Mac Mini as HTPC or Synology NAS with ATV?

Discussion in 'Apple TV and Home Theater' started by gugy, May 29, 2014.

  1. gugy macrumors 68030


    Jan 31, 2005
    La Jolla, CA
    I have research it and the more I look on the net the more I get confused.

    I hope some kind soul can help me guide to the best decision I can make.

    Here is what I need to do:
    1) Have my media library centralize in one place (TV room when my Plasma HD is) where my whole family can access video/music content using their iDevices/Mac computers and I can watch shows on my HDTV.

    2) Have a back up system that can back up all my computers using Time Machine.

    3) Have this set up to use as a personal cloud so I can access work files remotely and share files with clients (like a FTP).

    From what I have been reading, I can:

    Get a Mac Mini, set up as HTPC system and server OR

    Get a Synology NAS and streaming videos to my AppleTV and iDevices. Also use as personal cloud and FTP.

    I will need to have something like 10TB to 16TB to handle all my media and back up/FTP files.

    I want something simple to set up and straighforward so my family can use it with easy to access media content. The server/Time Machine/FTP/Cloud, can be a little more complex since only myself will be using it.

    I appreciate any feedback and info. Thanks!
  2. Boyd01 macrumors 68040


    Feb 21, 2012
    New Jersey Pine Barrens
    From what I understand, the the Synology can't do that on its own. You would need a computer running iTunes if you want to access your video on your AppleTV.

    I find the whole thing a bit confusing too, since the NAS manufacturers say they include an "iTunes server". But from what I've read, this will only work with music and not video. I think it is possible to watch video from the NAS on an iDevice, but you would need to use some other kind of app and not iTunes.

    I had been thinking of getting something like the Synology myself until I read about this limitation. If I'm wrong, I'm sure someone will correct me. :)
  3. gugy thread starter macrumors 68030


    Jan 31, 2005
    La Jolla, CA
    yeah, for sure if I get the Synology I would like to avoid the need to have my computers on and iTunes running in order to watch something.
  4. Panch0 macrumors 6502a

    Feb 23, 2010
    if you want simple...
    Get the mac mini
    Get Direct attached storage vs. NAS
    Put your content into iTunes accessible formats (handbrake is good at this)
    Set up home sharing and let the ATV do it's thing
    your other devices will also be able to access the library via home sharing

    You generally don't want your main storage and your back-up to be on the same device. Having a sinology or other brand NAS or a Time Capsule strictly dedicated to backup in addition to the above may be a good idea.

    the personal cloud thing could be iffy - depending on your ISP and what you really want to do. Using one of the many existing cloud storage solutions may be easier. However, a Mac Mini or a good NAS like the Synology is plenty capable of bringing it in house.

    ATV requires home sharing, which means iTunes on a Mac or Windows PC. Many NAS devices advertise "iTunes Server" - it is not what it sounds like! The NAS device with iTunes Server shows up as a "Shared Library" in iTunes, but doesn't show up on the aTV or your other iDevices using Home Sharing.

    Most NAS Vendors have IOS apps that you can use to playback content stored on the NAS. Some support AirPlay so you can send that stream to the aTV. This is not simple for non nerds - well, it's not as simple as clicking a button on the remote and watching your show on TV.

    The format of your existing content (MKV for example) may limit your options.
  5. Boyd01 macrumors 68040


    Feb 21, 2012
    New Jersey Pine Barrens
    I agree and personally have two full backups of my important data stored in different locations. But I only have 3tb; with 16tb of data, backup is going to be expensive.
  6. blanka macrumors 68000

    Jul 30, 2012
    Get the Mini if you can afford (2009 Nvidia model is already perfect for HTPC use).
    AppleTV means:no MKV, no DTS, no BluRay and most important: NO 23,976P output!
    In your case I would even go another route:
    Build your own media server.
    Grab a Celeron J1900 board with gigabit and 4xSATA, add 4x4TB drives for your needed 16TB. Install linux with XBMC, Plex, apache, mailserver, anything you like. The board runs 10 watt and is passive cooled and is under 100 bucks! For 200 buck you have the board, 8GB ram, PSU and case, much cheaper than any NAS and WAY MORE VERSATILE.
  7. phrehdd macrumors 68040


    Oct 25, 2008
    I have both Mac Mini(s) and NAS(s) as well as externally attached drives to my Macs.

    If you can't have both, get the Mac Mini as it has certain advantages in that you can always use external drives, pure iTunes for ATV AND also if you get a later model with HDMI, you can use the Mac Mini direct to your TV to playback files. Consider investigating both XBMC and PLEX (free apps) which can play more than what ATV can play in terms of file formats and also have various additions such as apps for IOS devices to control your XBMC or PLEX set ups.

    NAS does fantastic as a storage unit on the network but is just breaking its teeth on being a true transcoding server unless you want to jump into the much higher priced NAS units.

    As for external storage for a Mini - USB2 on up will work fine for the most part. If you want to stream to more than one device at a time, use USB3 or Thunderbolt (Firewire 800 should work reasonably well).

    My set up includes quad 2.0 and 2.7 Mac Minis, 2 QNAP NAS units (4 and 5 bay respectively). My first Mini has Ubuntu + XBMC for media playback. My 2.7 remains with OSX and XBMC for media playback plus of course, iTunes. I use HDMI to an receiver (AVR) then to my TV and speakers. Life is good as my universal remote works with the above (Logitec Harmony One). Just remember, XBMC and PLEX can play more file types than ATV so you might be able to avoid converting file formats if inclined.
  8. gugy thread starter macrumors 68030


    Jan 31, 2005
    La Jolla, CA
    Thanks for the feedback!

    Yeah, I might look into buy a 2010 old Mac Mini to handle my media content and TM back up.
    I will get some external storage to increase the capacity and have a dedicate drive for back up and another for media.

    The nice thing about the Mini over ATV is that I can just rip my DVDs using Video_TS without the need to convert it all. If I understand it correctly, Plex can playback it.

    I guess, I will then just get a Synology NAS to handle my FTP/Cloud needs.
    My ISP is pretty good and reliable. TWC, I have the fastest package they have available for residential customers.
  9. jlc1978 macrumors 68020


    Aug 14, 2009
    Not quit the case. The Synolgy will stream apps to iTV via their DS Video App independent of the computer running iTunes; it also lets you watch them on an iPad/iPhone. Pretty neat App.
  10. ColdCase macrumors 68030

    Feb 10, 2008
    Doesn't work with my current generation ATV and Synology NAS.

    There are player (client) apps synology will give you for iPad and iPhone, not currently an ATV however. Then you use airplay on the iPad to view with your ATV. I found hosting an sharing an iTunes library on a computer works a heck of a lot better that the synology stuff.... but that could just be me.

    OP, put the money you were going to spend on the synology into a mac mini. I wish I had done that approach a year ago... but I got swept up by all the synology fans here. Synology makes a nice NAS, solid good performance. Its no where near a computer as far as capability.
  11. SpinalTap macrumors regular


    Sep 25, 2003
    Bournville, UK
    Here's my take on combining the latest Mac Mini with an AppleTV.

    Until recently I had two (2009) Mac Mini's: one as my primary Mac, while the other was used as a dedicated HTPC. I also own an AppleTV3 solely for accessing Netflix and iTunes movie rentals.

    However, I've already sold one Mac Mini and am in the process of selling the second. Why? Because I now have a 2012 Mac Mini which allows remote/direct streaming to my ATV.

    Previously, the HTPC was directly connected to my Panasonic plasma. Besides overscan issues, OSX auto-detected my Panasonic and calibrated the settings accordingly.

    Now, utilising AirPlay on my 2012 Mac Mini (located upstairs), and connecting to my AppleTV (located in my downstairs lounge) via Devolo homeplugs, Mac OSX continues to auto-detect my Panasonic plasma in its list of calibrated settings. Neat.

    Using HippoRemote on my iPhone, and NetShield on my Mac Mini, I can control access to foreign catch-up/streaming services without issue. Access to PLEX and XBMC content is simple in its execution, while access to all the UK catch-up services is equally simple: including SkyGo ticket (for those without a Sky subscription).

    Unlike my previous dedicated HTPC set-up, any streamed picture is perfectly in proportion to my Panasonic plasma without having to select any overscan feature (which would ordinarily be required if a recent Mac Mini was directly connected to my Panasonic).

    I also have a Netgear ReadyNAS attached to my Mac Mini: mounting the NAS on the Mac desktop facilitates access to an expanding library of music, movies and photos. It also doubles as a TimeMachine back-up. The caveat is that if I were buying today I would likely opt for Synology.

    Personally, I'm really pleased with this set-up - which has saved the cost in buying a second Mac Mini (and it has greatly expanded the flexibility of my AppleTV).
  12. mvmanolov macrumors 6502a

    Aug 27, 2013
    i have a similar setup with a mini. what i really like about it, aside of file sharing and backup and vpn and all of the other server services, is the ability to sit back on my couch with a little bean bag tray my magic trackpad and keyboard and use the TV as my giant monitor. in fact i am typing this on the tv as we speak... granted the quality is not as good as it would be on a monitor, but i sit about 10ft away and it is not even a little bit noticeable...

    some more food for thought :D

    ps. i have a 4 drive raid box attached via usb 3. i did not want the box to be next to the mini (the mini is in my living room right under the tv) because i wanted it quiet, and since mine was rack mount unit i put it in the basement about 50ft away using 2 of these:

    they work perfect... on top of it all with the mini i set up link aggregation (i have a smart switch GS716T v2) and so now all the clients in the house share the 200MB/s connection from the mini.....
  13. blanka macrumors 68000

    Jul 30, 2012
    That's why I recommended the DIY server. For 150 bucks, half the price of a Synology, you have a full featured server that runs Plex server (and thus converts your raw material), allows 4 full 3,5 inch disks for up to 16TB of storage, is complete silent (fanless) and is much faster than the Synology (quad core X86, max 16GB ram, 2x SATA 300+2xSATA 600, gigabit)
  14. Uofmtiger macrumors 68020


    Dec 11, 2010
    I also vote for the mini, but I would pair it with an Appletv since they work great together. The mini can run Plex, Xbmc, and iTunes which also come in handy. I use Roomie Remote on iOS to control everything and automatically launch the main mini programs. I supplement it with Rowmote Pro which is better for moving around the screen in Safari.

    The Synology apps are nice if you have iOS, but they take some of the convenience away from using the Appletv.
  15. dskmac macrumors newbie

    May 16, 2011
    I actually have a similar setup like you are describing. Only difference is I use a Plex Media Server/Client solution with my Mac Mini.

    The Mac Mini is my main HTPC. The Plex client runs on the Mac and is connected to my Synology NAS through a router and ethernet.

    For my Apple TV, I use Plex Connect that streams my media which is stored on my Synology. Plex Connect configured on the Mac Mini help stream my media to the Apple TV.

    With this setup, I have accomplished the following:
    - Access my media through Plex on the Mac Mini
    - Have the ability to access my media using my iDevices through the Plex mobile app
    - Apple TV streams media stored on Synology using Plex Connect, (Plex Server running on Mac Mini)
    - Can manage, download and stream media remotely using my iDevices with Synology iOS apps
    - Have daily backups of my media to an external HDD thats attached to my Synology via USB

    Now, I could have simply connected a DAS drive to the Mac Mini, but I wanted to have a solution where I can also access my media remotely with all the benefits mentioned above.

    Good luck with your setup...mine is just one way of doing this, but you have many options.
  16. gugy thread starter macrumors 68030


    Jan 31, 2005
    La Jolla, CA
    Thanks for the input.
    Yeah, I think I am going the MacMini route with DAS.
    I am also considering a Synology to access media remotely ans share files with clients.
  17. mpress03 macrumors member

    Feb 24, 2012
    I would recommend the Mac Mini as well. There are apps that will turn your Mac Mini into a cloud service. I personally use Tonido. Everything is saved local (data, password, etc.) but is available over a special website. Works great for accessing my files anywhere and also has apps available for iOS and Android. Best of all, it's free.
  18. coops macrumors regular

    Sep 10, 2009
    gugy - i'm curious why you don't run the Plex server on the Synology ( and then not need the mini at all) ?
  19. DaPhatty macrumors member

    Jul 12, 2008
    I have a Synology NAS and a Mac Mini for my ATV environment. I found that streaming content from my Synology to my ATVs (via iTunes) introduced additional latency in the delivery of my video content. This latency was particularly noticeable when playing content over wifi. Eventually, I went back to my original configuration (external Firewire drive containing my iTunes library) and I've had zero problems since then. I primarily use the Synology for backup purposes now.

    While I highly recommend the Synology brand of NAS devices, there are better solutions available if your sole purpose is to house your iTunes library for playback on ATVs.

    EDIT: I should note that the Synology NAS is EXCELLENT as a Time Machine backup target. As long as you follow Synology's instructions for setting up Time Machine, you will be golden. I use my Synology to back up three different OS X computers. When I recently upgraded the hard drive in one of my Macs to an SSD, I simply installed the SSD and used a network Time Machine backup to restore the OS. Worked like charm! :)
  20. gugy thread starter macrumors 68030


    Jan 31, 2005
    La Jolla, CA
    Interesting. My main goal is to have a simple solution. I don't mind buying an used Mac mini and add external storage for TM backup and have my media library.
    I am puzzled by Synology but I heard I will need to convert all my video media to ATV compatible format and their apps work differently than iTunes. I just want to make sure I can live without a Mac running at all time if I go that route.

    I am not aware of this solution.
  21. coops macrumors regular

    Sep 10, 2009
    In the Synology package centre is the Plex server app. Install it and the plex server runs natively on the synology, point it at the tv and movies you want to stream.

    NPlayer on my ipad can see the synology file system using FTP and will play shows and movies ok. Vlc also sees servers/network drives etc.
  22. DaPhatty macrumors member

    Jul 12, 2008
    I was aiming for a simple solution as well, although my target audience really restricted the parameters of my environment. The synology offers many apps for transcoding/streaming, but my goal was to leverage the Apple TV interface so even my wife could use it. Asking her, or anyone else for that matter, to use the plex app and airplay to the ATV... Far too complicated.

    Unfortunately, playback from the Synology couldn't provide the performance I came to expect with iTunes and direct attached storage via the Macmini. That said, I kept the synology because it is an awesome device.
  23. gugy thread starter macrumors 68030


    Jan 31, 2005
    La Jolla, CA
    Interesting. I have the same issue like you. My wife is illiterate when comes to tech so it needs to be simple and straightforward. My kids while smart, they are still kids and I also need something simple. They are used to the ATV environment, that's why I wonder if the Mini would work better under my circumstances.
  24. coops macrumors regular

    Sep 10, 2009
    If you do the plexconnect on the ATV then you get the Plex interface on your atv... Which is a nice, easy to use interface for selecting. Ovies and tv shows and having watchlists etc. Back when i tried it out, the trailers app was then 'plex' and is as point and play as any other app ONCE setup (!) ... With the plex server running on the synology where all my tv shows and movies are stored.

    i have gone to a WD TV Live as it can play anything no problem without transcoding AND supports subtitles embedded and/or external srt files subtitles just fine...

    but am just in the process of going back to using Plex - it's a good interface, and the watchlists etc and tracking what you've seen already is useful.
    i've just got a raspberry pi which can easily be made into a play anything plex client - so plex server on my synology and plex client on the little pi ( which is also cheaper than an atv etc), no worries about any further issues with plexconnect 'hack' becoming unusable on the atv, and should be as seamless as possible... Will see, but the pi plex client is meant to be able to play direct with no transcoding like the wd tv live, but with the benefit of the plex interface.

    another box connected to the tv... But maybe a quite simple one once done.
  25. whoiare, Jun 12, 2014
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2014

    whoiare macrumors regular

    Aug 30, 2011

    Im not sure why you are making this way more complex then it has to be with all the NAS/server type things. The solution is simple, just will require a bit of upfront work to get all your media in a correct order.

    If your whole house has macs/Idevices then there is nothing more simpler than running everything through itunes. so to answer your questions

    1. you dont want all your media connected to the TV. you want all over media connected to a main mac mini somewhere else in the house. You want to have one main itunes library. Each member of the house can have their own mac login and have access to this shared library in order to add media to their own idevice. Any mac on the same LAN will also have access to this shared itunes library. You then want apple tvs connected to every tv. All with home sharing, all with netflix, all with parental controls installed so they cant buy/rent anything etc.
    2. in order to get internet everywhere and have a backup just get a time machine.
    3. Wait for Yosemite which will allow icloud to become a file server. Buy the largest package. and you can share documents with certain users right from the cloud.

    i was on the XBMC/PLex server kick for a while. The only real reason was because i had a mixed bag of files. avi/mkv etc. But i decided to take the plunge and convert all my media to itunes friendly formats/tag everything properly and have a pristine looking itunes. This seems daunting but it really forces you to filter out your media. As in youll find movies/tvshows etc that you KNOW you will never watch a again. So instead of wasting space you just delete them.

    With the combination of netflix and itunes i hardly find time to watch OLDER movies and they are maybe 2 tv shows that we would ever truly watch again. I have about 30 or so movies that i KNOW i would watch again, but thats out of the 1000+ i have in itunes.

    whats nice about having everything in itunes and using idevices and apple tvs to access itunes throughout the house is the syncing. You can start a movie on an atv...close it...reopen on an ipad and it tracks your position. Play counts can be updated by every device. ratings all stay synced. This even applies to netflix.

    i have a 2010 mac mini with a 3tb harddrive attached using firewire800 which houses my itunes/pics/backup. the wife and i both have iphones/ipads/ipods. i have 3 atvs throughout the house. various airplay speakers, and one other imac. wirelessy syncing files to iphones and ipads. Putting music/videos on ipods that live in the car. starting movies in the theater room only to finish them in the bedroom. running whole house speaker using remote app and being able to control the music through said idevices. playing 3 different movies in 3 different places at the same time. sharing calendars/numbers files all through icloud. all flawless.
    cant wait to see the new family icloud services with iOS8 and icloud drive and hopefully a new ATV where we can take advantage of all itunes has to offer.

    The only draw back of the atv so far is the sorting and searching. Plex/XBMC are much nicer in this respect. But seriously that is it.

    become an all apple home if you arent already. Make itunes as nice as possible - filter out things you KNOW you wont ever use. i use to be borderline media hoarder. But taking a step back and seeing how i really use my media it becomes more and more clear that there will ALWAYS be something new to watch...and unless the show/movie etc is THAT good i typically will always opt for watching something new than something ive already seen. even with music i find myself more and more streaming itunes radio than my own personal library just because ive heard all these songs before.

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