Over Christmas I got a Mac Mini to use with my home theater system as a media center computer. I have been using my D-Link DSM-520 with mixed results as my media center device/extender to listen to mp3s, watch video (limited) and view my photos on my main home theater system. The DSM-520 is an okay product. The latest firmware update makes it noticeably faster. Nevertheless, it is a little difficult to use. I have been planning on replacing it with a true media center PC for a while and as it turns out the Mac Mini is the perfect platform, well, almost – more on this in a bit.
Here is my Mac Mini setup:
- 2 GHz Intel Core-2 Duo CPU
- 4GB RAM
- Microsoft Media Center Remote Control
I installed the 4GB of RAM aftermarket. The Apple website does not specifically state that the Mac Mini will support 4GB RAM, but it works perfectly and shows up as 4GB in the Mac operating system. One word of caution, when I upgraded the RAM, I forgot to replace the tiny cable harness that connects the thermal sensor that is used to determine the unit’s fan speed. As a result, when I put it all back together the unit’s fan ran at full speed and was kind of loud. I took it apart again and reconnected the cable and now the variable speed fan works perfectly, and quietly.
I first used Apple Front Row as my media center platform. I both liked it and hated it at the same time. Front Row looks beautiful on my Samsung 61″ 1080P DLP screen. I guess you would expect nothing less than visual beauty from Apple. It connected with my local iTunes libraries and streamed any type of media, as long as the media type works in iTunes. This was one of the biggest problems – I can’t configure Front Row to connect with my networked non-iTunes folders and media to monitor for content. Front Row is also very limited in what types of media formats it supports. Essentially, if a media type works in iTunes it will work in Front Row. The problem is I have a lot of media content that won’t work in iTunes, and therefore does not work in Front Row. This is why I say the Mac Mini is the perfect media center platform – almost.
My solution was to use Boot Camp and I installed Windows Vista Ultimate which includes Windows Media Center. Windows Media Center also looks great on my DLP screen. However, one problem with the Windows approach is that the Windows OS only recognizes about 3.2GB of the 4GB of installed RAM. This is a known limitation of the 32bit version of Windows. Anyway, I also use the Windows Media Center remote control that comes with a USB infrared receiver base unit. It works great! With Windows Vista Ultimate I can easily connect to other media sources on my home network; like my home PC and my D-Link DSN-323 that has 1.5 Terabytes of storage space. (I’m always surprised how space much 1080P content takes up!)
Even if Windows Media Center didn’t support a lot more media formats than Front Row, the Media Center Remote is so much better than the little Front Row Remote Control that it makes the choice a no brainer.
Now I stream my mp3s, photos and HD video to my home theater system over speedy GB Ethernet using Windows Media Center. Oh, another great feature of the Mac Mini is the built-in S/PDIF digital output and input that I use to connect with my Denon AVR receiver for true digital multi-channel audio reproduction.
One small gripe with the Mac Mini is that it only comes with DVI video output instead of a HDMI port. I know I can get a DVI-to-HDMI converter, but it would be nice to have native HDMI support.
I’ve been using the Mac Mini with Windows Media Center for about a week now and I love it! My wife, Deanna loves it too. That’s always nice! ;-) I named it “Marc-Mini” on my home network which I know is kinda nerdy, but hey, It’s my network. The Mac Mini is an awesome small form factor computer that works perfectly as a media center computer with Windows Media Center and looks great in any home theater equipment rack.
Great job, again, Apple!