11 Replies Latest reply: Jul 19, 2010 7:31 AM by capaho
Chippy99 Level 1 Level 1 (10 points)
I've been a pretty much delighted Apple TV user for several years now, but some of the limitation of the device are becoming more and more tiresome - lack of support for different codecs; 720p max video output resolution; 160GB capacity; no BBC iplayer; only stream content from iTunes, not from a NAS. I could go on.

What I would really like to see is an Apple TV2, but there seems nothing on the horizon.

However, is the new Mac Mini a realistic alternative? Clearly it would address many of the above, and now HD movies are generally available in iTunes, this isn't the problem it once was (ie before you could only get them on the ATV).

But how useable is a Mac as a idiot-proof media server? Is it a realistic option to use it in my lounge with only an Apple remote (no keyboard), and simply play music and movies? I am not a Mac user so have no experience of Front Row, so I don't know how easy this might be. All of the technical advantages of the Mac are useless to me if I can't use it like I use my ATV.

Has anyone here gone down the ATV to Mac Mini route?

PC, Windows XP Pro, SP3
  • Alley_Cat Level 6 Level 6 (18,610 points)
    Capaho is delighted with his and will I'm sure chip in here.

    Pros and Cons would include:

    No more faffing with iTunes syncs/shares unless for other devices with a Mini.

    AppleTV interface probably better than Front Row, but you'd also have access to other GUI's like XBMC/Plex/Boxee (many of which are based on same underlying code) which might give a good experience if you like that sort of thing for non iTunes stuff (they won't play protected content). Easy to inadvertently get out of Front Row into the Desktop which might confuse users or allow them to tinker when you don't want them to!

    Mini will handle 1080p easily as in hardware terms it's simply streets ahead, and you'll be able to play all those formats you've wanted to without conversion/transcoding to AppleTV compatible h264. Not all formats will necessarily be playable by Front Row so you may need other apps such as VLC or Perian like codecs to help you out - fine if you're the user but not very friendly for family/casual users if you have to swap between apps.

    Ability to add additional storage directly via USB/FW on the Mini.

    Mini will allow far greater library size standalone compared to AppleTV which would require an always on computer for streaming duties once 160GB drive is filled - if only AppleTV's USB socket had been enabled to allow local storage.

    Mini may be overkill in terms of hardware/cost if you only use it for media duties, but then if it does the job best it may be worth the premium.

    Mini could I suspect adequately act as the iTunes server for your existing AppleTV too, say you wanted to relocate that.

    Internet media options fully available via AppleTV eg iPlayer.

    Mini would add potential to work as a DVR if you have or bought a Tv device such as an Elgato tuner.

    Downsides of a Mini:Cost/only 1 audio out at a time/some HDMI issues reported for some users.



    I guess the bottom line is that a Mini would allow you to do all those things you know an AppleTV could do if it had the appropriate software modules and enough hardware power. The interface on the AppleTV is a big plus however, despite some of it's limitations/annoyances.

    Winston has a link comparing old Mini vs AppleTV for media center duties and his family have always preferred AppleTV.

    The attraction of the AppleTV interface is that it does what it's intended to without allowing you to get lost in screens that have no relevance to media duties - what you see is a media device menu not a computer playing media. It would be ideal if it did everything it was supposed to flawlessly but sadly that's not always the case because it's relatively underpowered or doesn't compensate for network issues adequately (eg better buffering to ensure flawless playback).

    I would compare this with say apps on an iPad - there are dedicated apps on my iPad/iPhone that do what they're suppose to do without frills and get used, whereas I may have similar things on the Mac that I rarely use as they don't work as well or are more complex/fiddly with too many options to quickly get the job done.
  • Alley_Cat Level 6 Level 6 (18,610 points)
    Alley_Cat wrote:

    Internet media options fully available via AppleTV eg iPlayer.


    Mini not Appletv of course !
  • Chenks Level 5 Level 5 (7,420 points)
    One thing the mac mini will not allow any UK user to do though is rent HD movies via iTunes.
    HD movies in iTunes in the UK are locked to AppleTV and iPad only at the moment.

    I'm not sure of any other online supplier in the UK that does do HD rentals (Netflix not being available in the UK).
  • capaho Level 4 Level 4 (3,650 points)
    What I would really like to see is an Apple TV2, but there seems nothing on the horizon.


    You haven't been looking for information in the right places.

    However, is the new Mac Mini a realistic alternative?


    That depends on you. The new mini is an actual computer, so it can play just about everything through its HDMI port, but there is no unified media interface, so you have to control it like a computer. I usually use Air Mouse on my iTouch to control mine when I'm using it to watch video. The ATV can't compare to the performance of the mini, but the mini is not as easy to use as an ATV. The mini is also considerably more expensive.

    But how useable is a Mac as a idiot-proof media server?


    There is no such thing. You already have a computer, so you know what a mini will be like from an operational standpoint.

    Has anyone here gone down the ATV to Mac Mini route?


    Yes. I sacrificed ease of use for performance and I'm glad I did. All of the frustrations I had with my ATV are gone. I can watch just about anything I want without any of the glitches or performance problems that plagued my ATV. It's refreshing.
  • billtils Level 1 Level 1 (100 points)
    If you scan past posts in this forum you will find many that comment on the ATV compared to mini - read them and decide for yourself. However, like any other decision, the right answer starts by asking the right question. You say your are pretty much a delighted ATV user and then list some annoyances. How real / critical are the annoyances? BBC iPlayer??? - how much do you use it? If it is a big part in your life forget the ATV. Video resolution - see various posts from Winston Churchill. Support for different codecs and lock-in to iTunes - if you want movie rental or purchase, what's your concern - do you have another movie source that you'd find better than iTunes? 160GB capacity - this suggests you are purchasing not renting - you don't need to keep everything on the ATV all the time.
  • Winston Churchill Level 10 Level 10 (87,270 points)
    It's a little old and needs updating to account for the HDMI output on the new mini. But: FWIW, this is my view on the matter.
  • Chippy99 Level 1 Level 1 (10 points)
    Thanks for everyone's helpful comments.

    I am fully aware of how much more powerful and flexible the Mini is and there are clearly many benefits.

    However, I previously (before the AppleTV) had a Windows Media Center PC hooked up under my TV and ended up scrapping it because it just wasn't usable day in day out as a media player. It was far too "computery" with all the overhead and aggro that goes with it.

    My interest in the Mini has been sparked by a number of things, I guess first the HDMI port which is a clear plus. But there have been comments about useability improvements for using it just as a media player, so I started thinking about it.

    Regards renting itunes HD movies, I thought they were now available in the UK (for macs), but it seems I am mistaken. That is a big turn off then, because I do from time to time rent stuff on the ATV.

    Also, my ATV is hooked up to my DAC and hifi and I stream lossless, bit-perfect content from the ATV. When just listening to music, I can do all of this without powering on my TV by using the Apple Remote software on my iPod Touch. Would I be able to do the same with Front Row? If I have to power up the TV every time I want to play a music track, that's another big turn off.
  • Chenks Level 5 Level 5 (7,420 points)
    Chippy99 wrote:
    Regards renting itunes HD movies, I thought they were now available in the UK (for macs), but it seems I am mistaken. That is a big turn off then, because I do from time to time rent stuff on the ATV.


    no still locked to appletv an ipad in the UK.
    in the US they are not locked.

    Also, my ATV is hooked up to my DAC and hifi and I stream lossless, bit-perfect content from the ATV. When just listening to music, I can do all of this without powering on my TV by using the Apple Remote software on my iPod Touch. Would I be able to do the same with Front Row? If I have to power up the TV every time I want to play a music track, that's another big turn off.


    you could do the same using the remote app, as you would just be controlling itunes with it rather than the appletv.
  • billtils Level 1 Level 1 (100 points)
    The UK equivalent of Netflix, lovefilm, have on-demand online rentals as well as their DVD rental service; I did not see a purchase option. You need to download their player to play them. Their site currently has 635 available movies but they too are not HD.
  • Chenks Level 5 Level 5 (7,420 points)
    i've just read that Netflix is apparently coming to the UK in the winter.
    What they will offer though is anyones guess at the moment.
  • capaho Level 4 Level 4 (3,650 points)
    However, I previously (before the AppleTV) had a Windows Media Center PC hooked up under my TV and ended up scrapping it because it just wasn't usable day in day out as a media player.


    I can tell you that the Mac mini is much easier to use than Windows Media Center, which is awful. The mini connects directly to your TV or A/V amp, so you're looking at the desktop. Using it with Air Mouse on my iTouch is not significantly more difficult than controlling an ATV with the Remote app. If I want to do web browsing with it, the Mobile Mouse app on my iPad essentially makes it a wireless keyboard and trackpad for the mini.

    Granted, that setup is pricey, but it makes the ATV look like a dial telephone by comparison.