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What Mistakes Should I Avoid w/Mac Mini On Order for HTPC?

 
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 04, 2011 1:38 pm    Post subject: What Mistakes Should I Avoid w/Mac Mini On Order for HTPC? Reply with quote

Hi Folks,

I'm back after a very long absence. My first Mac was a first generation Mac Mini that I received as a gift from DH in 2005. I now own a Mac Pro, MacBook, MacBook Pro, MacBook Air and earlier today I ordered a refurbed Mac Mini from Apple for use as an HTPC.

Our home entertainment center already includes a DirecTV HD DVR, a TiVo Premiere XL, a second generation Apple TV, a Blu Ray player, and a Roku Player - all connected to a Panasonic 42" Plasma 1080p HDTV. It's not as if I don't have enough toys already. The driving force behind my decision to add a Mac Mini was a web based subscription to Universal Sports cycling coverage that requires use of a web browser with Microsoft Silverlight to view the subscribed videos. Neither DirecTV nor our Cable provider, Time Wanker, carries Universal Sports and DH is an avid cyclist.

I own an HDHomeRun IP tuner, several licenses for EyeTV, a Win-TV HVR 950 that EyeTV considers an Elgato Hybrid stick. I'm looking at the new Elgato product that records video from component video inputs for a possible birthday gift item.

I have 8GB of SO-DIMMS on order for the new Mac Mini.

With all this in mind are there any suggestions you might offer for common mistakes made when setting up a Mac Mini for use as an HTPC?

2nd question, what do you recommend for an HTPC front end on the Mac Mini? Obviously Front Row is available, I'm vaguely familiar with Plex and I have used Boxee before. I once used a Winders PC for an HTPC but my passionate hatred for that OS and its constant nagging modal dialogue boxes drove me to format it with extreme prejudice.
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philiparcario
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 04, 2011 2:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

What mac mini did you get a 2.4ghz 2010 or a 2.53ghz 2009. What were the specs?

I ask because sometimes refurbs come with better specs then ordered I have received 4gb ram instead of 2 gb ram quite a few times ... I time 8gb ram and a few times better hdds. I purchase a lot of machines. I would say a 1 in 7 to 1 in 10 chance of something better.


Will you record a lot?
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 04, 2011 2:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

philiparcario wrote:
What mac mini did you get a 2.4ghz 2010 or a 2.53ghz 2009. What were the specs?


It is supposed to be the newest October 2010 model with the 2.4GHz Core2Duo and 2GB of DDR3 RAM.

I was amazed to see I could get 8GB of RAM in two SO-DIMMS, @ DDR3 10666MHz for under $100 from either Amazon or NewEgg.

philiparcario wrote:


Will you record a lot?


No, I doubt I will record very often. Maybe just OTA or Unencrypted QAM local channels for newscasts, or the occasional cycling event like the major tours of Spain, Italy and France.

I might set up EvoCam on the new machine to integrate it into our home security system with a Logitech webcam, I have a spare one.

Most of the recording will be done on our TiVo and/or our DirecTV DVR.

We have both satellite and cable TV because until a few weeks ago we had problems with signal quality on our digital cable setup. That is resolved now with a distribution amp and a new coax run to our TV room, so the DirecTV will go away in a year when my contract expires.
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 04, 2011 2:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

plex offers a lot for a free program,but it takes some time to learn it.


I use a lot of netflix and eyetv. Netflix is pretty good in that you can stream to three computers in your home 3 different shows.. If you get streaming only it is low cost. I am just getting into plex to organize my files.


I have a lot of tv show recorded and a lot of itunes. movies I go for net flix mostly.
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 04, 2011 2:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

philiparcario wrote:
plex offers a lot for a free program,but it takes some time to learn it.

movies I go for net flix mostly.


I do have a Netflix streaming only account, and I love the Netflix user interface on the AppleTV, it is so much better than the lame Netflix player function on TiVo.

I bought a Roku player to use with Amazon Instant Video on the day they announced their free videos for Amazon Prime subscribers.

We have a fairly large collection of DVDs that I have ripped to MP4s but I can already view them through iTunes so Plex does not offer me much there.

Thanks for your replies!

Steve
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 06, 2011 9:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well so far I have made one mistake and my Mac Mini is not even here yet.

I ordered an Iogear 2.4GHz Wireless On Lap Keyboard, model GKM581R from Amazon. I chose this keyboard because it looked perfect for use on a lap, and of course when I'm using my Mac Mini HTPC I expect to be in The Comfy Chair.

The problem is that the unit I received is 100% dead. It is defective, broken, and it does not work. Apart from that I love it.

I have tried it on two Macs and an Intel Atom box running an in-house CentOS web server. Pressing keys on the keyboard never results in keypresses appearing on the computer. The USB dongle appears to pair with the keyboard as described in the documentation, and my Macs produce their WTF identify keyboard popup, but pressing the Z key, the key to the right of the left side shift key, never causes anything else to happen.

It's dead, Jim.

Is anyone else using a keyboard with built in pointing device that they would recommend?
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 09, 2011 11:10 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

You have an extremely complicated set up but if it works for you more power to you. I recently switched from a Direct tv hdr with an ATV2 to a 2009 mac mini with Plex and no satellite. For me it works out great. I have a couple of suggestions that may help you in your situation.

As much as I like the ATV2 I find that my Netflix rentals start up much faster in Plex on a mac mini. Plex takes a little bit of time to figure out but you seem like the type of person who would enjoy doing it. It's kind of fun if you're into that thing. A mac mini might also allow you to eliminate the ATV2 and the Roku box. Plex will also allow you to stream your movies to any of your computers in the house regardless of where they are physically stored. This is pretty cool. I know you are a fan of iTunes but I find I like Plex a lot more.

I'd also suggest you check out a Harmony remote. You have a lot of equipment and this can make things a lot easier. I'm going to test out the remote buddy software this weekend. RB + Harmony remote may eliminate the need for a keyboard for you. Here's a link to Remote Buddy:

http://www.iospirit.com/products/remotebuddy/
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 09, 2011 11:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you B.A.T for your very detailed and helpful reply. You might be a wee bit of a psychic.

My Mac mini arrived late yesterday, so I was in new toy mode last night. I did install Plex and Remote Buddy and so far that is a pretty good combination.

I also have EyeTV installed, connecting to my HDHomeRun IP tuner, but mostly because I can and not because I need it. I might get an eyetv HD at a future date.

Clearly my satellite receiver has become surplus to requirements now, but I have about 14 months left on my contract.

I was delighted to see a Universal Sports plugin for Plex, that was what got me started down this road, DH is a major cycling fan.

I do own a Harmony Remote but I don't like it much simply because the buttons used to pick a device are very small and difficult to use. I might give it another shot though because I have more devices to control now.

I downloaded SilverLight last night, I'll probably setup Netflix via Plex today.

Thanks again for your very insightful comments.
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PostPosted: Sun Apr 10, 2011 7:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I would give Boxee a look as well for the front-end Ranter. I know there are a lot of Plex fans out there, but I switched a while a go (after being a diehard) and haven't looked back. The software has been updated and they also have a lot of sports apps. I also think it's easier for the new user. They also have a pretty cool app coming out for the iPad.
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PostPosted: Sun Apr 10, 2011 8:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Curt,

I have used Boxee and it does have its strong points, but I find Plex seems to be making better use of the HD capability of our TV. I like the font size and the sharp clarity of menu items in Plex.

Except for cycling we are not sports fans at all, so sports plugins generally are not an enticement for us. I was pleased to see that Plex has a Universal Sports plugin because they are covering the European cycling tours that are not carried on Versus this year.

I also was surprised at how nice the Netflix plugin is under Plex.
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PostPosted: Sun Apr 10, 2011 9:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Fair enough. I just wanted to mention Boxee since it seemed like a while since you tried it last. I have nothing against using Plex though. I just find that Boxee works better for me in many ways.

Oh yeah, you can't go wrong with Remote Buddy. I've been a fan for a couple years now.
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PostPosted: Sun Apr 10, 2011 9:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

curt wrote:
Fair enough. I just wanted to mention Boxee since it seemed like a while since you tried it last. I have nothing against using Plex though. I just find that Boxee works better for me in many ways.


I probably should just delete Boxee and all of its application support files and give it another try. I imported applications and accounts from a 2006 MacBook when setting up this Mac mini, and Boxee had some no longer valid file paths stored that are messing it up.

It was the dismally poor graphics performance of my ancient MacBook, the very first Intel MacBook, that drove me to consider the Mac mini in the first place. HDMI is the absolute best TV interface in use today!

Thanks Curt.
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 21, 2011 8:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sounds like you're pretty far along, but FWIW:

I've experimented a lot with most of the front ends, and I end up using PLEX most of the time. When it works, it is great, but it seems like problems arise every now and then. The last one was a massive audio sync problem. I was able to solve the problem by going back to version 9.1.5. I've got to admit Plex has gotten pretty darn good, I really enjoy using it, and love how effective the scraper & library are in version 9. Watching TV shows is especially cool with all the fan art, theme music and show synopsis. Using Plex on my HTPC, I can access other Plex libraries on the network, like my home movies, which live on my Mac Pro. And I can also access plex media from my iPhone and iPad (usually while on the can Embarassed Smile )

I stream Netflix from Plex using the Netxlix plugin - way easier than a web browser from the sofa.

I use a Harmony remote & Remote Buddy to control almost everything.

I wish I could do everything from within Plex, but still rely on EyeTV to watch live TV, iTunes to rent movies, and Safari to stream the occasional show. Things get a little choppy here. I can use the Harmony to switch between apps (using RB and applescripts). But obviously for iTunes & Safari you need a keyboard. I use a DiNovo Mini, which I like a lot, but wish I could do everything with the harmony.

I usually take the shows I've recorded off the air with EyeTV, remove the commercials manually, and export them to the plex library. This is a pita, but we don't watch that many OTA shows other than 30 Rock.
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 21, 2011 8:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have settled on using Plex most of the time too. And I am using a Logitech DiNovo wireless keyboard as well.

For watching/recording TV we mostly rely on our TiVo which has a cablecard for use with cable TV. I do have EyeTV configured to use a HDHomeRun setup for unencrypted QAM from the cable line.

For rented movies we can use the TiVo or Roku player for Amazon, or our AppleTV for iTunes.

I also have EvoCam running on the Mac mini as part of our home security system, it takes snapshots of our TV room every 2 minutes and uploads them to one of my webservers.

About a year ago we got a DirecTV HD DVR because our in-house coax was not so good and our CATV performance was unreliable. Recently I redesigned our in house CATV distribution system and now DirecTV has become surplus to requirements. I think I'll ditch them soon.

Thanks for the reply. I think my Mac mini HTPC is pretty much all setup now.
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