Monday, October 11, 2010

A Mac mini HTPC

I have wanted to get a Mac since they moved to Mac OS X but never did due to costs and the fact that I develop in Windows/UNIX. Apple then released their lineup of Mac mini a couple years ago and I kept thinking that would be neat to put in a home theater and I read about people doing just that.  The problem was delivering quality graphics and sound to your home theater from the Mac mini by rigging different cables up that would not support high graphics quality. With the latest iteration of Mac mini lineup from Apple, they added an HDMI port (e.g. HD quality video and audio output) and of course the nice new form factor, but they jacked the price to 700. Given that I am not planning to do much more than use it to stream media, I don't need a whole lot of computing power that I would need in a gaming device, and I don't feel like going out to buy a whole bunch of Blu-Ray discs yet. Well, I found a Mac mini for a refurbished price, and I got the base model with no upgrades. I plugged the Mac into my home theater by using the Mac's HDMI port to my Sanyo HDTV with audio cables from the TV to the receiver.

The first thing, I had to reset the TV picture to accommodate the Mac, otherwise menu bars and part of the Dashboard were not on-screen. Once I did that, I moved-copied media from my PC's iTunes library to the Mac, and then, I could start playing movies and music. I am trying the Apple Magic Trackpad and the Logitech K250 wireless keyboard and M310 wireless mouse. I am way used to having a two-button scroll mouse and may end up taking the Trackpad back to Apple. The wireless signal would sometimes be quite delayed though from either of them.  I may have to move the Mac to a more direct line with the input devices and away from the TV (possible interference).

I also downloaded the free OpenOffice and several browsers for the Mac. Yet, to do work in Office, it just didn't feel right to do "work" since I was working on the TV, but I could quickly check my Yahoo or Google accounts without much problem. I imported my Google Calendar into iCal pretty easily too. one doesn't need much computing power to run these applications. I may however attempt to do some development using the Eclipse suite or try some iPhone development.

I started by playing the Star Wars Episode III DVD and the Mac did well.  There was a little bit of graphics stuttering that I could notice though, but the graphics output was good. The sound was good as well and in sync. Then, I downloaded Karate Kid HD from iTunes, and this performed really well (no noticeable stuttering). I also downloaded the new Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) and that played rather well. The next test was to watch Netflix movies streaming of which I chose Star Trek (2010) and In the Line of Fire.  These performed ok but there were noticeable graphics or network stuttering (especially for Star Trek). So streaming and DVDs seem to exhibit some graphic stuttering, but I will test more:). The Mac software for DVD and FrontRow were fun to use. I also was able to use my iPod Touch with the Apple Remote app to sift through the iTunes library.