Mac mini vs. AppleTV

Discussion in 'Apple TV and Home Theater' started by Chupa Chupa, Sep 9, 2007.

  1. Chupa Chupa macrumors G5

    Chupa Chupa

    Joined:
    Jul 16, 2002
    #1
    Before AppleTV was out I set up a Core Solo Mac mini as a dedicated media server using FrontRow as GUI. I have an ext drive that stores my media along with a backup drive. I taught my main A/V remote all the Apple remote commands.

    It seems to me there is no real difference between this kind of set up and AppleTV. Or am I wrong? I've only used AppleTV for a few seconds in the store so if I'm missing something please tell what added benefit I'd get by using AppleTV instead.
     
  2. kibit macrumors member

    kibit

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2002
    Location:
    Illinois
    #2
    Chupa Chupa! Kudos! to you... I have the same setup (Mac Mini G4, in mine) and I love it!! I use a bluetooth keyboard/mouse to control it and an external drive for the movies/shows, I've got it hooked up to my network as well. I would think the only advantage would be that the Apple TV has the fancy frontrow interface, HDMI, component video, and digital optical audio plugs which would enable u get get true digital output (someone correct me if I'm wrong)

    Now, I have mine hooked up via DVI to my 60" Sony, it's awesome. I think the benefit to hooking it up to a mac mini is you have more options as to what you can watch! I have Divx player installed, VLC and a few others. Between those, I can play just about anything I can buy or download.

    Personally, I'd rather have the choice of file format over the picture quality.

    just my .02
     
  3. jonnylink macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Jul 15, 2007
    #3
    I've been wondering about this myself. It also seems like the mini+eyeTV combo would really edge out the AppleTV, but I am curious what people's experiences have been.

    Chupa Chupa & kibit, would either of you mind mentioning any issues or complaints you have with your setup. I can imagine all the pro's but I'm wondering about unforeseen cons. Do either of you use the mini as a DVR as well?

    Any AppleTV want to weigh in?
     
  4. Cave Man macrumors 604

    Cave Man

    #4
    The biggest differences are cost and convenience, both going to the ATV. Better video (at this point) and audio, plus the ability to get digital TV goes to the Mini.
     
  5. iSee macrumors 68040

    iSee

    Joined:
    Oct 25, 2004
    #5
    Wait a sec, I thought a DVI connection between Mini and TV give you the best video quality--the same as HDMI. Right? And you can't be talking about codecs because the Mini should have access to anything the :apple:TV can run and more... Can you explain? (I'm thinking very strongly about a media center Mini setup as well)
     
  6. Cave Man macrumors 604

    Cave Man

    #6
    Sorry - should clarify. The mini can do 1080, the ATV is currently limited to 720 output (but will downsize 1080 to 720). This is probably a software limitation because the video card in the ATV is capable of 1080 resolution.

    But until we actually get HD content, we'll really never know...
     
  7. imlucid macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    May 3, 2007
    #7
    The Apple TV is focused on ease of connection to TVs. It supports standard TV resolutions (modes) and is designed to operate with only a 6 button remote for input.

    Driver support on the Mac Mini for displays is not as seamless. You can run into issues of overscanning/underscanning when viewing the desktop (i.e. not being able to see the menu or dock).

    Using a Mac Mini will require a keyboard and mouse to be available at certain times as you are running a full computer. Front Row is designed to enter and exit this computer environment by just hitting the menu button. This breaks the "mood" in my mind.

    Also, using a Mac Mini for DRM iTS content will burn an "auth". Syncing or streaming to multiple Apple TVs doesn't require any more iTS auths to be burned.

    The main advantage of the Mac Mini on the other hand is flexibility. You can play back many more formats, can increase your disk space and play DVDs.

    The main question is what kind of experience are you looking for? I've had a number of Mac HTPCs over the years and am most happy with the Apple TV (as is my wife since it pretty much "just works").

    :D

    Kevin
     
  8. ftaok macrumors 601

    ftaok

    Joined:
    Jan 23, 2002
    Location:
    East Coast
    #8
    Actually, the aTV can do 1080i output to a TV. The only catch is that videos are limited to 720p.

    I had posed a question a while back regarding displaying photos with the aTV through 1080i. One answer that I got was that photos were down-res'd to 720p and then converted-up to 1080i. I never really got confirmation if that was true ...

    ft
     
  9. MovieCutter macrumors 68040

    MovieCutter

    Joined:
    May 3, 2005
    Location:
    Washington, DC
    #9
    Run a 720p or 1080 HD clip on a Core Solo Mac Min and let me know how that works out for ya...
     
  10. brad.c macrumors 68020

    brad.c

    Joined:
    Aug 23, 2004
    Location:
    50.813669°, -2.474796°
    #10
    What bout a 1.66 core duo? 1.83? SR? Do you know the cross-over point? Quantify please.

    One thing to note, is that using the Mac Mini doesn't limit you to widescreen format TVs.
     
  11. TuckBodi macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2007
    #11
    Am I the rare case who actually runs both? As been pointed out there's pro's and con's to both, and it depends on what you're going to use it for.

    I have a new Samsung 1080p TV so I got an AppleTV to play my music and movies/TV Shows off of. While movies are not 1080p the AppleTV can actually play 1080i and all you have to do is check out the Apple trailers to see it. Higher content is coming it's just a matter of when. Through plugins (hacks) the ATV can also play anything I've thrown at my Mac mini other than MKV files which I also think is coming as hopefully it's a software issue.
    Pros: Cost, ease of use, UI, speed*
    Cons: Hacks required to play other formats

    Mac mini (new 1.83GHz, 2GB RAM) - dual use as my media server to my ATV (2 X 500GB drives) and hooked to an older Sony TV (composite). I use EyeTV for HD OTA and recording. For viewing music, videos and etc. I've tried the following:
    Frontrow - dog slow and took minutes to navigate. Maybe my libraries are too large or maybe because all my stuff isn't in iTunes (i.e. AVI's) but just arrowing up & down it would get stuck. Unacceptable.
    Media Central - Demo'd this app and it crashed a lot. I also didn't like the butt-ugly interface (who uses a Geneva font for anything anymore?).
    Backrow on Mac - the lovely ATV interface but running on my Mac mini. Along with the ATVFiles plugin I thought I was golden but whenever I quit the app (yeah, Backrow on Mac is actually an application) I then lose my connection to my music library and the next time I launch it I have to re-synch it (which doesn't always work). ATVFiles works great but I haven't figured out how to install other plugins (i.e. the great Sapphire plugin) AND the version I have doesn't have YouTube running.

    So both setups, while not perfect, are about 95% there and in their own fit my needs. Decide what you want, what you can afford and if you want to deal (play?) with hacks and go from there. Just keep in mind this is not an apples to apples comparison in most cases.
     
  12. SthrnCmfrtr macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Aug 20, 2007
    Location:
    Las Vegas, NV
    #12
    My TV has a lot of inputs. I started with a Mac mini DVI->HDMI connection, but turning the TV off caused the Mac mini to spontaneously reboot (WTF?). So I plugged in a VGA cable, which caused some loss in saturation but fixed the overscan issue and rebooting issue. I got tired, though, of trying to manipulate it from the couch with a wireless mouse alone (and didn't want to pay for a wireless keyboard, since my wireless mouse performance wasn't great), so I bought an Apple TV and relocated the Mac mini to a nearby desk as a media server.

    All fine and dandy, but soon I'm going to move the Mac mini back over to the entertainment center and plug its VGA into the TV. I can control it fine with VNC if I need to, and it'll look neater. Plus I'll be able to play MAME and such on the big screen.

    I definitely see them as complementary systems. Having an Apple TV, in my opinion, still requires a dedicated media center computer if you're really into the home theater thing. The Apple TV is definitely the better system for actually displaying video, playing music, etc. For everything else, you need a full Mac.
     
  13. iSee macrumors 68040

    iSee

    Joined:
    Oct 25, 2004
    #13
    Thanks for all the info, this is really helpful.

    For now I think I'm leaning toward the Mini because the main thing I need is a media server. And now that I think about it, I've got to do something about NBC shows not being available through iTunes (or another Mac compatible provider?), so I can get an Eye TV.

    I'll see how that goes and consider an :apple:TV if I want to get more sophisticated.
     
  14. kusanagi macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2007
    #14
    I'm using a 1.5ghz G4 mac mini overclocked to 1.67ghz with 2TB of ext storage for my movies/tv shows. It's hooked up to my plasma via DVI.

    There are several reasons I went for the mac mini over the ATV but the main ones i'll highligh below;

    1. DVD Player. Yes, some of us still have DVD's i know i don't. All of mine have now been converted and stored on the ext hdds, but I always have friends over that bring thier dvds and its handy to have. Plus it saves me from having another device hooked up to the tv.

    2. Home server. The mac mini also serves as my home file server,web/ftp server for when i'm on the go. When Leopard comes out, it'll also be my time machine backup device.

    3. Scalability. I started with 1x 500gig firewire drive. Now I have 4. When I run out of space (which is pretty soon too!) i'll just add another one to the firewire chain.

    4. Drag 'n' Drop instead of syncing with iTunes - pretty much speaks for itself.

    5. Security PVR. Our car's are a fair bit away from the house (live on a hill) so we now have heat/motion controlled cameras that the mac mini records to. Coupled with weekly backups it's already caught someone trying to steal one of our cars!

    There are some downsides though,

    The remote is freakin pissing me off! I use a Mira TR1 IR Receiver to control the remote and for some reason that has been explained to me, its sensitive to the light output from my plasma. Basically, my plasma is acting as a IR Jammer that overrides my apple remote's signal. Eventually I managed to filter out the plasma signal by putting the receiver in a pvc tube and painting the inside of the tube black. Work's 90% of the time now.

    Mira TR1's software sucks! Everytime I restart the mini, which doesnt happen often but does happen, I have to re-enable the software in the system prefs. To make matters worse, I don't know what combination does it but if I pause a movie, then go to play it but it doesnt play sometimes it'll put the mini to sleep! WTF!?!? oh well.. its a small price to pay i guess.
     
  15. MovieCutter macrumors 68040

    MovieCutter

    Joined:
    May 3, 2005
    Location:
    Washington, DC
    #15
    From my experience, a solo chokes on H264 HD clips 720 and up. Can't play 1080 for beans. The duos can do it fine though.
     
  16. jonnylink macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Jul 15, 2007
    #16
    This has all been so great to hear, it sounds like the best bet is to get a mini & eyeTV 250 plus and maybe add the AppleTV later. Thanks so much for sharing these experiences!
     
  17. brad.c macrumors 68020

    brad.c

    Joined:
    Aug 23, 2004
    Location:
    50.813669°, -2.474796°
    #17
    Thanks for the real world info , MC! :D Since mine is a duo, I'll have something to look forward to when i upgrade the Boob Tube.
     
  18. ftaok macrumors 601

    ftaok

    Joined:
    Jan 23, 2002
    Location:
    East Coast
    #18
    If analog cable and OTA digital are what you want, then the 250+ is a capable device. However, if you're like most people, you don't use an antenna and cable is your only provider (forget about satellite), then you would probably want a QAM tuner, which the 250+ doesn't have.

    With a QAM tuner, you can tune into any clearQAM channel that your cable company provides. Typically, it's the local broadcast networks that you'd get with an antenna. But this varies by location. Also, most (if not all) cable companies DO encrypt premium HD channels, so you're not going to get ESPN-HD, TNT-HD, DiscoveryHD, etc.

    If you are an OTA viewer, then disregard this post.
     
  19. jonnylink macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Jul 15, 2007
    #19
    The only TV I really watch is Network. Because I don't like the idea of paying for TV.

    However, I am going to go abroad for a year or so and was thinking that I could set up a server at my parent's house so that I could still watch the two shows I've been interested in. They pay for cable and would probably be confused by something that only worked with OTA. I was under the idea that the eyeTV+had it all. Thanks for setting me straight.
     
  20. ftaok macrumors 601

    ftaok

    Joined:
    Jan 23, 2002
    Location:
    East Coast
    #20
    Just to clarify, the 250+ does work with analog cable. It has the necessary NTSC tuner for analog.

    I was just saying that if you wanted HD signals, then you are limited to what you can get with an antenna.

    For your situation where you're abroad, you could still set up the EyeTV server at your parents to record the analog channels that you want and I'm guessing that you VNC into the Mac? Either way, you could set it up where your parents wouldn't even know the system is operating.

    ft
     
  21. jonnylink macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Jul 15, 2007
    #21
    Yeah I know, but if I'm using their internet and electricity and all I'd like for them to be able to use it. They aren't very tech savvy but they could use it if I sat down with them and demonstrated it once, and they have a fancy pants HD setup. Plus it might be the last nudge I need to get them hooked on to a Mac.
     
  22. iDave macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Aug 14, 2003
    #22
    I have my mini connected to my 720p TV and it works perfectly. I have none of the overscan problems mentioned earlier. My display system preferences are set to 1280x720 with the overscan option turned off. The menu and dock are positioned just as they would be on a computer display.

    I connect video with a DVI to HDMI cable (and do not have the unexpected reboot problem mentioned earlier). I connect audio with a 3.5mm mini jack to RCA cable. I don't have a home theatre sound system so have no current need for optical audio, but the newer minis have it if you want it.

    It's nice to be able to surf the web, send email etc., right on the TV. Text is somewhat blurry compared to a computer display so I don't do any heavy surfing, just a little at a time.

    I am waiting for Miglia's Hybrid HD Clear QAM tuner to come out. It was expected earlier this summer but was delayed. At that point I'll be ready for recording digital TV from cable (not the scrambled stuff though).

    Back in January, I ordered an AppleTV but before it shipped, I decided to get a mini instead. I think the decision was a good one. The mini makes a great HTPC. Your results may vary, depending on the specifics of your TV.
     
  23. ftaok macrumors 601

    ftaok

    Joined:
    Jan 23, 2002
    Location:
    East Coast
    #23
    Is your TV's native resolution 720p or 768p. Other than DLPs, there aren't many 720p displays available. So I'm guessing that your TV is 1366x768 native. Does the mini have that resolution available? If so, your text may come out sharper, albiet a little smaller.

    Miglia's mini HD+ has been in limbo for months now, as you know. I agree that spec-wise, it's the perfect device. It does all three tuners, which no other Mac-tuner does. However, when it ships, it will not come with EyeTV. Don't know about the Miglia supplied software ...

    Another option is the HDHomeRun. It doesn't do NTSC, but it does have dual QAM/ATSC tuners and it's connected to Mac/PC via Ethernet, rather than USB or Firewire. It comes with a special version of EyeTV that you can load onto two Macs.

    ft
     
  24. iDave macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Aug 14, 2003
    #24
    Correct, my TV is 1366x768. I think it only appears blurry because the pixels are so much bigger than a computer display. It's not bad though. The mini does not have the option for 1366x768.

    I suppose I could buy a copy of EyeTV software if Miglia's isn't good enough. Hopefully it will be.

    I've considered the HDHomeRun. Not sure how it would perform over Ethernet. Unfortunately I got one of the first new Airport Extremes which does not have gigabyte ethernet. Would that have an effect?
     
  25. Dave00 macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Dec 2, 2003
    Location:
    Pittsburgh
    #25
    Not sure, but I think this is incorrect. 1080 is an output option when you setup your AppleTV.

    Dave
     

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