Mac mini duo in family room: a review

Discussion in 'Mac Pro' started by jsw, Mar 6, 2006.

  1. jsw Moderator emeritus


    Mar 16, 2004
    Andover, MA
    I have long yearned for a computer in my family room (aside from the PowerBook) - one always at hand, one the kids could use for games, etc. I've held back because I couldn't afford a decent TV and because I wasn't sure about getting a Mac mini.

    That changed this weekend.

    On Wednesday, I bought a stock mini duo. Fearing that the RAM was insufficient, and not being all that eager to crack the case like a little white lobster, I returned the mini Friday for an "ultimate" package at my local Apple Store - 1GB RAM, 100GB HD. How this qualifies as "ultimate" I don't know, but the little green sticker on the box clearly says ULTIMATE, so who am I to argue?

    Saturday, I purchased a Westinghouse LVM-37W1 37" HDTV at Best Buy for $1534. I have no idea why it was $1534 - even the web showed it at $1804 (now $1699), but it was. 1920x1080 resolution (!!), decent quality, and all I needed for a reasonably small room where much of the TV viewing is family-oriented. I also bought a wall mount bracket. All of this was in New Hampshire, so no sales tax, and I get a corporate partner discount on the Macs (6% for consumer Macs). I already had a BT keyboard and mouse.

    Total expenses: US$2531.

    Mac mini duo/1GB/100GB............... US$ 892
    Westinghouse LVM-37W1 37" HDTV....... US$1534
    Wall-mount bracket for HTV........... US$ 105

    Total................................ US$2531

    I first set the TV on the island in the kitchen and connected it to the mini. Understand: the largest monitor I've ever owned was 20". The largest TV I've ever owned was 27". Booting a Mac onto a 37" 1920x1080 monitor was like staring at the face of God. I know there are those of you with 80" screens and/or dual 30" LCD monitors. Not me. So, right away, I was thrilled.

    The next thing I did - my 5-year-old was there - was wirelessly stream "Kim Possible" off of the iMac in the other room via iTunes/FrontRow. Awesome.

    I then mounted the TV and found the mini a spot (temporary, until I build a new cabinet for the cable box, DVD player, mini, and UPS to mount on the wall under the TV). Saturday evening and yesterday, I played with FrontRow - mainly the movie trailer previews, which I love, even though I think the rest of FrontRow is mediocre at best, browsed MR (of course) (and faked my Oscar results), and watched some 1080p QuickTime trailers.

    Today I swapped my cable box for an HD one, and the setup - minus the cabinet I have to build - is complete.

    I mention all of this setup info because my review is centered around how well the mini functions in a family room/home theater room. Others can review it from the point of view of it being a primary computer.

    Quick summary: the mini duo with 1GB RAM functioned flawlessly in every way I asked it to perform for the past several days, and especially as a computer to be used in an entertainment room.

    1920x1080 resolution worked perfectly. No issues with speed at all.

    It played 1080p QT trailers perfectly. Really... no issues whatsoever.

    It previewed movie trailers via FrontRow perfectly - minus some movie-server related twitches that weren't its fault. I know that movie trailer viewing isn't a big deal to most, but, using a remote to control my mini on a 37" screen was all new to me, and I thought it was quite cool.

    WarCraft III played just fine. I'm sure other games suck terribly, and WCIII wasn't quite as spunky as on my iMac duo, but, really, I found it to be completely playable.

    A few OS X games I bought a while back for my daughter play fine, but, then again, you'd sort of expect that. ;)

    I was able to wirelessly view movies (TV shows) I'd recorded via my Alchemy card in my PMG5... no issues.

    Web surfing was surprisingly easy via BT, and the zoom function (⌥⌘= and ⌥⌘-) was very helpful at times. I checked my mail - no issues in seeing it from the couch. iLife works great.

    All in all, I am very, very happy with the mini in this capacity. Anything I'd expect it to be able to do in a family room environment, it did. The small and attractive package blends perfectly with the TV, the cable box, and the DVD player. Wireless reception was good enough to view movies/programs coming off another Mac (as well as iTunes streaming - which was flawless). Heating did not seem to be an issue - it got fairly warm, but never all that hot (it had plenty of room around it) and the fans were never audible. The remote is more useful than you'd think.

    I will leave it to others to run benchmarks and argue about the integrated graphics and debate the merits of the new mini vs the old mini vs cheap PCs vs PowerMacs.

    If you are looking to attach a mini to an HDTV for use in a TV room, and if you're wondering if it is quiet, small, and powerful enough to handle anything you'd need it for in such a situation, then I can say, absolutely, that a mini duo with 1GB RAM works perfectly. I suspect that a mini solo with 512MB would work most of the time but I cannot verify that.

    I have lots of video (home movies, TV shows I've recorded, etc.) on hard drives. Now I can see all of that on a "real" TV. I often want to check something quickly online while I'm playing with the kids in the family room - now I can, without a PowerBook near my 9-month-old. I can iChat (I hooked up an iSight, which works fine) and see the other end clearly - and even position the iSight in front of the TV screen so the people see us looking at them (as opposed to above or below the screen). I think it's all wonderful.

    Again, if you have connected computers to 80" TVs or are used to giant monitors, none of this is new to you. To me, though, it is, and the mini has made the experience that much better.

    I highly recommend the mini.

    Also, for what it's worth, the Westinghouse LVM-37W1 is quite a nice TV for the price. You see a bit more backlighting in the corners, but it's not a big deal, and if, like me, you're used to small standard-def CRTs, you'd love this TV (esp. for the price). 1920x1080 for ~US$1500.
  2. entropy1980 macrumors regular


    May 14, 2003
    Canyon Country, CA
    Nice review glad to hear it's working well for you. I am really trying to resist the urge to pick one up to hook up to my HD in the living room....
  3. nospleen macrumors 68020


    Dec 8, 2002
  4. XIII macrumors 68040


    Aug 15, 2004
    Awesome. I can only dream of a 1080p HDTV here in the UK though. :(
  5. bigbossbmb macrumors 68000


    Jul 1, 2004
    i've got that westinghouse tv's great with HDTV and Xbox. really wish i hd a new mini to hook up to it!

    congrats on the setup
  6. plinkoman macrumors 65816


    Jul 2, 2003
    New York
    yea, lets see some pics.

    the sad thing is, that setup ran you about as much as my powerbook alone cost :eek: (well, if you count friggen $200 worth of tax :rolleyes: )
  7. dogstar macrumors newbie

    Mar 1, 2006

    I have been using my mac mini solo as a living room computer all weekend and I can verify that it handles just about everything I would need from it.

    I read mail, browse the web using safari and firefox, stream radio via itunes, use as a ipod docking station, play flash games online, watch 720P HDTV video, watch XVids, Divxs, Kvcds, download torrents, create web pages in iweb, edit java in netbeans, create photo gallerys and slideshows in iphoto. Pretty much everything is fast and works fine. Doesn't seem to mind having many programs open at once either. I usually have 5-6 programs open at one time.

    I turn off all the energy saving features and I let this run 24/7. Will run it until it dies hard. It doesn't handle 1080P though, don't know if its the core solo or the 512k that is causing the problem. Not a problem though cause my sony bravia 42" tv only supports 720P and 1080I. I am using the vga connection and it looks fantastic. These high-end tvs really need to have like 4 HDMI connectors and 2 DVI connectors.

    Overall I love the mac mini as well. This iteration it makes for a very nice media center.
  8. frankblundt macrumors 65816


    Sep 19, 2005
    South of the border
    Likewise. We've only just got new HD TVs come in, but they're all 720 :(
    Looking at a 23" monitor as a stopgap - i've been dreaming of this set up for months, hoping the new Mini would really do it - doubly exciting (and frustrating) to know it really can! Just need that Lotto ticket now.
  9. XIII macrumors 68040


    Aug 15, 2004
    Yepp, exact same situation here. We have 720, and a little 720p content on Sky now, I think (but you have to pay to watch it)... I'll just play the waiting game.
  10. pdpfilms macrumors 68020


    Jun 29, 2004
    jsw, you said it could play movies wirelessly from your PMG5. What method did you use to do this?

    I've been attempting to figure this one out and everything seems skippy...

    For instance, connecting to my PM over the network, locating the movie i'd like to play, and playing it on the remote computer via QT results in skipping. Do you use VLC?
  11. iHeartTheApple macrumors 6502


    Feb 13, 2006
    Boston, MA
    Oh, man...I hear you on that one! Same here with my PB! :eek: Nice to know that such nice technology is out there for such a (relatively) cheap price...Great review, JSW! :D Sounds like you've got an amazing setup there. Glad to hear that you like it and to know that the mini can peform in this capacity. This gives me even more incentive to keep saving up for a similar setup. Hang in there, Intel Mini...I'm a' comin'! :)

    Any chance you're planning on posting some pics, JSW? Lookin' forward to seeing this thing...
  12. balamw Moderator


    Staff Member

    Aug 16, 2005
    New England
    Must resist temptation. Must. Resist. Stay focused, buy the iMac. buy the iMac...

    I think that this is a key reason why Apple has restricted the bitrate and resolution of iTunes video, and I suspect that the videos pdpfilms was trying to stream were more than 320x240 @ ~700 kpbs. ;)

  13. gunm macrumors member

    Jan 23, 2006
    Nice, non-technical review. I'm torn between getting an intel mac mini now, waiting for a Macbook in April, or waiting even longer for a Merom Macbook Pro end of '06/Spring of '07.

    I'll probably wait until at least the 30th anniversary product announcement before making another Apple purchase.
  14. p0intblank macrumors 68030

    Sep 20, 2005
    New Jersey
    Awesome review, thanks for that! :D I'm really considering this or an iMac... either one will be a sweet purchase. I just have to actually decide which one to get.

    And as the others are saying... we need pics!
  15. yoda13 macrumors 65816


    Sep 26, 2003
    Thanks, jsw. What a great review. Will get this computer for the entertainment center just as soon as I can afford it.

    Some pics would be nice!!:D
  16. Artful Dodger macrumors 68020

    Artful Dodger

    May 28, 2004
    In a false sense of reality...My Mind!
    Nice review about the Mini and your new TV :D
    That has to be nice to sit back and do everything from your couch without little hands getting into everything ;) Glad to hear it's what you wanted and then some (37" LCD TV) and Mini.
  17. jsw thread starter Moderator emeritus


    Mar 16, 2004
    Andover, MA

    I will post pics of the setup once I build the cabinet. The old, "country-style", beat-up TV stand the components are wedged in now would be embarrassing. :eek: Not that there's much to inspire geek envy: a cheap (but nice) LCD, a mini, a cable box, and a DVD player. Oh, wait, there is something else: a CyberPower AVR UPS. w00t! ;) Yeah... nothing inspirational. But I'll post pics anyway when I build the cabinet (which also won't be anything stunning, but at least it won't be that old TV stand). Also, there's no sound system beyond the one attached to the TV, so, really, this will be a shot of the cheapest HD/mini combo you could hope to have.....

    As far as streaming the shows off my other Mac: as mentioned above, the iTMS shows work fine, as the bitrate is very low. I'm just pleasantly surprised at how well they scale up. I'm not saying they look like art masterpieces being drawn at 30fps on my screen... but they don't look too bad. The cartoons look better than, say, Lost... because there's less detail and therefore they compress better.

    The videos I recorded on my PM were recorded using H.264 and 50%-75% "quality", so they run a little less than to a little more than 1GB/hour - easily streamable. Ripped DVDs would likely require much more bandwidth.
  18. turbopants macrumors regular

    Feb 11, 2006
    Great review, thanks for sharing. I agree, let's see some pics!

    I think this mac mini really shines when you have lots of digital content, especially movies on other computers.
  19. jsw thread starter Moderator emeritus


    Mar 16, 2004
    Andover, MA
    If it's not going to be hooked up to a TV, I highly recommend the iMac - RAM is far easier to upgrade yourself (it takes about - really - a minute), graphics performance is better, you can connect to external monitor but don't need to do so, etc.

    But, where size is a consideration, or if you intend to mainly connect it to a TV/large external monitor, you can't go wrong with the mini. I do recommend a duo if you think you'll be showing 1080i/p, but the solo seems to do 720p fine, even with 512MB. :)
    Agreed, and those who have extensive iPhoto collections (and, of course, video) will love how nice things look on a large screen!
  20. oo5yolo10 macrumors member


    Jan 2, 2006
    Quick questions, i was looking at doing the same thing. only with a 27 inch flat screen TV (boo to that) but how do you hook up the mini to the TV? With what cord, and what does my TV need?
  21. jsw thread starter Moderator emeritus


    Mar 16, 2004
    Andover, MA
    The TV I just bought has a DVI input, so I just used a DVI cable and a mini (1/8", not Mac mini) stereo plug to RCA converter to plug in the audio. You can get DVI-to-S-Video/Composite video adapters which will work with any TV with video input, and you can get DVI-HDMI converters, if your TV has one or more HDMI inputs.

    So... what inputs are available on your TV?
  22. Le Big Mac macrumors 68030

    Le Big Mac

    Jan 7, 2003
    Washington, DC

    Yeah, sounds great. I've been thinking about such a setup (or similar).

    I'd personally like to get an iSight set up with it, so we could have family video conferences on the TV with my mom and such.
  23. jsw thread starter Moderator emeritus


    Mar 16, 2004
    Andover, MA
    Yes, the iSight is excellent - I've tried it on top of the TV, right below it, and in front of the screen. All worked well, because the greater distance between the TV and the users makes it less obvious that they're looking offscreen, and even when it's placed in front of the screen itself, it's less obtrusive than it would be in front of a monitor... but it's still "ugly", so I prefer the below-the-screen method now, as it's easy just to set it on the cabinet.

    Also, for those with children, the larger TV image tends to capture their attention more than a small monitor would, and they're often more comfortable in a room with a TV (due to furniture, not because the TV soothes them... sort of ;)) than in an office or "computer room" - so it's just a better way to chat!
  24. bruf macrumors member

    Jan 11, 2006
    Montreal, QC
    Hey jsw, nice setup. Could you post a couple of pics?

  25. jsw thread starter Moderator emeritus


    Mar 16, 2004
    Andover, MA
    Pending the build of my cabinet, here you go.... ;)

    I can't upload more than 5 images, and don't feel like hosting them (I'm feeling lazy!), so I assume you've all seen an iSight.

    I promise - pics will come this weekend assuming I get the cabinet/shelf built!

    The TV is wall-mounted, so ignore the stand in the image below.

    Attached Files:

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