After deliberating for a long time, I finally settled on a Mac Mini as my new Home Theater PC (HTPC) to replace the one I custom built 2 years ago that was running XP Media Center.
The Mac Mini doesn’t have a built-in TV Tuner, but since I’ve decided to cut off my cable this really doesn’t matter. I spend most of my time listening to music and watching the occasional movie. Since I absolutely love the Vista Media Center interface, it was a no-brainer on which OS I was going to run.
If at a later time I was going to get cable again, there are several options for USB TV tuners out there that everyone seems to like.
I’m absolutely thrilled with this setup and am in complete awe of the genius of Apple’s hardware design. It’s amazing they fit everything they did in such a small package. I contemplated the Shuttle X100 and X200 systems, but the x200 didn’t have gigabit ethernet so it was a non-starter. The X100 was a contender, but ultimately I was dissuaded by Omar whom I trust for a lot of input on my tech decisions (and sometimes my taxes 🙂 ). Here’s a great quote:
Never buy a Shuttle PC. They are buggy, the BIOS releases are buggy, and if you read the notes for the BIOS you’d understand. If you even read the forums for but a brief moment you’d come to the same conclusion.
Here is some other information in an Q&A style that might help others:
Does the Mac Mini run Vista Ultimate?
Yes! It runs without skipping a beat. It runs full Aero Glass to boot. FYI, I’m running it on the 2.0ghz Core Duo2 model.
What TV are you using? How is it connected?
I have it connected to an NEC 50XR5 50″ Plasma through DVI and it’s running at 1360×768 resolution which is almost dead-on its native resolution. Despite it not being an exact 1:1, all the text is crystal clear and crisp with no extra tweaking required.
I attempted to use HDMI (using a DVI to HDMI converter) but Vista doesn’t recognize the native resolution on my plasma, and instead forces me to have a ton of overscan. I could have fiddled with it more, but decided to go the easy route and stick with DVI. A friend of mine recently sent me some information on custom resolutions with the Intel Graphics cards (which the Mac Mini uses) and points out that my resolution woes have something to do with EDID. I know nothing about EDID and don’t really want to right now, so if anyone figures this out and just wants to tell me the solution, I’m all ears! 🙂
What is your audio setup?
I have the Mac Mini connected via optical audio to a Pioneer Elite receiver. The Mac Mini has a weird audio output where it has a combined optical digital audio output *and* headphone jack. In order to connect it to my receiver, I had to buy a TOS-link to mini TOS-link adapter. If you’re going to do this, plan ahead and buy it ahead of time since Apple Store charges an insane $30 for the same converter but attached to a 6ft cable. Criminals!
In order to get AC-3 sound to work with my ripped DVDs, I installed the Vista Codec pack which installs a bunch of codecs to allow you to play videos encoded with all the popular encoders (Xvid, Divx, H.264, etc). The critical piece was that the codec pack also includes AC3-Filter which does the work to get AC3 audio from ripped DVDs through the digital optical audio output.
What are you using for a keyboard and mouse?
I’m using a Microsoft Wireless Entertainment Desktop 7000, which is connects by bluetooth. The keyboard and mouse set is absolute fantastic — compact, ergonomic and mouse is rechargeable. The set comes with a bluetooth USB dongle, but since the Mac Mini has bluetooth built-in, I didn’t need it.
In retrospect I would have liked to have gotten the 8000 series keyboard set since it would make the keyboard rechargeable and it would also be backlit.
What is your network setup?
The Mac Mini is nice since it has gigabit ethernet as well as 802.11b/g. However, sine I am storing all my media on a D-Link DNS-323 NAS, I didn’t want to connect via wifi. Instead, I’m using Cat5e cable to connect through Gigabit ethernet.
For some reason Vista isn’t recognizing Gigabit ethernet speeds and only allowing me to connect at 100-BaseTX. I’ve already done enough troubleshooting to know that the cable, switch and wall jack are all functioning correctly. I figure it must be a driver thing. Anyone else have this problem?