The New Mac Mini — the Next Apple TV?

Apple has updated the Mac Mini, beefing up the processor to a 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, allowing for up to 8 GB of self-installed memory thanks to a removable panel and providing a graphical boost with Nvidia’s GeForce 320M chipset. A single cord connection for audio and video output to a monitor or HDTV set has also been added, and the small desktop computer is now housed in a larger aluminum case.

Aside from the new look, the updated video capabilities stand out as rumors have swirled around the Mini becoming the new Apple TV of the future. Recent talk indicated that the company might leverage the rebadged iOS4 platform for an Apple TV device, which would add tens of thousands of software apps to the living room. But with the new hardware, notably Nvidia’s graphics solution and the new HDMI port, the Mac Mini could easily function like an Apple TV through the use of iTunes and Front Row — two pieces of software that provide simple playback controls when paired with a wireless Apple remote.

The price tag has also changed — at $699, it’s $100 more expensive than the previous version. And as far as set-top boxes go, that’s expensive. But one that also functions as a full computer may appeal. Plus the quieter, lower-powered Boxee box has been delayed until at least November and Google is just getting started with Google TV, so Apple’s timing is fortuitous. While Boxee grapples with getting Adobe Flash 10.1 to work atop the ARM-based Nvidia Tegra 2 application processor, the x86-powered Mac Mini faces no such challenges. And Google TV won’t be available until the fall at the earliest, at which point we should begin to see television makers integrate it within HDTV sets. So the question is: Do you want a limited-function Apple TV or a high-powered desktop in your living room that can play easily play rich media now, or to wait for Boxee or Google TV?

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