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Ultimate Mac Media Center

July 14, 2010 - Dave Hecei

With the advent of the new Mac mini with HDMI output, the mini is set to become a very popular choice for media center PC. The mini has the size, ports, and especially the power to handle standard and high definition video.

Based on the Intel Core 2 Duo processor, the new aluminum mini runs at 2.4GHz. For a few dollars more, through Apple’s build-to-order system, it can be outfitted with a faster 2.66GHz processor. The only real reason to get the faster chip is if you plan on transcoding (converting video from one format to another – like DV to Mpeg2 for making DVDs) lots of video. You can also add more RAM and a bigger hard drive if you want to really deck out a new mini. I prefer adding external storage myself.

The new 2010 mini looks more like an Apple TV than the previous mini. It is the same 7.7 inch square footprint, with more exaggerated round corners – the ATV is more square looking. It is also more squat at only 1.4-inches. The original mini stood 2-inches high.

A significant change to the new mini is the absence of an external power supply, or what I like to call that big white brick. Just like the ATV, the mini has an internal power supply. This is one of the reasons why the mini is slightly bigger, to accommodate the extra circuitry. Not having this brick makes for a much neater package, but also makes the mini that much more portable. Most people probably won’t be traveling with their mini, but if you need too, the mini is, well, mini.

The other significant change is the addition of HDMI for video and audio output. Previous minis had DVI output that could be converted to HDMI with a simple adapter. The problem is that DVI does not include audio it is just digital video. To get the audio along with digital video it is necessary to use an extra audio cable. This could either be an analog mini-jack to RCA stereo cable or for a better solution, an optical TOS-link digital cable. The mini’s output is actually a combo analog/digital jack. The old way is just messy compared to a single HDMI cable that does everything.

The mini on its own does not really make a media center. Yes it can play audio and video files. Yes it does come with Front Row, Apple’s take on media control software. By adding some other software and hardware the mini will really shine.

Any of the Intel based minis can be a media center. To transform your mini you need only a few extra pieces of the puzzle. You will need the proper cables to connect to your home theatre system, hardware to capture video and/or TV signals, place to store the media files, and software to control and bring everything all together.

Coming Soon - Part 2: Hardware


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