Mac mini as a HTPC

19 Jan 2011

About a year ago I bought my first OS X machine, a mac mini (late 2009 model), to use as a HTPC in our living-room.
Here are my thoughts on how it has worked out if you are planning on buying one yourself for the same purpose.

  • Looks: As you can see on the pictures below the Mac Mini is a stylish little piece of computer. It fits discreetly in the room, and the new model is even thinner. The machine is also really quiet and it is hard to notice if it is on or off (atleast if you are not reading from a CD).
  • Connections: For sound I use the 3,5 mm audio cable and the screen is plug-in in to the TV with an Mini Display-Port to DVI.
  • Energy-efficient: Apple claims that it is the "World's most energy-efficient desktop computer".
  • Software: I use Plex as a media solution. It looks great and it is a pleasant way to browse through my videos. Plex works with music as well but it is not exceptional, I usually find myself using iTunes or VLC instead to play music even if I am not satisfied with them either. If you have any tips for me please leave a comment.
  • Remote control: The greatest feature on the Mac mini is the Apple Remote I bought with the computer. After a bit of tweaking I had it working great with Plex. I can start and browse all my movies without walking up to the TV. Unfortunately when it started to work with Plex it stopped working with all the other programs (like iTunes) which is a bummer. I haven't put much energy into fixing the problem and I guess there is a way around it (I found some apps for it but they where not free (as in beer) so I just never bothered).
    Another great feature with Plex it that it lets you watch compressed files so I do not have to unzip all my files manually and store them uncompressed.
    When I have to do other stuff on the Mac, like installations etc, I connect to it with openVNC from one of my Ubuntu computers and remote control it that way. Besides some trouble with key mapping it works great.
  • Performance: I store my media on an Ubuntu Server with a Samba share. I have then mounted this share in Plex and stream all the media I watch/listen to. It works great, and I even run it over Wifi (Linksys wrt54gl router running Tomato). It plays 720p videos without much problems over the wifi but if I want to watch 1080p I have to transfer the file to the local Mac Mini hard-drive. I think that it is the wifi that is the bottle neck though.
  • DVD-player:I do not watch much DVDs so I can't really say much about the DVD player. All i know is that is rather noicy, and I really miss BluRay support.
  • Price: The Mac Mini cost more now then when I bought it. I think I payed about 6000 SEK for it (current price is 6995 SEK). It is and was a rather expensive computer. You could get something like this a lot cheaper and install some free Linux dist on it. But I thought it would be fun to try out working with OS X and get some experience with the OS and it has been a rather smooth ride so far.
  • Summary: Would I recommend it? Yeah sure, it is a great machine and it easy to use. It is a bit pricey though and you could easily achieve the same result with a small desktop computer running Linux and Xbox media center. As always it depends on how much time you want to spend on setting it up.



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