Will the New Apple TV Make the Mac Mini Obselete?


Apple TV

When I wrote about my hopes for the future of the Apple TV, my arguments largely revolved around a desire for the ability to download iTunes and get access to the Internet. Well, with “Take 2” of the device, we didn’t get the latter, but I suppose one out of two isn’t half bad.

And we did get a download that offered a slew of improvements, including bringing the Apple TV to the level of functionality for which I had initially hoped. That said, does it stand up to my Mac Mini, which is connected to another HDTV in the house, or does it fall short?

By and large, the new Apple TV Take 2 is a great upgrade that makes doing what you want to do on the device much easier. And although it wasn’t until Apple launched iTunes movie rentals that they finally started offering the features we want, I’m delighted the company finally came around.

The first thing you’ll notice when you boot up your new Apple TV Take 2 is its menu. Instead of the old Front Row look, the company has installed a system with an interface similar to that of the iPod that is quite easy to navigate.

Once you’re comfortable making your way around, you’ll notice that you can download movies directly to the Apple TV from the menu; downloading songs, podcasts and music videos, meanwhile, can be done in a matter of seconds. I was extremely pleased with the length of time (or lack thereof) it took to download files and couldn’t have been happier with the overall feel of the upgraded software.

In fact, I would say that the Apple TV Take 2 is an extremely important upgrade and should be a definite consideration the next time you head to the store looking for a set-top box that allows you to play music, movies and more.

But what about the Mac Mini?

But alas, we’re not just here to wax poetic on the Apple TV. I’ve always been a strong proponent of the Mac Mini, but after a little over a week using the Apple TV, I just don’t see why anyone would use it anymore.

Prior to the Take 2’s release, the Mac Mini was clinging to its ability to offer online video and iTunes content directly on an HDTV without the need to download files elsewhere and wait for two devices to sync. Sure, it’s also a full-fledged Mac, with the ability to download outside applications and play non-Apple content. But with its slightly underpowered specs and the general lack of attention given to it, the Mac Mini’s only redeeming quality was its ability to do exactly what Apple TV Take 2 can do now.

With the new update to the Apple TV, you can do everything you’re able to do on the Mac Mini other than browse the web, check your email or perform tasks with the software found on Mac OS X — but without the hassle (and expense).

And while I’m not advising Mac Mini owners to run out and pick up an Apple TV, I do advise Apple TV owners — or those that don’t own either product — to stay far away from the Mac Mini. Although the added functionality may seem fine on paper, the additional $370, plus the cost of a keyboard and mouse is a tough pill to swallow no matter how great your desire to enjoy media on your HDTV. And let’s not forget that the Mac Mini is also lacking component or HDMI inputs, so you’re limited to what you can do right off the bat.

Before the release of the new and improved Apple TV firmware, my vote for best Apple multimedia product would have gone to the Mac Mini. But now that Take 2 has added a slew of functionality that makes the Apple TV worthwhile, I simply can’t justify buying the Mac Mini.



Actually AirTunes works with the AppleTV but only as a client so you do need a computer. I wasn’t aware of this when I got mine so it was a nice surprise.

Quality of the rented movies is very good. AppleTV is one of the cheapest ways of getting HD movies here in the UK.

I love my ATV.

Sean Fitzroy

In response to the previous post, the Mac Mini does not have to be “hacked” to play Divx. It requires free software to be installed just like any other Mac. You can install any of the following (or all three):

  • Perian
  • The Divx codec (or Divx player if you want it)
  • VLC which plays Divx movies.
Michael LAX

The first poster is incorrect: the Mac Mini will not play DivX. Just like the AppleTV, it has to be hacked with Perian to support non-QuickTime codecs. Check out the AwkwardTV wiki and forum.


No one has yet mentioned AirTunes… I love being able to play music off my mac mini -> stereo in my family room and have that stream over wireless to my kitchen speakers. Can’t do that on the ATV.

Once (if) we get a Front Row update to match the Apple TV, I’ll maintain my pro-Mini, anti-ATV stance. That is, unless the ATV starts supporting AirTunes as well.


Is anybody aware of a project to hack the take 2 software so it can be installed on OS X? Take 2 on a mac mini (with hd rentals) would be ideal.

George Frederick Litterst

I don’t yet have an HD TV. However, when I get one, it seems to me that one of the most compelling reasons to go with a MacMini is that I should be able to do iChat and Skype video conferencing and enjoy the luxury of a huge screen.


Agree with Everything.
Except I want a keyboard on the Apple TV for when i am searching on you tube, and hopefully pretty soon to all video online.


James Gardiner

DVI and HDMI are the same VIDEO SIGNAL in the cable and both can do HDCP. HDMI is the domestic reincarnation of DVI which also includes extra features like Audio on the cable as well as video.

HDMI is a little crappy to me, however, as it does not come with screw in or more reliable connections. I find it falls out a lot.
Ok for domestic, but not for prosumer of above.



Hey Rob, you mean HDMI connecter, not HDCP. HDCP is a content protection scheme to prevent digital copying from the HDMI connector. AFAIK, the mini doesn’t have HDMI, but my Sony Bravia and Sony SXRD both have computer inputs the mini can use with included adapter. BTW, My Sony SXRD was made in Mexico anad has a bug where audio is out-of-sync with picture when using the HDMI connector. If this happens to you, use the component connectors or computer connection instead.

george Creedle

Hook up a miglia miniHD ($150ish) to a Mac Mini and you have an ASTC HD DVR with no DRM, plus it will automatically downconvert and export for iPod and iPhone. During the day I use the mini to show stock quotes, calendars in the office. Just upgraded my mini to 2 GB Ram for $50 and now its super speedy. aTV is great, but Minis rock!

rob friedman

If DVI is able to convert to HDMI, is HDMI backwards compatible/convertible to DVI?

Also does the Mac Mini support HDCP? I have a Sony HDTV, which only has a DVI port that accepts HDCP input, and analog component inputs.


The Mac mini is a desktop computer! Try running Word or iPhoho on your Apple TV. Give me a break. This post is retarted.


Vinicius and Sean have it bang on. To add to the heap:

  • Apple TV requires you to have 2 copies of all your media, one of the the ATV and one one the computer hosting the library.

  • A mini is just one more cpu in the house to add to your Xgrid and Qmaster jobs- a big plus for media professionals.

  • The mini is a box that is ALWAYS on and doesn’t need to worry about bogging down the user while it does workhorse jobs like downloading and encoding.

Also, in my experience with the two systems, it feels as though the Mini is a lot faster. I owned both for about 2 months (until I decided the Apple TV had to go) and sometimes the ATV would “stick,” as in: I’m-to-fast-for-this-interface syndrome. And some of the higher resolution files would take up to 5-10 seconds to buffer… way to long for me. That, on top of the fact that I have to re-encode everything that I download for it… I just don’t see the point.


I agree with the previous comment. If you have a Mac Mini you don’t need the Apple TV.

Basically, I use my Mac Mini to browse the web on a large screen and with VLC so I can play any type of media.

With Apple TV you can’t do that.

Besides there are a lot of countries that don’t have the Apple Store … and in this case the movie rentals don’t work.

Sean Fitzroy

The Mac Mini doesn’t require a Keyboard or Mouse either. You can control it with Leopard’s screensharing feature or remote. Also, the Mini outputs DVI which converts to HDMI.

The limitations of the Apple TV are:
– No DIVX or other codec support. This is the big one.

  • No ability to sync an iPod. Yes, it can store your music and video library, but you need that same content mirrored on another computer for iPod syncing.

  • No ability to run other media players (Miro, etc – although built is Podcasts and You Tube sort of makes up for this)

  • Expandability. I also use my mini for backups, archives on external drives, printer sharing etc. Now these things can be accomplished with an Airport Extreme + Time Capsule + Apple TV, but the cost becomes similar to a general purpose Mac Mini.

  • It’s just nice to have an extra “real” computer around for scanning, burning DVDs, capturing video, webs server, etc.

That said, I wish the mini was as reliable as the Apple TV. Front Row on 10.5.2 is better, but 10.4 used to crash frequently. I would like to rent some HD movies on my mini too (cough, apple).

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