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Summary:

I recently received my brand new Mac mini in the mail, and, as it always is when I get a package from Apple, it was a joyous occasion. For once, I didn’t have to find someplace to cram a huge box, since the packaging is size-appropriate […]

mac_mini

I recently received my brand new Mac mini in the mail, and, as it always is when I get a package from Apple, it was a joyous occasion. For once, I didn’t have to find someplace to cram a huge box, since the packaging is size-appropriate for such a small desktop.

My afternoon the day it arrived was spent going through the extremely satisfying computer-lover’s ritual of setting up a new machine. I didn’t do an automatic set-up using one of my existing machines, because the mini was going to be used primarily as an HTPC, and as such I wanted it specially tailored for such a narrow focus. I wanted to devote as much of the 4 GB of RAM, 2.26GHz processor, and 120 GB HD to media playback as was possible, so I skipped a lot of my usual software installs and went with the basics.

Essential Software

The basics included the latest version of Perian, the all-in-one codec solution for Quicktime, and VLC for when that wasn’t enough; Firefox for browsing and YouTube viewing; LineIn, for audio pass-through from my TV to my speakers; and Rowmote Helper, for use with Rowmote for the iPhone, a great supplementary remote application for the Mac. I also installed Logitech Harmony remote software to go with the brand new Logitech Harmony 550 universal remote bought specifically to compliment the new mini. I’m still debating whether or not to also put Hotspot Shield on the machine so that I can watch Hulu outside of the U.S.

Media Storage

I decided to make my iTunes library resident on the Mac mini’s own internal HD, since I don’t like waiting for the drive to spin for music to start up. I also don’t like the extra time it takes to add music from another source, owing to the extra copy time to the USB-attached drive. My extensive video library, however (all backups of DVDs I own, honest) would be impossible to fit on the measly 120 GB HD, so that would have to stay on the external drive. I may yet invest in a drive with Firewire 800 connectivity to make this an even more practical solution and cut down on playback hiccups.

Connectivity and Calibration

For connection, I was forced to use the included Mini-DVI to DVI adapter, in combination with a DVI-D to HDMI cable. My audio goes out to speakers, so luckily no audio connection to the TV was required. I still think it’s pretty ridiculous that no HDMI out is included in a machine otherwise so perfectly suited to the HTPC role. As mentioned in my earlier post on why I was buying a Mac mini in the first place, I also run TOSLiNK to mini-TOSLiNK cable from my TV to the mini’s mic/input port. I still have four empty USB slots since I use Bluetooth-connected control devices.

It took some fiddling with the display settings, but now I’m more than satisfied with the playback of both standard and high definition video files via the Mac mini. Blacks are still not as crisp or clear as I would like them to be, but that’s probably more of a problem with my somewhat older Samsung 32-inch LCD flatscreen than with the computer.

Playback

Video playback, both streaming and downloaded, offered no problems, and the GeForce 9400M has no problems with full 1080p video, although my TV technically only supports a max resolution of 1360×768, so 1080p is downscaled. Even gaming performance (I briefly installed Lego Star Wars: The Original Trilogy for testing purposes) seems to compare favorably with my iMac (20-inch, mid-2008 with 4GB of RAM and an ATI Radeon 2600 HD).

Verdict

I wouldn’t use it as my primary DVD player, because the mini’s drive produces a lot of noise when it spins, but my Xbox 360 or PS3 can easily fulfill that role. Other than that one minor complaint, and the lack of a true HDMI-out solution, I’m already very much attached to my new piece of Apple hardware. In fact, I’m not sure how I got by without it in the first place. I just hope my iMac doesn’t languish in neglect while I lavish attention on its new younger brother.

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  1. Bill Davenport Friday, March 13, 2009

    Now if only you could rent HD movies via iTunes on the Mini.

  2. Darrell

    Since you have both an Xbox and a PS3, how do you rate the relative noise levels when using them as your DVD player?

  3. Tom Reestman Friday, March 13, 2009

    “I wouldn’t use it as my primary DVD player, because the mini’s drive produces a lot of noise when it spins,”

    OK, that blows.

    I just recently entered the 21st century for TVs, having purchased a 52″ Samsung a couple months ago. I’m waiting for an Apple TV update to see about getting one, but was interested in your experiment here.

    Problem is, one item in the “advantage” column for the mini was the ability to get rid of my DVD player. Looks like that’s not an advantage after all.

  4. What to Read on GigaOM Network Friday, March 13, 2009

    [...] ad network for iPhone. (NewTeeVee) Symbian and its future software release plans. (jkOnTheRun) Is new Mac Mini worth the money? (theAppleBlog) [...]

  5. How about some pics of your home theater set-up?

  6. Jesse Kopelman Friday, March 13, 2009

    I’m sure there is some sort of software solution to make the DVD drive spin more slowly (and thus quietly).

  7. “I wouldn’t use it as my primary DVD player, because the mini’s drive produces a lot of noise when it spins,…” – you could try a small utility (exactly PrefPane) called DiscRotate, which allows you to set a maximum speed of the optical drive from 1x to maximum. It’s settings are accordingly named Breathe/Whisper/Mumble/Scream…

  8. What app will you be using for media playback? might I recommend http://plexapp.com which is a port of XBMC thats been more integrated to the mac operating system.

    Also, the macmini’s dvd drive is silent for me when watching a DVD, although I have the last generation a couple of months before it was replaced.. but aren’t the drives the same? its replaced my DVD player when I actually play a dvd and don’t just rip the damned thing to the hard drive and watch it in plex and put the DVD away.

  9. Andrew Bednarz Friday, March 13, 2009

    I didn’t know (think to look for something like) linein – that will be fantastically useful !

  10. With the new Mac Mini with the Nvidea GPU I am on my second Intel Mini and both of them have been disappointing to me as an HTPC because the machine will crash within fifteen minutes to an hour of watching a movie (DVD Player or Front Row.) I want people to be aware that this may occur to you if you are planning on getting 5.1 audio via toslink.
    Read on if you want the details of the problem.

    In my setup I have the Mini hooked up to an HDTV and a Sony receiver (amp) with built-in DTS decoder. Thus I am using the optical output ( a.k.a. digital out, toslink, etc.) to the receiver. The purpose of this setup is to play my DVD collection that has been ripped as video_ts residing either locally on the Mini or on my 3TB server. The machine also crashes while playing a DVD from the built-in DVD drive. My investigation of the matter has lead me to believe that this is not a hardware matter limited to the Mini but also occurs on G5’s, Mac Pro and Mac Books. All indications point to a long standing driver problem in Leopard that provokes a kernel panic when playing DVD’s with audio through the optical output. The specific message from the Kernel Panic Reporter is something that contains the following lines:

    Backtrace terminated-invalid frame pointer 0xb073fb58
    Kernel loadable modules in backtrace (with dependencies):
    com.apple.iokit.IOAudioFamily(1.6.5fc4)@0x1a400000->0x1a416fff
    dependency: com.apple.kext.OSvKernDSPLib(1.1)@0x1927f000

    Beware that this may accur to you too!!

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