you had other issues with your 2.4 GHz C2D as I've been running a 2009 2.0 GHz C2D as my HTPC and have never encountered the studdering issue you described, at least with PLEX, and I have a library of hundreds as well. I will add that I did replace the original HDD with an SSD and installed 8GB of RAM but never had any studdering before or after. It handles whatever I though at it media wise and don't anticipate having to replace it for the foreseeable future.
     
  18. monkeybongo macrumors member

    Joined:
    Sep 13, 2007
    Location:
    Canada
    #18
    +1 for Plex and RemoteBuddy.

    Plex is good for the Plex Media Server. You can stream your movie and music library anywhere there's a 3G/Wifi signal on another laptop or IOS device. Great if you travel in hotels or get stuck waiting for 20 minutes for something, start watching a tv show or movie.

    AirServer is another good recommendation so you can use Airplay mirroring with your iOS device.
     
  19. Dc2006ster macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Jun 9, 2011
    Location:
    Alberta, Canada
    #19
    XBMC Constellation

    Iamdavekennedy: Thanks so much for your post. I am using an old macbook as a media server ( my 1st gen Apple TV gags on mkv filkes ) into my HDTV. I am using XBMC but found it all a bit of a pain to navigate to the movie etc. I was using a bluetooth keyboard and trackpad but it was still a bit of a pain.

    Your mention of XBMC Constellation led me to test it out using my iPad and it works so well. I did have trouble setting it up until I had the idea to use Port Forwarding on my Extreme BAse Station which solved all my connection issues.

    Thanks for the suggestion.
     
  20. Cave Man macrumors 604

    Cave Man

    #20
    You're already using Make MKV so you should be set for ripping Blu-rays, provide you have a Blu-ray ROM drive. The key is to unselect the audio and subtitle tracks that you do not plan to use. Those unnecessarily bloat the files that are ripped. Search for the "Blu-ray to Apple TV" thread that I started a few years ago. That should give you some tips.

    Also, you will not get True-HD or DTS-MA from a Mac. That might change in the future, but not anytime soon in all likelihood. I just extract the Dolby Digital or DTS cores and be done with it. I also keep all English subtitles, just in case I need forced subs.

    Don't know much about XBMC. I use Plex with a 1080p projector and Onkyo DD/DTS 5.1 audio system. I use a Harmony remote for Plex, but also have Mobile Mouse Pro trackpad/keyboard for my iPhone/iPad. I'm real lazy.
     
  21. YetiMac thread starter macrumors newbie

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    Oct 28, 2011
    Location:
    Fylde Coast, UK.
    #21
    Many thanks for the pointers Cave Man :)

    Is that true, that if a Blu-Ray disc is ripped and then replayed from a (any) Mac the HD performance / screen image is compromised? If correct what is the approximate percentage drop in quality when comparing ripped Blu-Ray movies viewed through a Mac to a dedicated Blu-Ray player?

    So is the task of ripping Blu-Rays a futile one if there is a loss in quality when viewed on a large screen?

    So if ultimate movie image quality is the aim, would it be best to watch Blu-Ray movies through a standalone independent Blu-Ray player, rather than a Mac - Disappointing if so.
     
  22. kbutler84, Jul 5, 2012
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2012

    kbutler84 macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Jun 26, 2011
    #22

    He was refering to Dolby True-HD, a surround sound codec. These have nothing to do with your video. As far as I know (I don't have a mini) any Mini with a C2D processor or newer shouldn't have any trouble playing a 1080p bluray rip.

    EDIT:
    And if I'm not mistaken, if you have a Mini with HDMI, the Dolby True-HD and DTS-HD tracks will be passed as LPCM (I believe the PS3 did this for a while or maybe still does). So you're still getting lossless audio.
     
  23. YetiMac thread starter macrumors newbie

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    Fylde Coast, UK.
    #23
    Ah - I see ! Thanks for confirmation :) Glad that picture quality of a rip will be as per the original Blu-Ray / DVD disc content. I won't be compressing with Handbrake, as for now the movies will be watched mainly on a large screen. I can happily sacrifice a little sound quality in all honesty if I go for an older Mini, but more than likely it will be a late-ish model. Next choice will be Blu-Ray reader !
     
  24. kbutler84 macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Jun 26, 2011
    #24
    My suggestion would be to go with a Mid-2010 model. That will still give you the built-in Superdrive and HDMI output. It's a Core 2 Duo processor, but since you won't be using handbreak to encode, it should serve your needs just fine. But if you ever change your mind about encoding, it's still usable, just not as fast as an i5. (I use a C2D iMac for all my encoding - just takes several hours)
     
  25. YetiMac thread starter macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Oct 28, 2011
    Location:
    Fylde Coast, UK.
    #25
    Ok that's great ;) Sounds just the model, not too old and powerful enough to cope with looking through a movie collection on Plex / XBMC. I'm experimenting on a 2007 MacBook 2.16 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo and its coping just fine - and that's with a full-ish ordinary HDD drive.

    Whatever I buy I'll probably upgrade the HDD to an SSD as I'm a total convert after installing an OWC 3G 120GB into my G5; I'll also max out the RAM as well.

    As for Blu-Ray readers, are there any that mimic / copy the design / format of the Mini enclosure - as some external hard drive manufacturers do? At the moment, I'm looking at the following...

    http://www.ebuyer.com/283933-samsung-se-506ab-usb-2-0-blu-ray-optical-drive-retail-se-506ab-tsbd

    http://eshop.macsales.com/item/OWC/MRSSBD6X/

    http://eshop.macsales.com/item/OWC/MRF8BDSD12X/
     

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