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Mac Mini as a Media Extender

Discussion in 'Desktop & Laptop Computers Forum' started by Greedydogtoo, Aug 10, 2005.

  1. Greedydogtoo

    Greedydogtoo
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    Hi,

    I've been scouting around looking for a media extender and have purchased a Pinnacle Show Centre 200.... it seems to have all the features I could want (WiFi, HD, Optical out etc.) but seems about as stable as a jelly on wet lino, it freezes regularily, especially on the boot up screen and the only solution I've found so far appears to be to switch it off overnight.... not quite what I'd expect from an item being sold as consumer electronics.

    Anyway I've decided that perhaps the tech isn't quite up to consumer plug 'n play yet and I don't fancy an Xbox solution so i'm going to go for adding a PC or a Mac to my network and use it to stream video and music from my main PC (and gain a broadband connection in the livingroom)...I'm attracted to a Mac Mini as I already have a fully featured PC and don't need nor want to spend a fortune on feautures and power I don't need in a media extender role but I've never owned a mac so a couple of questions...

    1) Is it possible to browse a PC running XP from a Mac?

    2) Is streaming files between them realistic?

    3) Are there any nice MCE style front ends available for the Mac mini?

    Or would I be better just to knock together a cheap PC? (but having priced the components including a HTPC case it wouldn't be THAT cheap!)

    Cheers,

    Andy
     
  2. jon stallard

    jon stallard
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    Andy,

    I'm currently experimenting with a mac mini myself albeit from a fairly lowly technical angle (i.e. never used one before).

    However.... I love it!

    That doesn't answer your questions of course so here's my answers as I see it and from what experience I've gained. There are others who will probably be able to answer better.... but for now(answers in the same order as your questions):

    1. It was pretty easy to add my mac mini to my network and can browse pretty much what ever I want on either hard drive of my two PC's (one HTPC, the other my day to day one). I can copy files across my wireless network with ease (so long as the other machine can support them of course).

    2. I'm not entirely sure about streaming, any music files on the PC have just been copied across so that's not really streaming. However, I've tried to play files recorded off air on my HTPC via the mac but I don't think the basic mac player (quicktime) will support the mpeg2 format without an upgrade. It's not too expensive (£15 - 20) but just haven't tried it yet. It see's the files but just say's unsupported file format.

    3. No MCE front end yet unfortunately. If Apple did do one (and I think they will) you can bet it would work very well. That's the bit I'm waiting for personally.

    4. You could knock together a cheap PC but the mac mini is iconic, it's a fantastic bit of design (even though it's merely a repackaged laptop minus screen and keyboard) and there's add on bits of kit coming onto the market as it grows in statue. It's also very small of course and dead quiet. And very very white:)

    Hope that helps a little.

    Cheers,
    Jon.
     
  3. lisag

    lisag
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    What's the problem with a chipped xbox, or the upcoming xbox 360?
    lisa
     
  4. Greedydogtoo

    Greedydogtoo
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    The Xbox is great, I've had two in my time but it doesn't go with the 'look' my other half is going for in the livingroom! :rolleyes: Something all designery like a Mac mini or brushed aluminium like a posh HTPC case seems to be acceptable however!!
     
  5. lisag

    lisag
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    Ah, fair enough.... the xbox 360 looks pretty cool though, bet she will like that.... pricing looks a bit OTT, remains to be seen

    lisa
    :)
     
  6. benny.c

    benny.c
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    The Mac Mini doesn't have optical out. Is this an issue for you?
     
  7. Greedydogtoo

    Greedydogtoo
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    Benny,

    It could well be, it has the advantages of being compact and stylish and just working out of the box as all Mac stuff does but the more I look into it the mini seems to be just that little under specced.... an optical out would be good for playing 5.1 stuff but I've found that most DivX, Xvid etc doesn't bother keeping the surround sound so it wouldn't be as much of an issue for video streamed from my PC. It could also do with more video out options.... then again I don't suppose it was ever designed to serve in a media extender role!!

    Andy
     
  8. monotone

    monotone
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    Hi

    Am pretty happy with the picture quality when playing DVD on my powerbook thru DVI to the plasma. Looking seriously into using the mini as a DVD player (with M Audio Transit to output digital sound) replacement.

    Any idea how's the mac mini picture quality thru using DVI compared to a player like Pioneer 969 or Marantz 9500?
     
  9. jon stallard

    jon stallard
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    The penny finally dropped over the weekend regarding using my mac mini as a media extender. My prime interest is in watching TV, recorded on my main HTPC, in other rooms. Not too bothered about streaming music, mainly cos all my music is repeated on each hard drive. But the file format that MCE2005 records in (.dmr-ms I think it is) is about as unfriendly as you can get. It's designed, it seems to me, to be recorded once and once only and viewed as a stream by another MCE2005 machine on the network, or on the 'mother' PC. Quality is quite remarkable mind but it left my poor little mac mini definately out in the cold. You can't record these files onto DVD either as far as I can gather. Well done Microsoft, well done the entertainment industry.

    So it's the final nail in the coffin for the mac mini in terms of a media extender to a MCE2005 HTPC. I must see however what file format the mac records TV to. Could it be that it's not encrusted with encryption? (try saying that whilst eating a lunchtime sandwich:))

    So, it's do I build a couple of cheap PC's just for playback of recorded TV content in other rooms or wait and see what the media extender thing will be. Or will they simply be PC's with some sort of cut down MCE2005 software? Then again, there's the xbox route which Lisag is very happy with.

    Cheers,
    Jon.
     
  10. lisag

    lisag
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    There are some developers over on www.thegreenbutton.com who have produced software to convert the recorded tv from MCE (dvr-ms) to a more friendly format, one of them does it 'on the fly' and cuts out adverts (allegedly!)

    Not tried it myself cos I don't have to bother with my xbox ;)

    But the software is probably free so you might want to have a play with it and see if it works before investing in more expensive hardware.

    lisa
     
  11. meansizzler

    meansizzler
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    Main reason for getting the 360 is because of the built in Media Center extender and Xbox Live Integration, now I can see who is online while watching Live TV, or download music from Napster using the 360, then stream it from my PC, and as for the HD files, well let's just say the 3 * 3.2GHZ cores will take care of them..., and yes the 360 can play back WMV-HD files, hope it can do it from the DVD drive as it this times it supports DVD-R/RW
     

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