New Mac Mini 2010 as HTPC

Discussion in 'Mac mini' started by erdog, Jun 19, 2010.

  1. erdog macrumors newbie

    Jun 16, 2010
    I recently got two new stock Mac Mini Servers as HTPCs, and I wanted to share my experiences for people who are on the fence. I was also on the fence but am also impulsive / impatient. :D

    Hardware Setup

    Hardware setup is simpler than it has ever been thanks not needing an optical cable and a display adapter any more. Using a single HDMI cable is awesome (and useful for HDCP, etc.) for an HTPC. After plugging in an HDMI cable, the power cable (which is much smaller now), and an Ethernet cable, I was set.

    Software Setup

    OS setup was *different* than my older Mac Mini's, mainly because of the preinstalled server edition of Mac OS. Certain settings (like enabling file sharing) have been moved to the Server Preferences application. The server OS also installs many things I don't need (e.g. DNS server), but I'm content to leave them there since 1 TB is plenty of local storage (I use a NAS for my main media storage). I found that screen sharing connected very slowly (it took about a minute) until I enabled file sharing and removed from the DNS hosts list.

    Out of curiosity, I tried installing Mac OS Client 10.6.3 on the machine. The setup went smoothly, except that I couldn't get Mac OS to show the Ethernet adapter in the preferences pane even after upgrading to 10.6.4. I didn't try for too long and just ended up reverting to the Server OS.

    As noted elsewhere, iLife isn't preinstalled, which is fine for HTPC use. I'd rather have 1 TB of local storage and 4 GB preinstalled memory anyway.

    One big change (thanks to thefaceless for pointing this out!) for HTPC users is the new overscan slider in the Displays pref pane. It's a god send for people like me who sometimes watch iTunes TV shows in HD, which are "protected" by HDCP. Though the slider doesn't let you adjust the horizontal and vertical overscan independently, I was able to get it to fill my Samsung 52" and 46" LCD TVs nearly perfectly. Plex lets you perfect your overscan settings, which works for me, since I watch most of my content in Plex. After calibrating using the built-in display calibration tool, the image on my TV looked nice and saturated.

    I couldn't get it to wake from sleep with my Harmony universal remote until I installed the Candelair remote driver and enabled "legacy compatibility mode." With the driver, my remote worked flawlessly.


    Out of the box, I don't notice significant improvements in terms of video playback. VLC had a slightly easier time playing some 1080p clips than it did on my previous Minis. Plex still dropped frames on a high bitrate 1080p MKV of Avatar. However, the beta hardware-accelerated Plex binary cleared this up nicely, resulting in 60-70% free CPU and very smooth playback. Full screen Hulu Desktop (using the slightly faster Flash Player 10.1) works nicely too.

    The new Mac Mini is just as quiet as the previous generation. I can't hear it unless I put my ear very close to it. It remains quiet under high CPU load, like transcoding.


    I'm very happy I went with the Mac Mini Server. The 1 TB of hard drive space is great for providing working space for transcodes while I'm not playing movies. Its sleekness, good hardware accelerated performance, and HDMI support makes it a great looking, well-integrated fit to my home theater setup.
  2. dh2005 macrumors 6502a

    Jan 25, 2010
    Brilliant. Thanks for this. Very good to know.

    Here comes the inevitable barrage of questions...!

    I am extremely fussy about the standard of my HTPC experience. This has led me to have a broadly unsatisfactory experience with my 2009 Mini, so I'm selling it.

    By "extremely fussy", I mean;

    1. Any bad audio-synch = completely unacceptable

    2. Any dropped frames = completely unacceptable

    3. Any stuttering playback = completely unacceptable

    If the playback's not as slick as it is from the disc, one might as well use the damned disc...! And I'm not talking about transcodes - I'm talking about Blu-ray dumps (either the native .M2TS files, or .packaged as .MKVs, with HD audio intact...), completely unadulterated by any further processing.

    In your view, could the 2010 Mini satisfy my needs? Bearing in mind that the 2009 Mini fell rather short.

    Cheers in advance,

  3. Anastacio macrumors regular

    Apr 18, 2010
    When my Mac Mini arrives here at July 1st, will I have to plug an ethernet cable in it? Can it go wireless out of the box or do I need an Airport Express?
  4. Hellhammer Moderator


    Staff Member

    Dec 10, 2008
    If you have a wireless network in your home, you can use it wirelessly right away
  5. mystikjoe macrumors regular

    Jan 29, 2010
    yes setup is a snap just a little dropped frame rates when doing 1080p will have to work on that.
  6. dh2005 macrumors 6502a

    Jan 25, 2010
  7. bob.loblaw macrumors member

    Feb 26, 2010
    Mac HTPC newb question - what is the Mac equivalent of Windows Media Center?

    We currently have a Dell as an HTPC and I'm thinking about replacing it with a new Mac Mini. It records OTA HD with an HD Homerun and Windows Media Center, and I'm trying to find out what would best to use in place of WMC on a Mac?
  8. archipellago macrumors 65816

    Aug 16, 2008

    there isn't anything close.
  9. Hellhammer Moderator


    Staff Member

    Dec 10, 2008
    Plex is very popular and also very good
  10. erdog thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jun 16, 2010
    For H.264 transcoded files, quality in terms of A/V sync and frame rates is very good. I don't believe I'm as discerning as you, but it looks great to my eyes on my decent-sized, relatively recent TV.

    That said, no, I don't believe it comes close to the slickness of Blu Ray. With a BR, you get a ton of extra features and the best possible commercially available quality.

    I just tried playing two M2TS files from a local hard drive, and one caused Plex to crash (and VLC froze), and the other (a 47 GB file) played but with many skipped frames. I don't believe the hardware acceleration API released as part of Mac OS 10.6.3 helps much with VC-1 encoded files. I think it only accelerates H.264. At this point, a Windows machine with graphics hardware/drivers that do full hardware acceleration for all the Blu Ray codecs is probably your best bet if you want to go the non-transcoding HTPC route.

  11. dh2005 macrumors 6502a

    Jan 25, 2010
  12. jjahshik32 macrumors 603

    Sep 4, 2006
    Use Plex player, keeps the frames consistent and plays buttery smooth, even 1080p mkv files.
  13. dh2005 macrumors 6502a

    Jan 25, 2010
    Ya see, right there's the problem...

    ... no offence intended, dude. I don't mean to make an example of anyone, but that's exactly the kinda statement that smooth-talked me into a buying a 2009 Mini.

    Yes, it runs 1080p transcodes very smoothly - and 1080p transcodes are certainly good quality, worthy media files. But that's not the sort of 1080p that I'm talking about. Either that, or your definition of "buttery smooth" and mine are worlds apart.

    I reiterate... no offence intended. That wasn't a pop at you, specifically, but rather the misinformation that can arise from the casual discussion of this matter. A poster needs to ask specific questions, and other posters need to consider what they're being asked, very carefully, before answering.
  14. Sensamic macrumors 68030

    Mar 26, 2010
    So what if I buy the mac mini 2010 and use it with windows 7? That way I could play 1080 mkv 40GB video file without problems? The new mini has the 320, which has hardware acceleration. Maybe under windows 7 1080p video playback will work better than under OSX?

    So theres no need to buy a windows HTPC? I could buy the mac mini and use it under windows 7 as media center always? Would it be better or due to the hardware of the mini there is no difference which OS I use to watch 1080 mkv video files?
  15. archipellago macrumors 65816

    Aug 16, 2008

    if you look at his posts in the other thread, you'll notice a pattern of mis-information..!
  16. archipellago macrumors 65816

    Aug 16, 2008
    but why?

    Undoubtedly it will run better under Windows but why spend THAT amount of cash on such a poorly specced box?

    Buy a Win box and you can easily get an i5 or buy the same specs and save the $$$$

    if you're not going to run OSX (good choice) then don't buy the hardware.
  17. dh2005 macrumors 6502a

    Jan 25, 2010
    Well, now. I certainly won't get into a slanging match. And I don't think for a moment that this member was trying to misinform anyone deliberately - I think he simply has different standards and levels of experience with HD media.

    But I've occasionally been asked to provide an example of the potentially misleading advice that I alleged I was given on this forum, before buying a 2009 Mini back in February. I would cite the above as being one example of a very senior member of the board saying something that, with all due respect, is not necessarily entirely accurate about the Mini's HTPC capabilities. Posts like these are dangerous, because they can convince people to buy computers that don't suit their needs. As happened to me, four months ago.

    Thankfully, I've managed to sell my 2009 Mini this evening, for a fairly modest loss. I've learned my lesson, and I won't be taking advice from anyone around here in future; except for those people who have been willing to tell me both the 'pros' and 'cons' of owning a Mac. These people, I trust.

    ... and ya know what, Archie? I'd trust you too, if only you gave me the 'pros' occasionally...! :D
  18. Osamede macrumors 6502a

    Oct 28, 2009
    Because for HTPC use, quiet full powered boxes are hard to find.
  19. Sensamic macrumors 68030

    Mar 26, 2010
    Actually, the Mini is less expensive than a windows HTPC. At least, what I have found looking on the internet are very expensive, but they have I5, blueray (which I already have my PS3 for so I dont need it on the HTPC), etc.

    The only advantage I see on windows HTPC is I5 or I7, blueray, tv (I already have a DVR for that so neither I need it on the HTPC) and windows support for HD being better.

    Im having a hard time deciding which way to go.

    In the future, when Gala is available from flash for OSX, will HD 1080p mkv playback be better and stop having problems? But this will only affect HD video on the web, right? What do I need to play 1080p mkv videos perfectly? Is it enough with 2,4Ghz core 2 duo?

    Does the 320 drivers under windows 7 via bootcamp support hardware accelaration?
  20. dh2005 macrumors 6502a

    Jan 25, 2010
    I think hardware decoding in the playback software is the key factor, mate. When I implemented the H.264 hardware binaries for Plex, one of the rips I was testing went from "piece of s**t", to "watchable" on the same hardware platform.

    I'm also hopeful that the addition of an HDMI socket might allow for HD audio codecs to be passed through to the TV or AVR that the Mini's connected to, thus reducing the workload of the computer. Decoding that on-the-fly must be a serious bitch for the 2009 Mini's resources.
  21. brianfast macrumors regular

    Jun 11, 2010
    I would like to see if a mini can play Blu-Ray movies in Windows 7 64 bit edition with a hardware accelerated player.
  22. erdog thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jun 16, 2010
    More luck with BR rips

    I have insomnia and therefore a little more time to play with my setup. :)

    As I stated before, an M2TS rip created by AnyDVD HD causes Plex to stutter and crash regularly for me. I *think* Plex has problems with HD audio codecs and/or the M2TS container format.

    However, I just discovered that a MakeMKV-generated MKV of my Avatar BR disc plays smoothly using the HW-accelerated Plex beta. The system even has ~70% idle CPU during playback, so there's plenty of headroom. By default, MakeMKV seems to skip the HD audio tracks but rips DTS/DD tracks, which Plex handles very well. (Truthfully, I can't hear the difference between DTS and the lossless codecs anyway.)

    One issue is MakeMKV's handling of subtitles. It leaves BR subtitles in PGS format, which Plex doesn't render. This is especially problematic for movies where you need subtitles during certain parts, like the Italian scenes in The Godfather. I've read that a Windows program called EAC3toGUI Plus can convert subtitles to a format Plex handles, so I'll give that a shot.

    I haven't ripped enough discs (only Avatar so far) to call this a victory yet, but this is promising...
  23. archipellago macrumors 65816

    Aug 16, 2008

    lol, fair enough...

    I really struggle to find any pro's to any of Apple's desktop line. Its all form over function.

    at the current price points you could argue its fiscally irresponsible to even buy a desktop mac. If you can buy refurb's then maybe its worth it, I just recently managed to pick up 9 mini refurbs for £300 each for a client getting into iphone app dev.

    in the older days when it was OSX vs Vista then I could justify (just about) as Vista was so awful, but now with Win 7 now universally accepted as at least as good as SL and runs faster on cheaper hardware, then the desktop line for Apple is basically pointless..of course in sales figures there desktop line sells only approx 4 mill machines worldwide across minis, pro's and iMac.

    if you listen to iCon speaking at D8 you realise that Apple are a long way down the line to making desktops a niche product. He refers to them as trucks in the old days, when they used to have 100% of the market and now only 3 or 4%.

    I think Apple believe laptops will go the same way pretty soon too.
  24. Hellhammer Moderator


    Staff Member

    Dec 10, 2008
    27" display is alone +1000$. Then add 300$ CPU (i7), mobo, RAM, GPU, PSU, case, speakers, KB, mouse, Windows..... You are already hitting 2000$. Windows 7 is still Windows, with all it's pros and cons. Also, iMac is AIO while towers take a lot more space plus the cable hell. Design, customer service, power efficiency are all valid pros of Macs. You may not get the best performance for the buck you're paying but that's not all. Why should I buy BMW if Fiat drives me from place A to place B anyway?

    Why on earth do you have to reply to every thread and say Macs suck and are bad value and you could buy this and this for the same money? We got your point already. This is Apple and Mac forum thus it's not a surprise that people are looking for Macs, not PCs. There is no challenger for iMac, especially for the 27" behemoth. If you don't like that people buy Macs over PCs, then find a another forum where more people agree with you.

    Don't get me wrong, I build PCs for living but PC forums are elsewhere. This is Mac forum so live with it. You will find people recommending Macs because people ask advice about Macs, not about PCs. Even though you make valid point about PCs, you are targeting at wrong persons. Not all are after the best components and stuff, most people could do fine with PPC Mac. If I could now choose, I'd probably build a PC and buy a MacBook, for the same money I paid for my iMac. W7 is good, but I still find OS X being much better. Also, Mini vs full sizer tower ain't fair comparison either.
  25. empezar macrumors regular


    Sep 14, 2006
    One question: can you power on the Mac Mini with your Harmony remote?

    Edit: I do mean power on, not wake from sleep :)

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