Rumour-busting: The Mac Mini as an HTPC

dh2005

macrumors 6502a
Original poster
Jan 25, 2010
907
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Hello folks,

I've been away for a while. I'm sure you've missed me.

Four months into owning a 2.53GHz/4GB RAM Mini, and all is well. But there's one thing over which I feel slightly cheated; not cheated by Apple, but by the online Mac community.

When deciding on the Mini, one of the things that took my attention was the swell of posts telling me, "and the Mac Mini's an awesome 1080p HTPC, too...!". Either I'm doing something wrong, or that's a load of bulls**t.

I'm a Beta-tester for the Popcorn Hour C-200 media streamer, and sometimes the latest Beta crocks my machine and I can't use it. This happened to me two weeks ago, and I decided to switch to using the Mini as my media device until the C-200's firmware got fixed. I tried to play a 1080p .MKV of The Men Who Stare at Goats (not exactly Avatar...), and the playback was completely unwatchable. Stuttering, smearing, audio-dropout... useless garbage.

And yes, the .MKV itself is fine.

I followed an online guide to download Plex, which I understand is a modification of XBMC. The guide (two of them, actually) said that Plex could run 1080p .MKVs... so, what gives? Have I been lied to, or have I missed something?

Thanks in advance,



DH.
 

stefimke

macrumors newbie
Apr 8, 2010
12
0
Use VLC or Movist. No problems running a 1080p on my June 09 MBP or my Aug 06 MBP for that matter.
I also on the edge of getting a Mini, amongst others for HTPC usage.

About everywhere I read "it's awesome, 1080p for breakfast, Plex even has HW-decoding support for x264 now, ...".

When people have problems playing 1080p (which there are alot) and they use QT/VLC or any other standalone player the answer is all the time: use Plex/XBMC.
When they are using Plex/XMBC the answer is: use VLC/...

I'm still not that convinced that a Mini can please me regarding 1080p playback which my 250euro ASrock ION 330 with a terriby slow Atom CPU does perfectly (XMBC Live).
 

dh2005

macrumors 6502a
Original poster
Jan 25, 2010
907
0
Well, for me, there're no two ways about it. It can't do it.

VLC did a worse job than Plex. Useless. I don't know whether it's due to this particular video codec, but frankly, that's of little consequence; if it can't run all the common Blu-ray codecs, it's no use to me.


It's something that's often levelled at me, as a media streamer owner; "oh, you guys download all of your movies from torrents". Well, actually, I don't. If the kinda 1080p files that people are running on Mac Minis are lower-bitrate re-encodes from release groups, then yeah, maybe they can get their movies running. But I rip all my HD stuff from my own Blu-ray discs, and I refuse to re-encode. Maybe this is my problem.

Before I reclassify this rumour as a lie, does anyone have any view on why I might be experiencing such poor performance?
 

aiqw9182

macrumors 65816
Apr 22, 2010
1,089
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Well, for me, there're no two ways about it. It can't do it.

VLC did a worse job than Plex. Useless. I don't know whether it's due to this particular video codec, but frankly, that's of little consequence; if it can't run all the common Blu-ray codecs, it's no use to me.


It's something that's often levelled at me, as a media streamer onwer; "oh, you guys download all of your movies from torrents". Well, actually, I don't. If the kinda 1080p files that people are running on Mac Minis are lower-bitrate re-encodes from release groups, then yeah, maybe they can get their movies running. But I rip all my HD stuff from my own Blu-ray discs, and I refuse to re-encode. Maybe this is my problem.

Before I reclassify this rumour as a lie, does anyone have any view on why I might be experiencing such poor performance?
Did you try the hardware accelerated version of Plex?
http://elan.plexapp.com/2010/04/27/hardware-accelerated-h-264-decoding-on-plex/
 

dh2005

macrumors 6502a
Original poster
Jan 25, 2010
907
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Thanks for the input.

I'm pretty sure I downloaded the most recent version, mate.
 

aiqw9182

macrumors 65816
Apr 22, 2010
1,089
0
Thanks for the input.

I'm pretty sure I downloaded the most recent version, mate.
I think the hardware accelerated version isn't included in the main versions yet, I could be wrong though. I'd say give it a shot.
 

Chundles

macrumors G4
Jul 4, 2005
11,981
364
Thanks for the input.

I'm pretty sure I downloaded the most recent version, mate.
You need to download the updated binary and put it in the Plex application support file like it says.

Hardware H.264 decoding was only introduced in 10.6.3 and hasn't been incorporated yet into a Plex release.
 

dh2005

macrumors 6502a
Original poster
Jan 25, 2010
907
0
Thanks. I'll try that, just in case.

However; even if it works, does this mean that only H.264 video now has hardware acceleration? Because not all of my Blu-rays have H.264 video streams.
 

aiqw9182

macrumors 65816
Apr 22, 2010
1,089
0
Thanks. I'll try that, just in case.

However; even if it works, does this mean that only H.264 video now has hardware acceleration? Because not all of my Blu-rays have H.264 video streams.
As of now, yes.
 

dh2005

macrumors 6502a
Original poster
Jan 25, 2010
907
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Don't misunderstand me, everyone; I'm not wailing on the Plex project, who are doing something free for the benefit of the community. But I really have no idea where other members of this forum get off telling prospective Mac-buyers that the Mini can spank 1080p playback. It's just not true.
 

aiqw9182

macrumors 65816
Apr 22, 2010
1,089
0
Don't misunderstand me, everyone; I'm not wailing on the Plex project, who are doing something free for the benefit of the community. But I really have no idea where other members of this forum get off telling prospective Mac-buyers that the Mini can spank 1080p playback. It's just not true.
A 2GHz Core Duo MacBook Pro can play 1080p HTML5 YouTube clips, maybe you didn't specify enough?
 

dh2005

macrumors 6502a
Original poster
Jan 25, 2010
907
0
No chance, mate. I asked specifically about it's HTPC capabilities, and 1080p .MKVs.

Maybe the people 'advising' me were out of their depth.


Now that I've downloaded these new Plex binaries, how do I implement them? I double-clicked on the file that hit my desktop, and it opened the Terminal.
 

aiqw9182

macrumors 65816
Apr 22, 2010
1,089
0
No chance, mate. I asked specifically about it's HTPC capabilities, and 1080p .MKVs.

Maybe the people 'advising' me were out of their depth.


Now that I've downloaded these new Plex binaries, how do I implement them? I double-clicked on the file that hit my desktop, and it opened the Terminal.
Ok, just making sure.

To install just follow the instructions on the link I gave.
"As with the last post, download the binary [try the new binary below] and install it into Plex.app/Contents/MacOS. Once we get a sense of how well it’s working, we’ll spin an official release."
 

dh2005

macrumors 6502a
Original poster
Jan 25, 2010
907
0
Forgive my inexperience, but where is that path found? How do I access those directories to copy the files into them?
 

dh2005

macrumors 6502a
Original poster
Jan 25, 2010
907
0
Thanks.


Okay, well, the .MKV I was talking about runs better, but not perfectly. It's watchable now, but it still drops a few frames here and there.

Should I be leaving Plex to buffer the movie for a short time? As in, pause it when I start the playback, then unpause it after ten seconds or so?
 

aiqw9182

macrumors 65816
Apr 22, 2010
1,089
0
No problem.

Buffering couldn't hurt, give it a shot and see if it enhances performance.
 

mrklaw

macrumors 68020
Jan 29, 2008
2,365
745
No chance, mate. I asked specifically about it's HTPC capabilities, and 1080p .MKVs.

Maybe the people 'advising' me were out of their depth.


Now that I've downloaded these new Plex binaries, how do I implement them? I double-clicked on the file that hit my desktop, and it opened the Terminal.
maybe you have particular needs and should have considered them or asked more questions? There must be a reason why so many people recommend it as a HTPC?

there seem to be two basic camps for media front ends. The SoC approach like the popcorn hour which tends to use custom silicon so will play almost anything you throw at it including direct bluray rips, but often has a rough front end. Then the 'pretty' bunch who prefer a richer front end, automated metadata gathering etc, which is where plex/boxee come in. I've not had any problems with my lowly 2.26 previous gen mini playing anything I have, but they are downloads or reencodes (I don't have the hardware to rip my blurays, so I download my 'digital copy' as a backup)
 

dh2005

macrumors 6502a
Original poster
Jan 25, 2010
907
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Actually, the divide between the two isn't as clean as you suggest. There are many 'pretty' front ends for Popcorn Hour, and similar, devices. True, the default UIs are typically plain (sometimes downright ugly), but there are things that a person can do.

The precise questions that I asked escape me now, but I have enough knowledge and experience in this area to be satisfied that I asked perfectly clearly. I have some seniority on the official Popcorn Hour forum, and we get users with all levels of knowledge there; one learns pretty quickly to assume nothing.

It's clear to me now that certain people were talking through their hats when they said that the Mini can play 1080p video "easily". It can't. Even with hardware acceleration (which was only introduced into Plex four weeks ago...), the playback is still slightly skippy. Using software acceleration alone, it was putting out four or five frames per second (or less).


For me, the take-home message is not to buy a Mac Mini as an HTPC until you've seen, with your own eyes, your media files of choice running at a level that meets your expectations; and don't believe everything that you read.
 

dh2005

macrumors 6502a
Original poster
Jan 25, 2010
907
0
I don't mean to insult you, but you've completely misdiagnosed the issue at hand. I don't have a problem; it's the Mac Mini that has a problem - that being, it's fundamentally flawed as a modern HTPC. If a user has to spend several hours hobbling a Blu-ray rip with Handbrake to make it run, the Mini hasn't got the stones for true 1080p playback.

Let's, please, all stop being offended and embrace the facts before our eyes: you need to transcode 1080p rips to make them run, therefore, the Mini can't run 1080p rips. You've proved my point for me, better than I'd done myself.

Some people may be entirely content with the necessary degree of compromise. But some people certainly won't be. And everyone that I spoke to on this forum painted such a universally sunny picture of the Mini's media-playback capabilities, when it wasn't even nearly the whole story.


I probably would have bought the Mini anyway, because in other respects it serves my needs; it's discreet, convenient, and powerful enough (just about). This is not a universal wail on the Mac Mini; it's a public service announcement, as much as anything else - to anybody thinking of buying the Mini specifically as an HTPC; do not presuppose that it can do what you have in mind because some other guy says, "yeah! It's awesome".
 

Tilpots

macrumors 601
Apr 19, 2006
4,191
71
Carolina Beach, NC
I think what you are looking for is called a Blu-Ray player. Wal Mart sells those, so you're in luck.

Macs do not yet have native Blu Ray players, so if you thought that's what you're getting, then I guess you didn't read the specs too well. It says "DVD" in all the related documents.