Okay, I know I have blogged about Apple products a lot lately (1st post, 2nd post). I just have to write one more blog about Apple and my new Mac Mini.
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!
I am thinking of setting up something similar to this i have a sony bravia 1080i LCD tv, does the mac mini output to this resolution and playback video smoothly (including HD content?), and how did you hook it up yo your TV, VGA or DVI – HDMI ?
Ok, question. I have a mac mini and working on doing the same thing. i use the DVI to HDMI on my pannisonics. Works fine just does not fill the screen to the edges. Checked over scan and runs over the edges. I have been reading it is driver/bios issue with mini vidio card. Also when using Windows or Linux on the mini this is not an issue. Can you confirm the same?
Marc Chesley says
Hi Gareth and thanks for the note. My setup should work with the Sony Bravia perfectly. I have my Mac Mini connected to my Samsung 61Ã¢â‚¬Â 1080P DLP with a VGA cable. The resolution and scan rate as reported by my Samsung is 1920 x 1080 60Hz. I ordered a DVI to HDMI converter, but I have not yet received it to switch to the full digital signal path configuration. My Samsung DLP has 2 HDMI and no DVI ports.
I play HD content (full 1080P) through the Mac Mini with no problem. It looks beautiful on my Samsung DLP! I canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t wait to switch from the VGA to the DVI/HDMI output to see if I can tell any difference going to the full digital signal path. I have a bunch of full 1080P files in .wmv and a few in the .mkv format that I store on my D-Link DSN-323 on my home network. I have 1.5 terabytes of storage striped across 2 drives in my D-Link DSN-323 configured in a RAID zero. Playback is smooth, even pulling full HD content over the network. I have full duplex gigabit wired Ethernet in my home.
Thanks again for the note and be sure to let me know how things turn out with your Sony Bravia setup.
Jarrod Morris says
Great post. You had me laughing and reflecting on many occasions when I’ve experienced the pains and aches of technology incompatibility. I was waiting for the analogy to come full circle at the end, but it never did.
The frustration you described of bootstrapping various systems, softwares, hardwares, modules, etc. to achieve the desired outcome, is the same exact thing small businesses confront when creating a Frankenstein made up of a contact manager, an email client, affiliate tracking software, a shopping cart solution, another solution for billing and accounting (the list goes on and on).
Wouldn’t it be nice if someone just made an all-in-one, comprehensive solution? We might keep waiting for Microsoft and Mac to figure it out…but Infusion has it nailed!
Please let us know if using the HDMI reduces the res or picture size as seen on the screen. Going vista on Mini, what would Bill and Steve think about that? I am using a Cube Station CS407 with 1.35TB in a raid 5 config for media storage. I have tons of media as well. So looks like my setup will be very similar. The only difference if this works I will doing it on all five of my HD screens.
Marc Chesley says
I can confirm that initially I had the same issue with my Mac Mini not filling the screen on my Samsung 61Ã¢â‚¬Â DLP all the way to the edges. Also, the picture was shifted about a half inch to the left on the screen. I also had this same issue when I connected my HP 8710p laptop to my Samsung, using either the VGA or the HDMI port. I just lived with it for a while until on evening I was drilling through my Samsung settings menu and found settings to resize and reposition the on-screen image. I adjusted the size and position of the image and now the image fits perfectly on the screen.
Luckily, the Samsung is smart enough to remember the settings and also keep the right settings for the other HDMI and component inputs so I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have to constantly tweak the size/position every time I change sources. So, for me the problem was not with the Mac Mini, but with adjusting the size and position of the image on my Samsung.
Michael, I hope this helps. Given that the issue does not occur on your Panasonic when using Window or Linux leads me to believe that you may be facing another problem.
I have an MBP and also want to purchase a MM with bootcamp etc.
Did you also tested any .mkv hd 1080 files? Does it play well?
Thanks for explaining how you set it all up. I’ve been pondering getting a mini for just this very reason, but was unsure about running frontRow. Actually, frontRow would be fine, but the mini will probably do double duty and function as a desktop as well, and unfortunately my work requires too many custom Windows programs to make the leap. It’s great to know that someone else has done it before spending the money.
FYI, I found a discussion on the mini’s memory on a mac forum, and they claim it’s a chipset issue, not an OS issue. OSX at first glance does show 4 GB, but it actually won’t use all of it. Totalling up the free + used memory ends up being 3 GB. I can’t verify this yet, but will as of this summer when the new mini arrives for our new smaller house.
I have a similar set up (but connected with HDMI) and I love it. check it out http://www.rumbero.net/hdhometheatermacmini
I am doing similar, but have stuck with the native OS – I would definitely recommend it!
This site: http://www.jonandnic.com/topics/digital-toys/turning-a-mac-mini-into-an-appletv has a great hack for booting the mini directly in to front row and making it more like the apple tv.
You can massively extend the available video / audio codec support in front row using perian: http://www.perian.org/
I can highly recommend it. Using it I can play full HD (1080p) H.264 .mkv files within front row. In fact, they play fully smoothly (on my core 2 duo 2ghz), as apposed to inside VLC where they occasionally drop frames.
Hope this helps…
http://www.macosxhints.com/article.php?story=20060815123339582&query=external%2Bdrive here you get instructions how to play any folder in you Front Row ;)
If you haven’t seen it, checkout the recently released OSXBMC.
This software is what prompted me to finally pickup a mini for myself.
Thank you so much for your post. I also want to stream all media from one source but have held off due to the lack of a good integrated solution. There is a HUGE opportunity for this and I cannot figure out why no company has really worked to fill this need with a reasonably priced easy to use “appliance” approach.
My question to you is quite mundane. I purchased a new 2.0 Ghz Mac Mini last week and want to upgrade my RAM. I am new to the Mac and now realize upgrading RAM is not the simple and cheap process I used for Windows-based desktops and notebooks. My local Mac repair shop confirms that the Mini will recognize 4GB of RAM and they will upgrade my Mini for $300.00 – such a deal!! I love the Mini but continue to be really annoyed with Apple for the closed nature of their systems and high prices in general for “Apple compatible” upgrades. But I digress.
My question: I cannot find any “Apple” 2GB sticks or RAM. Did you use plain vanilla 2GB sticks for notebooks – I see plenty of these, many of which sell for only $60 or so a stick. If so, do you remember the specific brand and specs of the memory you installed? Lastly, I see you installed the memory yourself. While I have watched some videos that show how to open the Mini’s case, I am a little leery of doing it. Was it easy to open? How fragile is the case?
Any information you can help with would be greatly appreciated!!
Marc Chesley says
Frank, thanks for the post. I used generic 2GB SODIMM memory sticks. I can’t remember the exact brand, but it was just regular memory (not Apple’s gold plated RAM) ;-).
To open the case you need a putty knife Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the kind you get at the hardware store. The thinner the better. Actually get 2 and it will be much easier. The Mac Mini case is actually pretty tough, so without going crazy on it you should be able to crack it open fairly easily with a couple putty knifes.
I hope this answers your questions and please let me know how it works out!
Ken Crandall says
I’m working on hooking my Mac Mini to my Sammy 61″ DLP as well. Just wondering where you found the settings to adjust the picture size? Been looking everywhere for those to eliminate the black bars and to shift the pic.
Marc Chesley says
Ken, look on your Samsung remote toward the bottom of the keypad on the right side for a little button labeled “psize”. Press this button and you will be taken to the settings to adjust the picture size and location.
Hope this helps and thanks for stopping by.
No offense Marc, but your obsession with the mini has led you down a dead end road. I, too, was building a MCPC and desperately wanted the mini to do the task, but after reading your post, I am so glad I went the other route and just built a PC. It sounds like you’re quite tech savvy (replacing RAM in the Mini), so it just doesn’t make sense why you went to all the hassle and work-arounds with the mini. Silverstone offers really great-looking cases, and inside you can put whatever motherboard you want that can hold 8GB of RAM rather than 4 (and run 64-bit). You can fit 6 HDDs easily, rather than daisy-chaining a bunch of external ones together. And lastly, you can get a really great PVR system with PCI interface to do your TV recording. Plus, on a side note, I hooked up a simple Logitech controller and can play old video game ROMs. My other computers are Macs for good reason (they are so much better for daily computing), but unfortunately the PC is the only option if you want a media center. Sometimes it’s fun to solve the puzzle of how to make the Mini a viable media center computer, but when you have to make so many concessions (c’mon, bootcamp for Vista MC?) you have to take a step back and do the right thing. With all your extra HDDs, you could put them in your MCPC and treat it as your home’s server and stream content over your Airport Extreme Base Station.