Mac mini musings

by Giles Turnbull

It came up in the discussion of this previous post that the new Intel Mac mini is not exactly perfect as a personal video recording device (PVR). It lacks any "Just Works" PVR software, and doesn't sport enough hard disk space to store much video.

Given the muted response to yesterday's announcements, perhaps the most interesting news from the event is actually the new features in Front Row. Now it supports shared media from other Macs on the network via Bonjour, it doesn't matter where your video, music and other files are. As long as they're shared, the mini plugged into your TV can find them and display them.

Here's my theory: that PVR software you're missing? It's Front Row. Or at least, that's what Front Row is evolving towards.


2006-03-01 07:07:02
I have to agree with you on the price. I was all set to buy one for my kids at the $500 price point, but at $600 (plus tax), I had to think again, and I thought better of it. I'm not saying it's not worth it, it's just more thought-provoking at the new price point. I may end up getting one later, but it will be much later now.
Mike Sherman
2006-03-01 07:07:49
I agree. I think anyone who has put any thought into incorporating the intel Mac Mini into their home entertainment setup has discovered that they will need more disk space and should probably max out on memory. That said, it almost makes sense to set up either an external firewire drive or a separate file server to host the iTunes data. The only question that belies is will there be any speed impediments by trying to access the videos/music over the network? If I have my mini hooked up to my 50" Samsung, can it successfully drive any media I want to partake of via network storage?
Mike Sherman
2006-03-01 07:12:31
Addendum -- By the way, I am really liking the dual layer superdrive's perfect for archiving lots o' stuff.
Fraser Speirs
2006-03-01 07:21:09
Giles, did you catch Bill Bumgarner's observations about the HD decoding capabilities in the new Mac Mini's video card? Strategically very interesting.

2006-03-01 07:24:20
The Intel Mac Mini has some interesting specs. The GMA 950 Graphics core that is being used is streamlined for playback of HD content (Full 1080i/p). It they are using the 945G Exprtess chipset (it uses the GMA 950) they get HD Audio too. From Intel's own docs, there is also a Media Expansion OEM card that is a TV Tuner.

As for the BoomBox - all in one smoothness? I don't think so. Incorporate Airport Express in the box and now you are talking. Quite frankley, if they wouldn't have integrated the powersupply into that box it would have been even more disappointing. It is far from all-in-one.

2006-03-01 07:32:59
The previous incarnation at 499 didn't have the AirPort and Bluetooth cards included. Also: There's FrontRow capability now. That should make 100 dollars easily. Then again, they _should_ have made a model _without_ these features for 499, just for the whiners' sake.
2006-03-01 07:51:50
@ Fraser: Yes, I saw that. Very interesting.

@ nhmacusr: Oh, I agree - it should have wireless. My comment about the all-in-one smoothness was aimed at the external design of the iPod HiFi box itself.

2006-03-01 08:11:30
One thing that is missing in the Mac Mini is a way to connect to your cable TV box and to be able to choose that input. You may want, after listening to all you music, watching all you pictures and videos, and all what you can have on your shared computers, to simply watch (and maybe record) your TV programs.
2006-03-01 08:15:01
It's disappointing. For what I need, it is a mediocre computer at a higher price. This may work on a student's desk, but the new mini has little other use. At $600, here's what should be standard:
- Wireless
- S-video
2006-03-01 08:35:42
I agree on the pricing issue. Apple will only hurt themselves by being $100 over that psychological barrier.

Carrying the evolution of Front Row a step farther: TiVo integration. Apple should work with TiVo to let me browse my TiVo box from my Mac and stream shows I have recorded. TiVo has already done this between two TiVo boxes and betweeen TiVo and a PC. Now, Apple could work to integrate TiVo into Front Row. That way, the mini doesn't have to be a DVR replacement but a DVR partner.

Charlie Jones
2006-03-01 08:58:24
The whole PVR thing seems kind of messy. Very not Apple as a matter of fact. First you have to address all the cables (ins & outs), then you have to play nice with other devices (cable/satellite boxes) and lastly you have to access some third party scheduling service. There are way too many variables to make this type of functionality a slam dunk.

My guess is that Apple will continue to get as many shows as possible on iTunes and go that route. I can just imagine Steve saying, "Missed this week's episode of Lost? Forgot to Tivo it? No problem. We recorded it for you, just head on over to the iTunes store and download it."

The Apple / Tivo / FrontRow integration is an interesting idea.

2006-03-01 09:30:44
This was the danger everyone talk about when one day PC's and Mac's would have to compete using the same players. Well, that day is here, and I'm not exactly impressed.

With those specs at that price, Apple simply isn't going to have droves of switchers commit to the mini when most are already comfortable using Windows XP on competitive, lower price offerings from Dell -- most of which include standard things like a keyboard, a mouse, and a monitor!!

2006-03-01 09:42:38
I think that the "PVR" makes sense with the mini ONLY over a (wired) gigabit ethernet network, with a video library lurking somewhere out there on one's home network. In my case, it's an eyeTV connected to a PowerMac G5, on 7500 rpm higher performance SATA drives than we are ever likely to see on a mini.

And the fact that the mini fails to meeet Apple's own HD video guidelines [] is definitely a bummer.

If Apple wants to push these as home media centers, and demonstrate their ability to connect to TV, then the Apple stores had better setup some plasma TVs with minis attached to demonstrate how well they perform in that role.

Same thing with the iPod Hi-Fi -- they need a sound room to demonstrate the capabilities of these units. I suspect the typical Apple store is poorly setup to demonstrate this, and with all their other 3rd party iPod speaker offerings going for a hundred bucks or so under the iPod Hi-Fi. it's going to be pretty tough to move them. But the way most Apple stores are configured, having a sound demo room is simply not in the cards.

If the mini Macs met Apple's HD guidelines, and were no more expensive than they already are (which is on the upper edge of what I'm willing to pay), then I'd be getting a gigabit ethernet switch and a mini just as soon as I had seen for myself the quality of the video output to a decent HDTV display (something like a 42" plasma unit). This misses that mark by a fair amount. I'm hoping for an upgrade later this year.

Charlie Jones
2006-03-01 11:01:34
Supposedly the Intel integrated graphics are tweaked for HD video and sound. This may reduce apple's system requirements.

As for Apple billing the Mini as a media PC....they really aren't and that's on purpose. They have mentioned that you can hook it up to a TV, but that's about it. Look at the tough time M$ is having pushing the concept. Apple is being a lot more nuanced about it. The Mini may walk like a duck and quack like a duck, but Apple is stopping short of calling it a duck. Heck, there's probably a reason it isn't shaped like a HT component. By avoiding the "media pc" marketing, they can avoid setting any expectations. Sure at some point there will be a Mac Media, that part is obvious. As Apple eases into that product, no body is out there bitching that the Media Mac is not meeting their needs or that the Media Mac PVR is a POS. It's never been mentioned or promised. Even though it's out there, it's not.

Marc Tremblay
2006-03-01 13:08:44
I for one am very interested in the new Mac Mini as the center of a home entertainment unit. I have no use for recording as I haven't had TV/Cable for years now. I'm either going to watch something off a DVD or streamed from the Internet.
2006-03-01 15:10:41
I have to incur with what most all of you are saying that Apple has missed the target price for most buyers. Those that were thinking of buying a new machine are now more than ever going to run out and get a $350 PC with a monitor and keyboard included. I think when all was said and done my pre intel Mac Mini (with AirPort card and bluetooth) set me back almost $1000 with the keyboard, wireless mouse, and monitor. Then I needed to add more memory and I think that was $85. So, this new machine's real world cost would be be closer to $1100 if you add in all the goodies. I really what something that can take the place of my old TV and VCR in the bedroom and Apple has not delivered for my budget.
2006-03-02 00:05:18
Also note that the Intel Mac Mini finally can take full advantage of all Core Video routines, which the GPU of the PPC-based Mac Mini could not. That's a good thing.

Unknown to me is whether this system is powerful enough to run Windows Vista -- this could be a deal-killer for potential switcher ... or people like me with an old Mac and the desire to also occasionally run Windows.

2006-03-03 05:54:10
Is the new Mac Mini a lemon? I'm not sure about about the Core Solo version, but I for one am glad Apple decided to put in a dual-processor option, too. The thing might not be pro enough on paper, but it should be plenty fast even for editing of corporate videos. This from a guy who still makes a decent living making said vids as well as full-colour billboards on a 800MHz single G4 tower.

iMac notwithstanding, there is a rather gaping hole in-between the Core Duo Mac Mini and the current low-end G5 Powermac. I'm hoping that come April - or whenever it is Apple moves the Powermac line to Intel - we'll something in the middle. My wish list still remains for a Mac Mini Pro that has dual core processor, can take 2 hard disks (so I can do internal RAID 0), 4GB memory ceiling and dual-monitor support. Upgradability via slots is not a concern for me: I still haven't taken advantage of the abundant slots on my 3-year old Quicksilver. Time to bring back the Cube?